Last year was Luke Kunin‘s first full season of professional hockey, and he began the year in Iowa. Not to forget, Kunin was also coming off a torn ACL that he suffered at the end of 2018 with Minnesota and the start in Iowa was to help get him back up to speed before getting back with Minnesota.
To kick off his season, Kunin tallied eight goals and seven assists in 21 games with Iowa. He was then recalled in early December following a Mikko Koivu injury and made his season debut on Dec. 11 for Minnesota. Kunin was pretty much a regular in Minnesota’s lineup ever since that game. The only time Kunin went back to Iowa before the NHL season ended was during Minnesota’s All-Star break.
Once in Minnesota, Kunin was constantly moving up and down the lineup as part of head coach Bruce Boudreau‘s famous line juggles. The most frequent linemates for Kunin ranged from Joel Eriksson Ek to Zach Parise as part of his constant shuffle throughout the lineup.
Kunin was not often on the power play, which made a majority of his production — 16 of 17 points — at even strength. His 1.58 points per hour at 5-on-5 put him ahead of Jason Zucker (1.37) and right behind Eric Staal (1.68) on the Wild.
Toward the end of the season, Kunin found himself centering the likes of Kevin Fiala, Jordan Greenway or Ryan Donato, all players the Wild are going to be heavily relying on for increased production in 2019-20. Especially if the Wild want to get back into playoff contention, something owner Craig Leipold is adamant about.
Kunin represents Minnesota’s youth movement that began under now-former general manager Paul Fenton. As the summer went on it became more clear that head coach Bruce Boudreau thought so highly of Kunin that he has considered having him center Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello. However, Boudreau has had a lot of time to think and is now considering Ryan Donato to center that line, but still, having Kunin in consideration shows how much the head coach thinks of Kunin’s abilities.
Part of Minnesota’s issue headed into the upcoming season is where will scoring come from, as the team struggled mightily to score in the absence of Matt Dumba last year and the departures of mainstays Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund. Kunin is part of a core of young players who need to step up and fill the scoring void left by those players if the Wild want to get back into the playoff picture.
With a player of Kunin’s offensive abilities, its very clear that he is in no danger of starting the season in Iowa. Where specifically in the lineup remains to be seen, but there is high praise for the 2016 first-round pick and hope that he can take that next step offensively to help lead the Wild moving forward.