The Wild anticipated its post-trade deadline boost coming from within — from reserves in the minors heralded as additions that could invigorate the team as it pushed for a playoff berth.
Prized prospect Luke Kunin was the poster boy of this forecasted second wind for the Wild since he was the first ushered into the mix but Kunin is out for the rest of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Sunday’s 4-1 victory over Detroit at Xcel Energy Center.
“It’s really disappointing for him,” coach Bruce Boudreau said Monday. “He’s been waiting and working so hard down in Iowa to get this opportunity, and we were excited to get him up here and play. For this to happen in his second game, I feel more for him than for us.”
Kunin took a hit late in the third period Sunday — only his second appearance since his call-up from the American Hockey League on Tuesday — and didn’t finish the game. He was limping and was absent from practice Monday to get evaluated.
His recovery time is pegged at approximately seven months, and he is expected to undergo knee surgery in the coming weeks. The diagnosis continued the team’s injury woes this season. The Wild had been at full strength for only nine games and lost 111 man games before Kunin was sidelined.
“He takes great care of himself, and he has a tremendous work ethic,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “So I don’t have any doubt that he’ll rehab and come back from this stronger and better than ever and be a really good hockey player for our team. Certainly, in the short-term, it’s disappointing — disappointing for our team. But you feel horribly for Luke.”
Kunin started the season in Iowa, getting assigned to the AHL out of training camp. But he quickly returned to Minnesota, making his NHL debut Oct. 14 against the Blue Jackets in the team’s home opener after injury decimated the forward group.
Two games later, he notched his first NHL points with a pair of assists against Calgary. On Oct. 26 against the Islanders, Kunin became the first player in team history to score his first career goal shorthanded.
He went on to log 17 games with the Wild, chipping in two goals and two assists, before getting sent back to the minors, an assignment aimed at stoking his confidence and exposing him to regular minutes in his first full-length professional season after leaving the University of Wisconsin.
In 36 games with Iowa, the 15th overall draft pick in 2016 racked up 10 goals and 19 points and represented the team at the 2018 AHL All-Star Game.
“He’s a good player,” Fletcher said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. He’s a kid that can skate, shoot and score, but he also has a lot of other elements to his game — his willingness to block shots, he’s strong defensively, he can play center or wing and he’s got a motor. He really competes, brings a lot of energy every night.
“So when you combine sort of that physical element with the skill element, he has a chance to be a pretty good hockey player in this league. We’re certainly excited about his future.”
Kunin’s absence leaves the Wild with 12 forwards, enough to face Carolina on Tuesday, so the team will monitor performance and health in deciding when it needs to add reinforcements.
Zack Mitchell, Landon Ferraro, Cal O’Reilly and Kyle Rau are among the options with Iowa who already have skated with the Wild this season.