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Luke Kunin thinks he's ready to crack Wild lineup

Forward prospect, 19, says goal is to play in NHL this season

by Jessi Pierce / NHL.com Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- At the first day of Minnesota Wild development camp on Saturday, it was easy to understand why all eyes are on forward Luke Kunin.

Selected by Minnesota in the first round (No. 15) of the 2016 NHL Draft, Kunin (6-foot, 191 pounds) easily skated around other prospects and had most coaches and observers agreeing that he's ready for the NHL.

Kunin thinks so too. It's why he signed with the Wild on March 23 after two seasons at the University of Wisconsin, where he was the first sophomore captain in 41 years and led the Badgers with 38 points (22 goals, 16 assists).

"My goal is to make this team," the 19-year-old said. "I try to work every day to get better and try to do that. So whatever they want me to play, what position and where throughout the lineup, is going to be up to them. [Making this team], that's my goal. That's what I'm going to try to do."

Video: 2017 Development Camp: Luke Kunin

Kunin admitted that leaving Wisconsin was a tough decision, but he said he knew it was the right choice for him. A late-season stint with Iowa of the American Hockey League supports that assessment. He had eight points (five goals, three assists) in 12 games, including a hat trick in the third game of his professional career.

"My first game was about putting a footprint down and trying to get the organization to see what I'm all about," Kunin said. "I want to show growth and get better every day. That's the way I like to look at things."

Wild director of player development Brad Bombardir said he already can see an improvement in Kunin's game from last year to now.

"I can already tell he's a little more comfortable this year as opposed to last year," Bombardir said. "I think he was probably putting a little too much expectation on himself last year. Now I think he's a little more comfortable, and I think we'll see that on the ice as well."

Video: Luke Kunin on improving his game

Minor adjustments in Kunin's game, such as stopping on pucks and being more supportive on the defensive side of the puck, were to be addressed during the July 8-13 development camp, but Bombardir said, "I have no concerns about Luke Kunin. He has a pro mindset and is going to find a way to play [in this league]."

With openings in the lineup following the offseason departures of forwards Erik Haula (Las Vegas Golden Knights), Alex Tuch (Golden Knights) and Jason Pominville (Buffalo Sabres), the opportunity to win a roster spot might come sooner rather than later -- and Kunin said he is ready for it.

"I think my work ethic, energy, versatility, being able to play up and down the lineup, left, center, right [can help the Wild]," Kunin said. "I'm a skilled player that can make plays and score goals.

"Whatever it is they're looking for, I know if I keep working and getting better every day, I can be that for them."

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