Born: Dec. 4, 1997
2016-17 Team: University of Wisconsin/Iowa Wild
How Acquired: 2016 Draft (First round, 15th overall)
As the Minnesota Wild open training camp this week, one of the few hopefuls looking to surprise and make the roster is 2016 first-round draft pick Luke Kunin.
Back in July during the team's annual prospect development camp, Kunin was asked if he thinks he can make it on Minnesota's roster out of training camp and he replied, "That's my goal." (via Pioneer Press)
Kunin, 19 (20 in December), is coming off two seasons playing for the University of Wisconsin. He managed 32 (19 goals-13 assists) and 38 (21 goals-17 assists) points respectively in those two years while getting prime minutes as the team's top center. He also served as the captain of the Badgers this past season, becoming just the first sophomore in 41 years to do so.
This past season Kunin also captained Team USA at the World Junior Championships, tallying four points in seven games and helped the United States take home the gold medal.
With a thinned-out prospect pool, Kunin stands as one of the few to project to be in Minnesota's top-six down the road. His offensive abilities will be needed from the center position, as Minnesota currently has aging veterans Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal down the middle, leaving an opening for Kunin over the next couple of seasons to come in and take the reigns.
"Kunin is a mature, smart, speedy goal-scoring centerman. He possesses elite-level offensive hockey sense and reads the play two to three steps ahead of everybody else. He possesses maybe the quickest first steps of all 2016 draft eligibles and is at full speed in two to three steps. After his lightning-quick acceleration, his top-end speed is special. When he gets to the NHL, he will immediately be one of the fastest players in the league. Kunin displays impressive vision and a great touch when playing the puck into space for teammates; he can make some creative dishes. He possesses a dangerous one-timer. Kunin also has a wicked backhander that he releases in Crosby-like fashion. His shot is probably his greatest asset, and that is saying a lot when you compare it to his incredible speed and extraordinary vision. He is all over the place in the offensive zone, tracking down the puck and jamming at it in the crease, or driving through the slot to the net. He will do whatever it takes to put his team on the board. A slick possession player, Kunin has quick hands and the ability to get creative, deking around defenders and goaltenders when he feels comfortable doing so." - Future Considerations, prior to Kunin's drafting in May 2016.
Following the end of his season with Wisconsin, Kunin signed an amateur tryout with the Iowa Wild, thus ending his Wisconsin career. In 12 games with Iowa, Kunin registered five goals and three assists, including a hat trick on March 28 against Rockford.
Fellow prospect Joel Eriksson-Ek is projected to make the Wild roster out of training camp, which will really hurt Kunin's chances of making the team right away. He will more than likely get sent to Iowa to open the season, but would be one of the first callups when Minnesota suffers injuries at the forward position.
But as Kunin said, his goal was to make the team out of camp, so expect him to make a strong showing during the team's preseason.
Kunin, among other Wild prospects, has been in the Traverse City Tournament that started on Friday. He was a key player in Minnesota's incredible comeback on Friday afternoon against St. Louis, as he tallied the game winning goal. Fans can watch Kunin and the Wild prospects play the final two days, today and tomorrow, of the tournament on wild.com.
Check back on Tuesday to see who comes in at No. 4!
No. 6-Jordan Greenway
No. 7-Mike Reilly
No. 8-Gustav Olofsson
No. 9-Kaapo Kahkonen
No. 10-Dmitry Sokolov