Chris Kunitz is stepping out of the shadows. An underrated player by far and one of the best forwards to play wing for Sidney Crosby in his 8 years in the NHL (more on that here), Kunitz is taking his “breakout season” from last year and kicking it into warp speed.
Last season, Kunitz one upped his best season with the Ducks (back in 2007-2008) with just one more point, giving him 61. In Crosby’s absence, he found great chemistry and production with MVP Evgeni Malkin and All Star Neal.
Now that he has been reunited with Sid this season, there is something else to Kunitz’s game. Kuni has always been the perfect linemate for guys like Sid and Geno because he will do the dirty work, puck retrieval, and lay down massively hard checks all while floating perfect passes to his centerman. The role reversed a bit this season. Now it seems Crosby is the one setting up Kunitz for goals more often than not. With both guys (along with James Neal), leading the league in goals and points, you have to wonder what more we could possibly see from Kunitz in the next twenty-two games. The season is half over and Kunitz already has 2 hat tricks (sock monkeys!) and is averaging 1.31 points per game.
Some argue that Kunitz needs to return to Malkin’s line when he is healthy again. Others believe he belongs with Crosby. After last season, I believed he had found a good home with Geno and I am a big fan of going with what works.
What do you do when someone is a perfect winger for TWO NHL superstars?
I am saying, you keep him with Crosby. Per my previously referenced post and the statistics of this season, Kunitz playing with Crosby is in the best interest of not only Kunitz and Crosby, but the Penguins as a team. Their production is off the charts.
What about Malkin?
Malkin still has James Neal, and that duo will not and should not ever be separated. Neal is the sniper that Malkin was missing after Petr Sykora departed from the Pens- and then some. They just need to fill that missing piece. They’ve tried Matt Cooke, who wasn’t terrible, and Eric Tangradi (*dissolves into laughter*). But now there is Beau Bennett- believed at training camp to be the elusive winger for Sidney Crosby. WINGER FOR SID!
I don’t feel that leaving Kunitz with Sid is a slight against Malkin. It is what is in the best interest for the team and for the players involved. As long as the puck is finding the back of the net, does it really matter who put it there in the grand scheme of things?
The funny thing about “winger for Sid” is that everyone believed Neal would be Sid’s winger and demanded he be placed “rightfully” on Sid’s line when he returned from his concussion. Neal has played on Sid’s line and they’ve done okay. But not the way he plays with Geno. Now Bennett is playing fantastic hockey for his first set of games at the NHL level. He has great vision and isn’t afraid to stop the puck with his body. He sees plays development and reacts appropriately and fluidly. He looked very good with Brandon Sutter on the third line, but what was once deemed a possible winger for Sid is now working out once again to be a winger for Geno.
And there is nothing wrong with that. Why? Because Sid already has two perfect wingers in Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
The 33 year-old Kunitz seems to be hitting a second wind in his prime and from where I’m sitting, he is right where he belongs.