Coming into this season much hype existed regarding Penguins forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal with very little mention of veteran winger Chris Kunitz. Quietly, Kunitz is having a tremendous first half to the season. He currently sits 3rd in league scoring with 36 points, trailing only his line mate Sidney Crosby (45) and Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos (37).
Scoring goals with the best of them. Kunitz has 17 goals this season, putting him tied for 2nd in the league with former 40 goal scorers James Neal and Jeff Carter. The Penguins LW sits only two goals back of last season’s Rocket Richard winner Stamkos. Kunitz scored his 2nd hat trick of the season tonight against the New York Islanders in a 6-1 Penguins win. His first trick of the season was a 4 goal performance against the Washington Capitals on February 3rd.
Kunitz is a huge plus for the Penguins. He currently leads the league in plus minus with a dominating +21. His strong play at both ends of the ice has largely contributed to the Penguins winning record this season (18-8-0).
Chris Kunitz has always been under the radar when it comes to receiving acclaim throughout his career. The truth is, the 33 year old from Regina, Saskatchewan has had success everywhere he’s played. Kunitz is a two-time Stanley Cup winner. His first Cup ring came as a member of the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks. Two years later, he won a second Cup with the Pens, totaling 14 points in 24 games, playing a key role as a forechecker and foot soldier.
His production this season is a step up from his normal pace. Kunitz has scored 20 goals four times in his career and it’s safe to say he will hit that mark again this year. Scoring 20 this season is more impressive however because of the shortened 48 games schedule.
Hard work has been Kunitz best attribute throughout his career. He plays the game with a lot of intensity. He’s very good at winning battles for loose pucks and he regularly storms in on the forecheck, leveling opposing defensemen.
Kunitz has played with some great players in his day. As a member of the Ducks he saw significant time on the left wing of a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Since coming to Pittsburgh he has spent most of his time playing LW for either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. With Crosby out most of last season, Kunitz was the 3rd member of the highest scoring line in hockey along with Malkin and Neal. Malkin led the league in points with 109 and finished 2nd in goals with 50. James Neal’s career high 40 goals was good enough for 4th in the league. Kunitz was the guy fishing out loose pucks and creating space for the line with his energetic play and intensity.
Kunitz has a mean streak. He has ten career fights in the NHL, including one in the 2009 playoffs against Scott Hartnell of the Philadelphia Flyers.
No one could have expected this level of production from Kunitz but it may not be a huge surprise in hindsight. He is lucky enough to play with the best players in the world on a nightly basis. He has been surrounded by elite talent his whole NHL career. Lastly, Kunitz is a hard worker and hard work has a tendency to pay off with positive results.