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After Early Cut, Kunin Has Made A Hockey Life

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

BUFFALO -- When Luke Kunin was about seven or eight years old, he was cut from his first hockey team by father and the team's coach, Mark.

"I don't know if I forgave him," Luke said. "But it was pretty funny."

Roughly a decade later, father and son shared a new moment, one far less tense, when the Minnesota Wild used the 15th pick in the 2016 NHL Draft to select Luke, a forward, and a native of Chesterfield, Missouri.

"He's my biggest fan," Kunin said of his father. "I just wasn't good enough, I think. He wasn't going to give me any easy rides because I was the coach's son. At the time I was pretty upset, but now, and in the long-run, it was one of the best things for me."

Kunin, who just finished his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin, is making a reputation for being a goal scorer. He tallied 19 in his first season as a Badger, third-most among freshman in the NCAA.

"Luke is a versatile, two-way forward that can play center and wing," Wild Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr said. "He has a tremendous work ethic, great speed and an NHL shot. He's been a leader everywhere he's played."

Though scoring goals as a teenager in the NCAA is very different than doing so in the NHL, Flahr said the type of goals Kunin scores could translate at higher levels.

"He doesn't need the puck very long on his stick to get it off," Flahr said. "He can really shoot the puck. He goes to the hard areas, he has the speed, he's tenacious, and he did that on a team that didn't have a lot of depth this year. I imagine his numbers will improve dramatically here going forward."

To Kunin, his game is more than just his offensive strengths.

"I love scoring goals," Kunin said. "I love shutting the other team down as well, too. I'm an all-around player, and that's where I'm going to be at the NHL level."

The defensive side of the game can always be one of the sticking points when it comes to an amateur forward becoming a pro. Flahr said Kunin's proficiency on that end of the ice will be to his benefit.

"Just having the ability to play that side of the game makes the transition to pro hockey easier," Flahr said. "He's the type of kid that coaches will always like. You'll always be able to put them out in the important minutes in games, late in games, when the game is on the line."

Kunin, who is a product of the United States National Development Team, said he could have gone north to play junior hockey, but wanted the challenge of playing against grown men, one he would get in the NCAA.

"I wanted the challenge of being a 17-year-old against men," said Kunin, who turned in December in the middle of the college hockey season. " I did pretty well for myself.

"That's what I'm going to do at the NHL level. It really helped my development."

It's at Wisconsin where Kunin has gotten a taste of Minnesota hockey, when his Badgers play against the University of Minnesota in Big 10 conference games.

"They're very intense, very physical," Kunin said. "Those are the fun ones to play in for sure. Love going into their building, and having them hate the Badgers. Then when they come, we hate the Gophers. It's pretty fun for sure and a great atmosphere."

Kunin said he had a good meeting with the Wild a few days ago, and had a feeling that if he was available with the 15th pick, he would end up in Minnesota.

"I'm very happy, and honored to be selected by such a great organization," Kunin said. "Words can't describe it, to be there and share it with my family who has given up so much for me to do what I love. For them to be here is pretty special."

Suffice to say, no hard feelings over getting cut from his childhood team, at least on Luke's end.

"My mom wasn't too happy," he said. "He spent a few nights on the couch."

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