Position: Center/Right Wing
2018-19 Stats: 6G-11A-17P
Contract Status: One year remaining on entry-level contract at $925,000 AAV (RFA in 2020)
Entering his first full season of professional hockey, Luke Kunin 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.
With last week’s addition of Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman, Kunin’s status for the start of the season is up in the air. He could easily start in Minnesota, but since he does not require waivers to go back to Iowa, the 21-year-old could begin the season in Des Moines with the current logjam of forwards. Minnesota has 15 forwards currently vying for the roster to open next year, and unless there is a trade, some will have to begin in Iowa because all cannot with the big club.
General manager Paul Fenton has previously been adamant that the Wild need to get younger, thus relying on players like Kunin — Minnesota’s 2016 first-round pick — to start shouldering the load. Given his flexibility to play either center or win, that should certainly help Kunin’s odds to make the roster to open the season but a bad training camp could easily see him getting sent to Des Moines.
It is honestly a guess at this point as to where Kunin starts next season. But even if he gets a start down in Des Moines, he will no doubt be one of the first call-ups in the event of injury or inconsistent play from another player who could be sent down without waivers.
Fenton is hoping that this roster squeeze will motivate some of the players, Kunin included. For Wild fans, they certainly hope it will motivate Kunin to get an increase in production next year.