After a standout sophomore year with the Wisconsin Badgers, Luke Kunin turned pro and continued to turn heads this spring while playing for the AHL's Iowa Wild.
On the heels of a 22-goal season at UW, the 19-year-old team captain joined the Minnesota Wild's AHL affiliate and skated in 12 games, scoring five goals and eight points.
At 6-foot, 196 pounds, Kunin isn't the biggest guy on the ice, but he plays a hard-nosed game and appears poised for NHL success.
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The fearless forward battles hard and was one of the most impressive Wild players during the development camp. He's also an intriguingly cheap option for a cap-strapped team with high ambitions.
After Minnesota re-signs restricted free agents Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, the team will have 11 locks on the offense, leaving a couple spots up for grabs. Pending moves, Kunin will either make the team as the 12th guy or start the season in the AHL, where he will be able to play each night.
Granlund and Niederreiter are each slated for significant raises after breakout seasons. Newcomer Marcus Foligno is also set for a new contract. The other 16 roster players account for roughly $56 million of the $75 million salary cap.
Add in the $2.5 million cap hit from the Thomas Vanek buyout and the Wild have about $16.5 million to re-sign Granlund, Niederreiter, and Foligno and add another four players for the 23-man roster.
Drafted 15th overall in 2016, Kunin will start his entry-level contract this season after officially signing with the team in March. He would bring a very manageable cap hit of $925,000 to the strong central team that has watched its division opponents bolster their lineups.
The natural center also brings the ability to play at any of the three forward positions, which is often hard than it sounds given handedness, breakouts, and comfort and awareness.
It's not all about money, though. It's about what's best for the player's development as well as the organization's long-term future.
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