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Kunitz, Penguins A Perfect Fit

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

When Chris Kunitz arrived in Pittsburgh in February 2009, he fit right in.

The compact forward scored 18 points in 20 regular-season games that year before playing an integral role in the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup championship run with 14 points in 24 postseason games.

Chris Kunitz (Getty Images)
And on Thursday, Kunitz signed a two-year contract extension with the Penguins in hopes of helping them capture that coveted silver chalice again.

“It’s a great organization to be a part of,” he said. “This team is going to have many chances to win the Stanley Cup with the young core of guys that they have here. It’s an exceptional place to play. Me and my family felt it was the best choice for us to be here.”

Kunitz, 32, was set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, but emphasized that there was nowhere else he’d rather be than the Steel City.

And despite responding with one of his best NHL seasons in 2010-11 with his team enduring a host of injuries – finishing second in goals behind Sidney Crosby with 23 and posting 48 points in 66 games – Kunitz re-signed for the same amount ($3.75 million) he has made with Pittsburgh since he arrived.

“Pittsburgh is our first choice no matter what,” he said. “If you go to free agency, there may be somebody else that wants to and is willing to pay you more, but I like my situation here. I like how I fit in with the team. I like the group of guys and the coaches and management. With our family, it’s a great place to live and raise our kids. That’s important to us.”

Kunitz, who has played wing alongside Crosby for much of his tenure in Pittsburgh, plays a high-tempo style that melds perfectly into head coach Dan Bylsma’s aggressive, offensive-minded systems. Kunitz provides a tough net-front presence – especially on the power play – as well as physicality and speed.

“I think the way that our coaches put the systems out there, it’s something that I maybe excel at in going in and creating havoc and turnovers and using your speed,” Kunitz said. “It’s something that I’ve always fit and felt good in from Day 1. Playing with some of the best centers in the world makes your job easy. You do the little things right and that’s something I pride myself on. It seems to work out that way.”

But Bylsma noted that in addition to his exceptional play on the ice, Kunitz’s role off of it has grown as well.

“The other part of Chris’ game too that has grown significantly since he’s been here is his leadership in our room and leadership on the bench,” Bylsma said. “That’s something that Chris has brought over the last year.

“It started in the beginning of last year and I think in the absence of some other players he has been that for our team. He’s been a good complimentary player but I’d never call him a complimentary player. He’s an in-first, physical, tough guy to play against. He’s tenacious. He’s one of the signature guys doing it the right way. It’s good for Chris and I’m happy to have him in our uniform.”

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