BUFFALO -- Luke Kunin grew up idolizing Keith Tkachuk. A product of Chesterfield, Missouri, just west of St. Louis, Kunin was a Blues. His father Mark, who played high school hockey, had Kunin on skates before he could walk.
But Tkachuk wasn't a poster-idol, and was never that far away. Neither was his son, Matthew, whom Kunin calls, "One of my best friends."
Kunin was one of five Missourians, all born and raised in St. Louis or nearby, to be selected in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft on Friday.
Hockey hasn't always been as prominent as it is now in Missouri, but Tkachuk, who finished his pro career in St. Louis, raised his family and son Matthew there. Also around was second-generation player Logan Brown, son of former Blue, Jeff. Logan was another one of those first round, Missouri-bred picks at First Niagara Center on Friday.
The group also included Clayton Keller, who was selected seventh by the Arizona Coyotes, and Trent Frederic, taken 29th by the Boston Bruins.
"I can't thank guys enough like Keith Tkachuk, Jeff Brown, Al MacInnis, Jamie Rivers, guys like that who stuck around and made hockey in St. Louis what it is today," Kunin said. "That's why we're so successful here tonight; four guys in the top 15 is unbelievable. Youth hockey in St. Louis is turning into something special."
Kunin said, like many kids, he grew up playing soccer and baseball. He played lacrosse more seriously until he relocated from Chesterfield to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to join the United States National Team Development Program in 2013.
"I really liked lacrosse," Kunin said. "It was good, physical, fast, hand-eye.
"But hockey is my love."
And how could Kunin not fall in love with hockey? He was in the Blues' locker room from a young age — he and Matthew Tkachuk had always played on the same teams until this past season, and when Keith decided it was take-your-son to work day, Kunin qualified as a plus-one.
"We've been through it all together," Kunin said, "and it's pretty crazy coming together here tonight."
Kunin was a Blues fan growing up. Twist his arm a bit and he'll admit that it would be great for the city of St. Louis to win a Stanley Cup. Where his allegiances were during the Wild-Blues 2015 Stanley Cup first round Western Conference series are a bit more guarded.
"But I'm with the Wild now," he said.