WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins had three first-round selections at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft last month. Those picks were: defenseman Jakub Zboril (No. 13 overall), forward Jake DeBrusk (No. 14) and forward Zachary Senyshyn (No. 15). Realistically, all three are at least three to four years away from having an impact at the NHL level for the Bruins.
However, there’s another prospect in the organization who could be a lot closer.
In the days following a difficult draft weekend for first-time general manager Don Sweeney, he flipped goaltender Martin Jones, who the Bruins acquired in the Milan Lucic trade with Los Angeles, to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for forward Sean Kuraly and a 2016 first-round draft pick.
Many in the hockey world believe Kuraly has a bright future. At this point, the 22-year-old forward is entering his senior season at Miami (Ohio) University. He will be the team’s captain for the 2015-2016 season, and once he turns pro he’s projected to be a solid third- or fourth-liner in the NHL when he earns that opportunity.
The Bruins began their annual development camp at Ristuccia Arena on Tuesday, and the organization’s development coach, Jay Pandolfo, described Kuraly as a big-body centerman with a 6-foot-2, 209-pound frame.
“He plays hard. He fits the mold for a Bruin and that’s what we like about him,” Pandolfo said.
Miami coach Rico Blasi agrees with Pandolfo’s description of Kuraly as a prototypical heavy player that could fit in well with Boston.
“He plays hard all the time. His skating is probably one of his bigger strengths, but he’s got that aggressiveness, that strength that Bruins fans are accustomed to having on their teams,” Blasi said.
Originally selected by the Sharks in the fifth round (No. 133 overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Kuraly was stunned when he learned of his trade to Boston.
“Oh, it’s been crazy,” Kuraly said. “You never really expect as a college kid to get traded. I had development camp all set to go in San Jose, and then I get a call and I’m a Boston Bruin. It was really weird at first, but after I got my head around it I was just really excited.”
When the trade happened, Kuraly was working out at MU’s rink and Blasi was there, too.
“Initially, you’re wondering how he’s going to react and you make sure he’s OK. But when you analyze it, it’s a good fit, for not only Sean, but for the Bruins as well. I was really excited for him,” Blasi said.
During the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn made his presence felt and proved to be an integral part of the team’s run to the finals. A product of Harvard University, Killorn said he’s as proud of his degree as he is of his accomplishments on the ice.
Killorn, 25, also credits his educational background as a big reason for his success in the NHL.
Kuraly has a similar mindset.
He could have decided to turn pro and skip his senior season at Miami, but he said the thought of leaving school never entered his mind.
“To leave just doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t fit with what we stand for and how I felt,” Kuraly said. “I’ve worked this hard to get this far with [school] and it’s something I feel more comfortable finishing now. I’m close enough that it will take me one more solid year and then I’ll have it for the rest of my life, and I’ll feel better about pursuing my dreams of playing hockey knowing that there is another plan if it doesn’t all work out. That will help me be a better hockey player.”
Miami is known for its business school, and Kuraly, who majors in business management and leadership, is proud of what he’s accomplished in the classroom.
“I got in by the skin of my teeth, so I’ve got to take advantage of that while I can,” he said with a smile.
It’s apparent with his first handshake that he’s a confident young man who possesses leadership qualities, and that’s why he’ll wear the ‘C’ on his sweater next season for the RedHawks.
“He’s very unselfish,” Blasi said. “As good as a player he is on the ice, he’s a much better person off the ice. He’s just a tremendous teammate, a good communicator and understands relationships. The biggest thing, I think, as a leader you have to be able to influence in a positive way and Sean certainly has those abilities.
“He shares the vision of what we’re trying to do at Miami and that’s to be the best we can be every day, and not only hold himself to a standard, but to hold his teammates to that standard as well.”
Blasi described the program’s goals of helping student-athletes become stronger physically, mentally and intellectually. The coach explained that Kuraly is at the level of achieving all three.
“He understands process,” Blasi said. “He understands the commitment level that it takes to play at the National Hockey League level, and the commitment it takes to get your degree, and the commitment level it takes to be a captain, to be a good teammate, and do the best you can on a daily basis.”
From a hockey standpoint, Kuraly wants to work on becoming a more offensive threat during his senior season and beyond. In his first three seasons, he has 37 goals and 33 assists for 70 points in 118 games.
Creativity is an area he’ll focus on, while trying to stay away from the safe play with the puck. Confidence also will factor into his continued development at school in hopes it will help ease the transition to the pro game.
Of his goals, he said he's "working on being more dynamic offensively, but still continuing to get better in the defensive zone, be a good faceoff guy, penalty killer, and get bigger and stronger.”
Sounds similar to how the Bruins’ David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron developed into two of the best centermen in the NHL.
Kuraly is still an amateur player, but he has all the qualities and shows the potential to become a solid NHLer in the near future.