There have been plenty of storylines to follow this season when we are talking about the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Everything from the health of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, to who the starting goaltender should be, to who should play on Evgeni Malkin’s line have become major stories since the 2013 season began.
Then throw in the likes of Beau Bennett’s call up, the approaching trade deadline and the Penguins continuous search for a top six forward and something has gotten lost in the shuffle.
That would be the season that Pens’ forward Chris Kunitz is putting together.
If you haven’t noticed the season Kunitz is having, don’t feel bad, not many other people have either. But taking a closer look, the nine-year pro is putting together a season that should have him in the MVP talks at this point.
Of course that won’t happen, mostly due to the fact that the honor of MVP should go to Penguins captain Sidney Crosby right now, but it still shouldn’t overshadow what Kunitz has done so far.
Let’s just take a look at exactly how good Kunitz has been.
You rarely see 33-year old players take their game to a new level, but that is exactly what Kunitz has done. Through 23 games, he has scored 12 goals and 16 assists for a total of 28 points. He is tied for fifth in the NHL in goals scored and is fourth in points, behind only Sidney Crosby (36),Steven Stamkos (34) and Martin St. Louis (30).
Given his style of play, Kunitz may be one of the last players that you would expect to be a point per game type of guy, but that’s exactly what he has been doing.
His career-best season came in 2011-12 when he scored 26 goals and added 35 assists. If Kunitz can stay on the role he’s on right now, he has the opportunity to approach his career-high 61 points this season, but he would do so in a shortened 48-game season.
I mentioned the Kunitz style of play earlier. That hasn’t changed. He’s still throwing his body around- second on the Penguins and 22nd in the NHL with 57 hits. He’s still winning battles in the corners for pucks and doing all of the little things that has made the undrafted Kunitz a success in the NHL for the past eight years.
The difference is that he’s now scoring goals in different fashions.
Kunitz is scoring goals with an insane shooting percentage of 24.5 percent. Keep in mind that this is a guy who came into the season with a career shooting percentage of 12.7 percent. His 12 goals have come by taking only 49 shots this season.
He’s also getting the job done at the defensive end of the ice as well.
Kunitz leads the NHL in plus-minus with a plus-17. I’m not the biggest plus-minus guy in the world when looking at a player’s impact on the ice, but the fact that he is leading the league shows that he’s not only been a big factor in scoring goals, but preventing them as well.
What’ been the difference this year for Kunitz?
The easy explanation is that he is taking advantage of playing with great talent.
Having Crosby healthy all season has made a world of difference as with Crosby on the ice, he draws a lot of attention. We see wingers all the time put up great numbers simply by playing with the best players in the world. That’s part of the case here as Kunitz has been the beneficiary of Crosby’s playmaking skills, but he has also made teams pay for forgetting about him.
The funny part about Kunitz’s season is the fact that he has missed some golden opportunities this season. He realistically should have four or five more goals right now, which would make this season, look even better right now.
The key to Kunitz continuing his outstanding play so far is Crosby.
If No. 87 stays healthy all season and continues to play at the level he is playing at, Kunitz could be in for a big season.
He has turned into the perfect fit on Crosby’s line. Who knows if Kunitz can continue to do what he has been doing, and chances are he won’t- but at least for now his start to this season should be garnering much more attention nationally.
He’s been putting numbers up at an MVP-type level and whether or not he keeps it up can be the difference in making a lengthy postseason run.