Coming in at number 19 in this year’s Nation Network draft rankings is University of Wisconsin centre Luke Kunin. The Missouri native already has a very successful NCAA season under his belt after putting up 32 points in 34 games for the Badgers this year.
Kunin has one of the most well-rounded skillsets of this draft class. He’s a dangerous shooter with above-average speed, good defensive awareness, and a strong hockey IQ. His talent level isn’t quite high enough to merit top-ten consideration, but he is a dangerous goal-scorer with few weak spots in his game, and could be a very good NHL player.
Age: 18 (December 4th, 1997)
Birthplace: Chesterfield, USA
Frame: 6’0, 196 lbs
Draft Year Team: University of Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
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A slick and overall solid centre that plays hard in all three zones. Has some explosive feet and tremendous speed generated in only a few quick strides.His shot is on and off his blade in only a split second and shows outstanding velocity and accuracy. He also shows impressive reads of developing plays and the vision and creativity to make a play out of nothing. Does not slouch defensively as he comes back and disrupts the opponents attack. A slick possession player with quick hands and a quicker mind.
From The Draft Analyst:
An honest, clean player with very good speed and strength, Kunin is a natural goal scorer, blessed with a laser of a shot and excellent instincts. (…) Kunin is an excellent skater who is always looking for his shot – a process which doesn’t take a lot of time to bear results. Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves has raved about his maturity and leadership, and the fact that Kunin continues to improve while fighting Type 1 Diabetes tells us there’s more to his game than just scoring.
Comparing prospects from different leagues is one of the most challenging parts of putting together draft rankings. But with many USHL, BCHL, and USHS prospects committing to the NCAA next year, it’s worth remembering what Kunin has already shown as a college freshman. Kunin became arguably his team’s top offensive threat while also earning the coaching staff’s trust as a penalty killer in his 17/18 year old season.
There aren’t any obvious holes in Kunin’s game: his skating, defensive awareness, and hockey IQ are all very strong. His best attribute, though, is his shot. 19 of his 32 points this season were goals, and in the 2015 World U-18’s he scored 6 goals in 7 games. He’s a volume shooter, putting up nearly 4 shots per game this season, but he’s also a quality finisher: he has a quick release and a very accurate shot, and was good for a 15% shooting percentage this season.
By the time you get past the top five or so picks in the draft, the sure things are gone. Few mid-to-late first-rounders will become NHL stars — some won’t even become NHL regulars.
But Kunin’s two-way game, well-rounded skillset, and impressive scoring in the NCAA make him a reasonably safe pick to make the NHL. And his goalscoring ability gives him a real chance to develop into a gamebreaker at the NHL level — far from a certainty, but a chance.
His pGPS percentage (35%) and points per game (0.48) are fair for a mid-first rounder, but I think there’s reason to believe he could be more valuable than his statline indicates. The poor quality of last year’s Wisconsin team — they went 8-19-8 — likely didn’t help his point totals, and the maturity of his two-way game for an 18 year old is impressive.
My initial rankings had Kunin as the 21st prospect in this draft class, but I’ve really come around on him. He will almost certainly return to the University of Wisconsin next season, where he will be one of the team’s leaders and likely the Badgers’ best player. I think Luke Kunin could be really good value anywhere in the 15-25 slots of this draft, and would be a good target for the Jets’ second first-rounder at number 22.