Nashville Predators counting on Luke Kunin to become a star in Smashville

Minnesota Wild center Luke Kunin (19). Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Wild center Luke Kunin (19). Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports /

It is all systems go for Luke Kunin and the Nashville Predators.

Luke Kunin has now signed a two-year, $4.6 million contract with the Nashville Predators, which carries through 2021-22 and has an Average Annual Value of $2,300,000.

Kunin was a Restricted Free Agent and was traded to the Predators with a Fourth Round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 7 for veteran center Nick Bonino and Second and Third Round selections in 2020.

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Having now signed his new deal, Kunin hit the ice with the Predators for the very first time earlier, and it could be the start of big things to come for the young forward.

When this trade initially went down, it didn’t cause major ripples throughout the NHL world but it was an interesting one to say the least.

After all, Nick Bonino had been a valuable depth piece for the Predators with 95 points (47 G, 48 A) in 219 regular season games, in addition to eight points (3 G, 5 A) in 23 postseason contests.

However, Nashville was clearly trying to get younger by essentially swapping Bonino for Kunin, while also shedding the former’s $4,100,000 cap hit.

The Predators boast a loaded core featuring 2019-20 Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi and forwards Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen, although three of the four are 28 or older with Forsberg only 26 years-old.

So, by adding Kunin the Preds have injected some much-needed youth into their lineup, but the 23-year-old will also bring a lot more to the table for Nashville than just lowering the average age of the roster.

For instance, I’ve been following Kunin’s career for quite some time now and the No. 15 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft is somewhat of a rising star, hence why I was somewhat surprised when the Wild opted to trade him.

He recorded career-highs in goals (15), assists (16), points (31) and blocked shots (54) in 63 regular season games for Minnesota in 2019-20, while also winning 44.5% of his draws in the faceoff circle, which was also a career-high.

Kunin had two goals in four postseason games for the Wild, but he really is only scratching the surface of his potential.

As perfectly illustrated by his 2019-20 season, Kunin boasts high offensive upside and he could be a 30-40 point scorer for the Predators, even from a bottom-six role. I mean, given his age and all the intangibles, there is no reason to think why the right shot can’t eventually hit 50 points in the right situation.

And that’s also the rub here, Kunin will be a younger, cheaper version of Nick Bonino as Nashville’s third-line center, and he’ll provide secondary scoring while also playing a real 200-foot game and being responsible in his own zone.

Luke Kunin (19)
Luke Kunin (19) of the Minnesota Wild. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

He’s an impressive shot blocker, he can lay the body on, he can finish his checks with force thanks to his 6-foot-0 and 195 pounds frame, and he can also log big minutes while playing a key role on the penalty kill.

Granted, there are some kinks for Luke Kunin to iron out in his game, including improving inside the faceoff circle and boosting some of his possession metrics given that he has yet to post a CF% or a oZS% of better than 50 in each of his first three seasons in the NHL.

However, those improvements will come and the potential is there for Kunin to develop into a well-rounded two-way center in the National Hockey League, one that can make a huge impact at both ends of the ice.

And, for the Nashville Predators, who have failed to meet lofty expectations ever since making the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, signing a player of Kunin’s abilities to a team-friendly, two-year deal should help to bolster and beef up their bottom-six while easing some of the pressure on their stacked and explosive top-six group.

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Overall, Luke Kunin will give Nashville incredible strength down the middle behind Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen, and he should play a key role in all situations for this Predators team in 2020-21.