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Kunin ready to do whatever it takes to help Wild during stretch run

Rookie forward represented Iowa at AHL All-Star Game earlier this season

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- It had to be a little surreal for Luke Kunin on Tuesday, sitting high atop the Xcel Energy Center press box, watching his current team, the Wild, play his favorite childhood team, the St. Louis Blues. 

Kunin, recalled from Iowa of the American Hockey League earlier in the day on Tuesday, hasn't played against his hometown team yet -- a debut that may have to wait until next season.

But the rookie from Chesterfield, Missouri, probably won't have to wait that long to get back into the NHL lineup. 

"I haven't figured it out yet," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said of how Kunin fits into the lineup. "I'm sure he's going to play more than he's not. But then in the end it all depends on how you play. There's obvious guys you're not going to sit out. But there's guys that can come in and come out of the game every now and again."

That's not entirely unexpected.

Video: WPG@MIN: Kunin lasers home Niederreiter's feed

Kunin made his NHL debut earlier this season and skated in 17 games, scoring two goals and adding two assists. But he hasn't played with Minnesota since before Thanksgiving, instead playing big minutes down in Iowa, who he represented in the AHL All-Star Game earlier this year.

With rosters expanded post-trade deadline, and a little bit of salary cap space to play with, Kunin is expected to get a quality look for Minnesota down the stretch.

How he fits in -- and where -- is up to him.

"I'm really excited to be here," Kunin said. "I'm excited to find my way into the lineup, and whenever I'm there, like I said, do my thing, and whatever that is, I'm willing to do. 

"I'm going to have to perform if I want to stay here. I'm just excited to be here and help the team be successful."

A standout at the University of Wisconsin, and the Wild's first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Kunin scored 19 goals in 34 games with the Badgers as a freshman and 22 in 35 games his sophomore season.

After scoring five goals in a 12-game cup of coffee with Iowa at the tail end of last season, the scoring has been a bit more difficult to come by this season. Kunin has 10 goals in 36 games with Iowa.

But that's not entirely unexpected for a 20-year-old adjusting to the pro game.

"I think it's what I expected," Kunin said. "The [AHL] is not an easy league to produce and score. A lot of the goals and points are going to be on power plays and situations like that. I feel the last little bit down there, I like where my game is headed and I feel confident and I feel like I can score."

Not unlike Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek -- himself going through his first full season of pro hockey -- the offensive tools are there, it may just take some time for the numbers to catch up to the ability.

In the meantime, also like Eriksson Ek, Kunin has made sure the defensive area of his game is on point.

Boudreau didn't hesitate to use Kunin in tight games late during his first stint, or utilize him on the penalty kill. His first NHL goal was a short-handed tally.

Video: NYI@MIN: Kunin nets shorthanded goal on odd-man rush

"I think I got more comfortable as those games went on and toward the end I was feeling really good about my game," Kunin said. "So going back down there I had more touches with the puck and some power play and things like that. I got some more confidence. I feel good about my game now."


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