Courtesy of Point Park University

Kunitz on NHL career: ‘I … made the most of it’


To continue reading, log into your account:

[theme-my-login show_title=0]
Chris Kunitz celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning goal in Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Some might be surprised that a guy who appeared in over 1,000 regular-season games and was an integral part of four Stanley Cup champions wasn't deemed worthy of being even a late-round draft choice.

Chris Kunitz isn't.

Mostly because, he said today, he wasn't worthy of that honor — not when he would have been eligible to be claimed by an NHL team, anyway.

Even though for years, Kunitz wasn't sure precisely when that would have been.

"There was no draft watch party," Kunitz said Wednesday on a media call. "I wasn't anywhere on the radar (of NHL scouts). I was playing Tier II junior in Saskatchewan. I only, as of lately, think I've figured out what year I would have been drafted."

After a year with the Melville Millionaires, Kunitz enrolled at Ferris State, where he gradually developed into a pro-caliber talent.

"I needed those extra years in college to mature and become an actual pro," he said.

Kunitz ultimately signed with Anaheim as a free agent in 2003 and, after additional seasoning in the American Hockey League -- "I needed that time in the minors to figure myself out and see how I can make a career of this," he said -- won his first Cup, with the Ducks in 2007.

That would have made for a pretty fair career, given his modest background, but those were just the early steps on a 15-year journey that lasted until Tuesday, when Kunitz announced that he was retiring and will move into a player-development role with Chicago.

Eight of those seasons, and part of a ninth, were spent with the Penguins, who acquired him at the trade deadline in 2009.

A few months later, he won the first of his three Cups here.

Kunitz played a straight-line, blue-collar game that landed him a spot on Sidney Crosby's left wing for much of his time with the Penguins. It proved to be a productive partnership for both.

"He's a person who wants to speed through the middle of the ice and wants the puck," Kunitz said. "I always found it easier to give it to a real centerman who wants the puck rather than to carry it myself."

Crosby might well have been the most accomplished teammate Kunitz ever had, but he wasn't the only top-shelf talent with whom he played. During his time in Anaheim, Kunitz shared a locker room with the likes of wingers Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya and defenseman Scott Niedermayer, among others.

Those experiences, he said, made him confident that his game could dovetail nicely with Crosby's.

"I had a similar role when I played with players in Anaheim who were elite-level players," Kunitz said. "I always found that they enjoyed playing with me because I would just go in on the forecheck and disturb it, and get pucks back and go to the net. There wasn't a lot of change in the way I played."

Kunitz began to slide down the depth chart late in his run with the Penguins before signing with the Lightning as a free agent in 2017. The change in his role, he said, helped to give him a new view of the game, as well.

"When you're in it and you're playing top-line minutes, you just go out there and play hockey," he said. "When you have more time to think, when you're playing down the lineup, it kind of changes your perspective. But hopefully, you buy in and become a better teammate and do whatever is needed of you."

Which is exactly what Kunitz did, for a number of teams, and for a lot of years.

A lot more than he -- or anyone else -- could have expected when he was riding buses in Saskatchewan.

"I ... got put in some great situations," he said. "And made the most of it, I guess."

To continue reading, log into your account: