Wild nab Wisconsin center with 15th pick
BUFFALO, N.Y. — In need of a goal-scoring prospect, the Minnesota Wild on Friday drafted an 18-year-old they hope can develop into the type of forward with a knack for the net that they’ve lacked in recent years.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — In need of a goal-scoring prospect, the Minnesota Wild on Friday drafted an 18-year-old they hope can develop into the type of forward with a knack for the net that they've lacked in recent years.
With the 15th overall pick – one of just four they have in this weekend's NHL draft – the Wild chose Luke Kunin, a 6-foot center fresh off a standout freshman season with the University of Wisconsin. He instantly becomes one of the team's top prospects.
"He's been a leader wherever he has been, and he can score goals," said Brent Flahr, the Wild's assistant general manager who oversees the team's draft. "He plays a complete game. All the research we've done and everyone we spoke to raves about his character and determination. He's a gamer."
Kunin was a rare bright spot for the Badgers, recording a team-high 19 goals for the last-place team in the Big Ten. Just to get to Madison, Kunin accelerated his academics, graduating from high school in three years so he could play college hockey early.
"I wanted the challenge of being a 17-year-old playing against men," Kunin said. "I thought I did pretty well for myself. I could've played major junior and made it a little easier for myself, but I was up for the challenge and wanted to play against men. That's what I'm going to do at the NHL level, so I think it really helped my development."
Kunin grew up in Missouri playing with his good friend Matthew Tkachuk, the son of former NHL star Keith Tkachuk. The younger Tkachuk was drafted sixth overall Friday. Their hockey careers began together while they played for Kunin's father, Mark.
After tryouts together as 8-year-olds, though, Mark cut his son, keeping Kunin off the team and putting Tkachuk on it, a move that caused some consternation at the house.
"My mom wasn't too happy," Kunin said with a laugh. "He (Mark) spent a few nights on the couch, I think.
"But I just wasn't good enough. He wasn't going to give me an easy ride just because I was the coach's son. At the time I was pretty upset, but in the long run it was probably one of the best things for me."
The Wild won't have to travel far to keep tabs on Kunin, who said he enjoys the rivalry between the Badgers and Gophers.
"They're very intense, very physical games," Kunin said. "Those are the fun ones to play in. I love going into their building and having them hate the Badgers. And when they come, we hate the Gophers. It's pretty fun for sure and a great atmosphere."