Mike Grier’s first official move that affected the San Jose Sharks NHL roster was trading for forward Luke Kunin from the Nashville Predators for John Leonard and a 2023 third-round pick. Kunin, a pending RFA, was acquired during the second day of the 2022 NHL Draft and later signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal.
Luke Kunin does two things: score goals and rack up penalty minutes. In thirty-one games last year, he had five goals and 42 penalty minutes for the Sharks. He was mostly playing middle-six minutes for the Sharks last season and was one of the wingers in the revolving door of players who played alongside Logan Couture. When not in the penalty box, Kunin was often deployed as one of the team’s top penalty killers alongside Couture and Nico Sturm.
Luke Kunin tore the ACL in his right knee on December 13, 2022, in a game against the Minnesota Wild. This is the second time Kunin has torn his ACL. He injured his left ACL in 2018, coincidently when he was a member of the Wild. Despite being injured, Kunin has kept up with his foundation, the LKT1D fund, to help support families with diabetes. He was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes when he was 12 and has advocated for awareness and support. Kunin hosted a family in San Jose for a day with the Sharks in late December. He also recently hosted a three-day camp for players with type-1 diabetes, which is a good sign that Kunin should be ready for training camp.
Where does Kunin fit?
With the additions that Mike Grier has made to the forward group this summer and Kunin’s uncertainty about coming back from his ACL injury. He should be in more of a natural role as a bottom-six scoring forward. This isn’t to say that Kunin can’t come back to form from his injury, but expecting him to jump back into a top-six role right away is ambitious. As one of the few right-handed shots among the forward group, Kunin should slot in as the third-line right winger on a line with Mikael Granlund and whoever loses the second-line role among Filip Zadina, Mike Hoffman, and Fabian Zetterlund.
A key factor for Kunin will be his role as a penalty killer. With three of the five top penalty killing forwards in terms of minutes last season (Steven Lorentz, Nick Bonino, and Matt Nieto) all no longer on the team, there are going to be some big holes for David Quinn to fill to try and keep this penalty kill unit among the top in the league. Kunin was sixth on the team in terms of PK minutes and will probably be one of the top three by the end of the season. Oskar Lindblom also saw increased production, especially after Nieto was traded to the Colorado Avalanche. Kunin’s rugged game should help him fill out the penalty kill and be an effective penalty killer as he gets more comfortable in the role.
On the power play, Kunin did see a fair amount of time despite his limited availability. This year, he will be firmly in the unit two role with the increase of available forwards who are more suited for power play time. Kunin does provide a net front presence and is willing to get some dirty or fluky goals. A second unit of Kunin – Granlund – Zadina – Hoffman isn’t the sexiest group but has the potential to be quietly effective.
What’s next for Kunin?
Luke Kunin is entering the final year of his two-year deal. His cap hit is $2.75 million, and he will be an arbitration-eligible RFA after the season. If Kunin can turn into a strong penalty killer who adds some scoring pop on the third line, teams could be very interested around the trade deadline to add him as a depth piece heading into the playoffs. This assumes that Kunin returns to form from his ACL injury and is able to establish himself as a penalty killer; neither is a guarantee. If a team does come asking for a fifth-round pick, is it worth it to Mike Grier to give up his first player acquisition, who will be cost-controlled for another season, for an asset?
There are a lot of questions surrounding Kunin, who should have an established role on this team as a gritty scorer, can he return to form after a second ACL? Can he progress as a penalty killer? Can he fill a bottom-six role with other forward options on the team? Luke Kunin’s training camp will be one of the more interesting stories to watch this fall.
Bold Prediciton: Luke Kunin is third among the forwards in penalty kill minutes behind Logan Couture and Nico Sturm.