Nashville Predators: Kunin’s Case For Expansion Protection

Nashville Predators center Luke Kunin (11) Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators center Luke Kunin (11) Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

Last year on day two of the delayed NHL Entry draft, the Nashville Predators announced that they had traded 3rd line workhorse Nick Bonino to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for  Forward Luke Kunin.

At the time, fans were a little perplexed at the departure of Bonino as we weren’t sure what kind of player in Kunin the Predators would be getting in return. But, as it turns out, Kunin found his place on the team and has fit right in.

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Bonino, then 32 years old, was part of the famous Bonino, Smith, Grimaldi line, who at one point in the 2019-2020 season was one of the best lines in the NHL.

GM David Poile made the trade and acquired the then 22-year-old Kunin, who had just completed his third season in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild.

The 2019-20 numbers for both players were comparable. So while it hurt to lose a player of Bonino’s caliber, this move made sense on a few levels.

While Bonino was and still is a great player, his career is in its latter stages, and any upside to his game has long passed.

Looking at Kunin’s numbers, he has steadily progressed every year in his young career and appears to have the potential to get even better.

With the trade, Poile was able to trim some money from the Predators’ salary cap. At the time, Bonino was making $4.1M a year. Poile wound up signing Kunin to a two-year deal for $4.6M.

The Predators saved some cap space, received a comparable, younger player with some upside left in his game.

Kunin’s First Season With The Nashville Predators

Kunin came out of the gate strong last season, scoring a goal in each of his first two games. It was looking like the trade had paid off.

Along with the rest of the team, Kunin went cold in the remainder of January but began racking up assists in February and March. However, his time was coming.

Kunin’s game picked up significantly in April and May, around the same time that the Predators began making their epic push towards the playoffs.

At that time, Kunin scored eight goals and two assists. During the three-game series against the Chicago Blackhawks in April, Kunin managed four points (3 goals, 1 assist) in those pivotal games that helped push Nashville into the playoffs.

Kunin missed 18 games dues to injury last season. Even with missing games, he put up 19 points (10 goals, 9 assists). Had he played more of the season, there is no doubt that he would have scored more.

Kunin also proved valuable in the playoffs. He scored two goals in game four of the series against Carolina, one being a double overtime winner.

Nineteen points put Kunin in 10th place on the team last season, bookended by Erik Haula and Nick Cousins. His ten goals tied with Rocco Grimaldi and Viktor Arvidsson.

What Does Next Season Hold For Kunin?

Provided that Seattle doesn’t select Kunin in the expansion draft, I expect him to make even more of a contribution next season. Poile would do well to put Kunin on his protected list as he has some marketable skills that the Kraken will be looking for in a forward.

Kunin’s versatility and scoring ability close to the net are two things that the Predators desperately need more of next season. Provided he can stay healthy, Kunin should have no problem gaining more than the 31 points he tallied in his final season with Minnesota.

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After Seattle makes their selection in the expansion draft, the dominos will fall on the Predators roster. Who they select will obviously impact who is on the team when the puck drops in the fall.

One thing is for certain. Kunin made enough of an impact in his debut season with the Predators to deserve protection in the expansion draft and earn some big minutes next Fall.

The trade that sent Bonino away and brought Kunin to Nashville was puzzling at the time, but it has turned out to be one of Poile’s best moves in recent years. Kunin seems right at home in Nashville, and hopefully, he will have a long career with the team.