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From the Rink: Kunin readies for NHL debut

Rash of injuries creates opportunity for rookie forward

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- The circumstances aren't ideal, but for rookies in the NHL, on the verge of making their debut in the League, they rarely are. 

With its top-six forward group devastated by injury, Luke Kunin was the first name recalled by the Wild on Friday morning. Later in the day, Iowa teammates Christoph Bertschy, Landon Ferraro and Zack Mitchell followed as Minnesota will indeed ice a full 12 forwards for the first time since Opening Night when it hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.

The Wild is the last team to have its home opener, a full 10 days into the NHL season and nine days since its season opener in Detroit on Oct. 5.

Kunin was impressive in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament last month right through training camp and the preseason. He was one of the final players cut from the active roster, but it didn't take him long to reach his ultimate goal. 

"I thought I showed myself well and did things well. I definitely was disappointed when I got sent down but happy to be up," Kunin said. 

Being the competitor that he is, Kunin took little solace in the assumption that he'd be one of the first players called up in case of injury. Despite being without Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise because of injury the first three games, the Wild's salary cap situation complicated things. 

Kunin said those things never crossed his mind.

"I try not to think about it too much. Those things are really out of your control," Kunin said. "Like I've been saying all along, just focus on the things I can control day by day and just try and get better every day."

Video: Wild pregame vs. Columbus

In the dressing room, the 19-year-old Kunin is seated next to the club's oldest player, 40-year-old Matt Cullen, who is slated to center Kunin on Saturday, at least to start the game. 

Cullen was a 21-year-old, only a handful of games into his NHL career, when Kunin was born. 

"You instantly feel a lot older when you bring up the young group of guys, but it's actually a lot of fun," Cullen said. "It really does help you feel young, help keep you young, the energy, the excitement. I remember my first game like it was yesterday. It's pretty cool."

Cullen said he'll share as much wisdom as he can with Kunin, but ultimately, their disparity in age and experience won't matter when they're pulling on the same end of the rope.

"I think you try and reach out as much as you can and help out if you can. Obviously, there's a little bit of added intensity, a little added excitement in the building, so you can use that, but at the same time, you need to control that emotion.

"I think as an older guy, you can try to help a bit, but we're all on the same side here trying to get the same result, so I think it should be good. He had a really good camp and showed a lot of good attributes, so I think that he should help us a lot."

Here are the projected lineups:

WILD

Joel Eriksson Ek - Eric Staal - Chris Stewart

Tyler Ennis - Mikko Koivu - Jason Zucker

Daniel Winnik - Matt Cullen - Luke Kunin

Landon Ferraro - Zack Mitchell - Christoph Bertschy

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba

Gustav Olofsson - Kyle Quincey

Devan Dubnyk

Alex Stalock

BLUE JACKETS

Artemi Panarin - Alexander Wennberg - Cam Atkinson

Sonny Milano - Nick Foligno - Oliver Bjorkstrand

Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Josh Anderson

Pierre-Luc Dubois - Lukas Sedlak - Markus Hannikainen

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones

Jack Johnson - David Savard

Ryan Murray - Scott Harrington

Sergei Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo

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