FEATURE: Kunitz brings versatility and experience to Blackhawks
The Blackhawks were excited to bring in Chris Kunitz to help in the locker room and provide versatility on the iceby Chris Wescott / chicagoblackhawks.com
Chris Kunitz is like a swiss army knife in that he can do a lot of things for you.
It's exactly that kind of impact which made the Chicago Blackhawks want to sign him in free agency.
"Well, the first thing about Chris is he's got some versatility to the way he can be used by the coaching staff," said Blackhawks Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman, shortly after the team agreed to terms with the left winger on a one-year deal.
"Talking to Joel (Quenneville) the last couple of days, that was one thing that was really appealing."
Kunitz, 38, is closing in on 1,000 regular season NHL games in his career and has played an additional 178 in the postseason. He has four Stanley Cup rings and has been utilized in a plethora of spots up and down some crowded and star-studded lineups.
At this point in his career, Kunitz is likely to fill a bottom-six role on the Blackhawks for the majority of his playing time. However, that doesn't mean he can't move up when necessary. This is a role Kunitz has learned to embrace.
"It's something I've dealt with and (the direction) I got to move in my career when I went down to Tampa," he said. "I kind of learned the game from a different angle, not being one of the go-to guys but being someone who can move up and down the lineup if there are injuries and guys are hurt. Coach Quenneville moves guys around quite a bit so it was intriguing on my side of it, looking from the experience side where you can go out and help your team win at any moment. That's kind of how I've looked at these last couple of years of my career."
Last season was Kunitz's first ‑ and only ‑ with the Lightning and he was able to be productive in reduced minutes.
Video: Chris Kunitz on balance of Blackhawks roster
During the bulk of his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kunitz averaged upwards of 19:09 minutes per game (2013-14), but his number has gone down each of the last few seasons, with Kunitz averaging a career low of 11:57 in 2017-18.
"He was used in primarily a checking role last year, but he still scored 13 goals," said Bowman. "He played a lot with Ryan Callahan and he did move up throughout the season and played on more offensive lines as well. He obviously had a really long run in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby on the left side. I think it's still early to tell what line he's going to be on (in Chicago), but he brings a lot of intangibles and intensity to the game."
Kunitz has shown that even with a lot of miles on his tires, he can complement a roster that's full of both veterans and youth.
"That's a good dynamic for winning teams nowadays," he said. "You need the guys who have experience. A lot of teams are letting their young guys propel their careers by getting opportunities. I think you see that with the Blackhawks and some of their young guys taking steps into their second or third years and really contributing. Obviously, you have the veteran guys who are the star power of the team that really control the locker room and stuff, but I think it's an exciting team to be a part of."
Adding another experienced voice to the club's stable of veterans makes sense, especially a player with a history of wanting to help younger ones grow their game. Kunitz comes off as a big team-first guy, which is a good addition when youth is knocking at the door.
Video: Stan Bowman on Sunday signings
"Joel was really excited about the potential to have someone like Chris… who with winning four Stanley Cups, he has a lot of ingredients to his game, competitive guy and I think he can really help bolster our veteran group," said Bowman. "We've got some great players on our team, we've won multiple Cups and this gives another voice like that on how to play the right way and guide these young players into taking their next step in their careers."
For Kunitz, the next step in his career means coming to Chicago, which is like coming home. His wife is from the area and he says his family has spent 10 or 11 of their summers together in the city.
"Our ties go back deep," he said. "We've had Stanley Cup parties there, we've done family reunions and still have family around the area. We're familiar with the city, we've skated with a lot of Blackhawks in the summer and have trained with some of their guys. Really familiar with some of the guys I've played with at World Championships, Olympics and stuff of that nature. We're just excited to be a part of an organization that has a chance to win every single year. They're going to put the right pieces in place to try to accomplish that."
Kunitz is hoping to be one of those pieces and is willing to fill whichever role the team needs him to.
"I want to come on board and help any way I can," he said. "Playing a checking role, going out and shutting other teams down or getting moved up once in a while. I'm ready for all facets of helping the team to win and maybe helping some of the young guys along the way."