Wild’s Luke Kunin healthy, ready finally to start producing

Wild’s Luke Kunin healthy, ready finally to start producing

By: Dane Mizutani – Pioneer Press

It wasn’t long ago when 21-year-old center Luke Kunin was considered one of the top prospects in the Wild farm system. And as a first-round draft pick in 2016, he shouldered some lofty expectations from the moment he signed his entry-level contract.

And now it’s time for Kunin live up to the hype.

While not many outsiders are expecting much from the Wild this season, they could surprise some people, especially if Kunin, a former University of Wisconsin star, finds a way to realize his potential. He is coming off a full summer of training, something he didn’t have heading into last season, working tirelessly to recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

“It was nice to work on the things I wanted to work on and not have to worry about going to rehab every day,” he said. “It’s good to turn the page and start fresh. I’m very excited to get this thing rolling.”

There’s reason to believe Kunin could be in line to take the next step. Aside from him being completely healthy, of course, Kunin finished last season very strong in the NHL, and dominated in the American Hockey League as the Iowa Wild made a brief playoff run.

“I liked where my game was at,” he said. “I thought I improved as I was playing a little bit longer there. I did a lot of things this summer. Just working on the areas of my game that I thought I needed to improve upon. I wanted to get better in a lot of areas, and I think I did that.”

For the time being, it looks like Kunin (6 feet, 195 pounds) will play alongside Mikko Koivu (6-3, 220) and opposite good friend Jordan Greenway (6-6, 225). That trio boasts a ton of size, and if coach Bruce Boudreau uses that as his shutdown line, it could make life tough on opposing teams.

Not that Kunin wants to be know solely as a defensive stopper. He was a prolific offensive contributor in college and thinks he can get to that point again.

As does Boudreau.

“He’s 100 percent healthy, and he’s got a little bit of experience behind him, and he’s got a great release and a great work ethic,” the Wild coach said. “To me, those things add up to scoring some goals. I’m not saying prolific and 30- or 40-goal scorer. I would just be disappointed if he didn’t contribute offensively.”

In a perfect world, Kunin would chip in offensively when needed and remain solid defensively. He believes he can do that.

“I feel really good,” Kunin said. “I want to take that next step and really produce and do a lot more than I have before.”