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Kunitz Eager To Help Pens Playoff Push

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Thursday started off as a normal game day for forward Chris Kunitz. He followed his normal routine and joined his Anaheim Ducks teammates on the ice for their morning skate in Boston.

Then the team’s trainer called him off the ice. Kunitz was handed a phone with Ducks Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations David McNab on the other line informing him that he had just been traded to Pittsburgh.

“I was shocked at first,” Kunitz said 20 minutes after landing in Chicago. “After that I started to get excited to play with such a group of talented, young guys, guys that have produced so much already. I want to bring what I can to the team and get into the postseason.”

Kunitz and Anaheim prospect Eric Tangradi were traded to the Penguins in exchange for defenseman Ryan Whitney. Kunitz, who defined himself as a “gritty, speedy winger,” took a flight to Chicago and will be in the lineup for Pittsburgh against the Blackhawks at United Center Friday at 8:30 p.m.

“We identified Chris as being near top of our list in terms of the type of player we wanted that was signed moving forward and could fit in with our group,” Penguins Executive Vice President and General Manager Ray Shero said. “I think Kunitz is going to jump right in and be a top-six guy for us. I like the way he plays the game. He plays a physical brand of hockey and that’s what we’re looking to add to our lineup and he has the character that I’m looking for as well.”

Kunitz, who was a member of Anaheim’s Stanley Cup championship in 2007, played on a line with All-Star Ryan Getzlaf and Chris Perry. He is looking forward to skating with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

“I don’t know if you can pick better linemates and proven talents,” said Kunitz, who is under contract for the next three seasons. “The coaches put you in those situations. I will try to do to my best to get them puck and make things happen. I’ve played with guys who are creative with the puck, who are speedy, handle the puck and like to play with it. I’ve seen a little bit playing against the Penguins. I’m going to try to jump in and do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Kunitz will not only have to adjust to new teammates. He has a new system to learn in Pittsburgh.

“It’s a little different system,” Kunitz said. “Pittsburgh plays with a little more speed up the ice. It’s a more give-and-go and skating offensive style. I’ll adapt as quickly as I can."

Kunitz will reunite with Penguins interim head coach Dan Bylsma. The two played together in Anaheim for one season. During the NHL lockout, Kunitz played under Bylsma, who was an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the American Hockey League. That familiarity should help Kunitz assimilate quickly.

“With Chris Kunitz coming here, he’s got 148 hits and he’s a top-six guy,” Bylsma said. “He drives to the net and creates space for people. He’s a pretty speedy guy up front. Immediately that’s what you can expect from Chris Kunitz. I’ve played with him and coached him. That’s what he does. He’s straight forward. He goes and gets pucks. He drives to the net. He’s around the net a lot so you’ll find him there, getting goals and creating space for people.”

“Having him as a coach for a full year, he knows the way I play and my style,” Kunitz said. “I know what he expects and what he demands from me. That does help make the transition easier but as a head coach it’s different than being an assistant. I’m sure he’ll raise the bar a little bit more. I’m just concentrating on this team.We need a push to get into the playoffs and I have to show the organization what I bring to the table.”
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