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New addition Chris Kunitz finding his way in Tampa

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

1-on-1 with Chris Kunitz

Chris Kunitz on his decision to join Lightning

New Lightning forward Chris Kunitz discusses his decision to sign with Tampa Bay

  • 02:27 •

Three weeks ago, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Chris Kunitz trekked to his new home in Tampa with family in tow to enroll his children in school ahead of the 2017-18 season.

In a lot of ways, Kunitz felt like the new kid too when he walked into the Lightning's training facility for the first time to take part in informal workouts a few days later.

Kunitz has been one of a handful of Bolts skating at the Ice Sports Forum over the last couple of weeks as players slowly trickle back into town. On a team with many of the same pieces from the previous couple seasons, it can challenging to assimilate into a new group, but Kunitz, along with free agent signing defenseman Dan Girardi from the New York Rangers, is quickly getting acclimated to his new surroundings.

"You go in kind of nervous, excited," Kunitz said. "Everybody we've met so far has been welcoming in the sense of giving us places to get our haircuts or places for our kids to have activities, inviting you over for dinner and swim parties and things like that so everybody can meet each other. It's been great so far. It takes a little bit to adjust and be in something that you're not used to, but it's been great nonetheless."

Adjusting to a new team is something Kunitz hasn't experienced in some time after spending the last nine seasons with Pittsburgh, winning Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 2009, 2016 and 2017. Prior to his run in Pittsburgh, the 37-year-old forward - he'll turn 38 on September 26 - played in over 300 games during five seasons in Anaheim, winning another Cup in 2007 with the Ducks, and had a brief, two-game spell with Atlanta in 2005-06.

Since coming to Tampa Bay, the fourth team of his NHL career, he's gotten a sense of how embedded the team is in the community.

Video: Chris Kunitz on joining the Lightning

"It's almost one of those sports teams that everyone talks about everywhere you go," he said. "If you meet a teacher, if you meet someone down the street, they're talking about the Lightning. It brings a lot of excitement to be able to come down here and play for a team that's established and has a good core group that should do special things."

Tampa Bay got a firsthand look how just how valuable Kunitz can be for a team during the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals when the Lightning lost to Kunitz's Penguins in seven hard-fought games. Kunitz scored a goal in three-straight contests in that series - Games 3, 4 and 5 - and finished with six points, tying Phil Kessel (4 goals, 2 assists) and Evgeni Malkin (1 goal, 5 assists) for the Penguins' scoring lead in the ECF.

During the Penguins' most recent Stanley Cup run, Kunitz scored two goals, including the double-overtime Game 7-winner in the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa and assisted on the game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup-clinching Game 6 versus Nashville.

No doubt, the Lightning are leaning on Kunitz to bring veteran experience as well as his championship pedigree to a locker room that already has the pieces in place to make a serious run at a Stanley Cup.

"My understanding is they like the way I play the game and the things that I can do and bring to this team are things I've done on previous teams," he said. "I think they're just trying to add a few veteran guys in me and Girardi, guys that have played long in the playoffs, guys that have made those deep runs. I don't think they're missing one little piece. I think they're just trying to add to their core."

Having won four Stanley Cups, Kunitz certainly knows what a championship team looks like. As he glances around at his teammates inside the Ice Sports Forum locker room and scans the Bolts' roster, he sees a team with the makeup of a Stanley Cup contender.

"I think the first key thing as anybody knows is if you stay healthy, you have the dynamic players on this team to make a run," Kunitz said. "We have every individual facet of the game. You have the defensemen who can log the big minutes. You have the goaltender that can stand on his head and make big key saves. And you have the skilled forwards who play that fast and skilled game which makes it entertaining and fun to come to a team like this and try to get back to a place where they were a few years ago."

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