After acquiring the forward’s signing rights in a draft-day trade, the San Jose Sharks have signed restricted free agent forward Luke Kunin. The 24-year-old has inked a two-year deal, with an average annual value of $2.75 million. The actual salary is backloaded, coming in $2.5 million in the first year and $3 million in the second. It’s a modest increase from his previous two-year, $2.3 million AAV deal.
“Luke is a physical player with high energy and pace to his game who can chip in offensively,” said Sharks general manager Mike Grier, in a release. “He also brings several strong leadership qualities on and off the ice, previously serving as captain for the US National team and the University of Wisconsin.”
Kunin remains a controversial acquisition by Grier, having been traded from the Nashville Predators in exchange for 23-year-old forward John Leonard and a conditional pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. The Predators just signed Leonard to a one-year bridge deal worth $750,000. Though Kunin has significantly more NHL experience (251 games to Leonard’s 58), his offensive output isn’t drastically higher than Leonard’s on the whole, averaging .37 points per game to Leonard’s .26. Leonard still shows room for growth, whereas Kunin appears to have plateaued.
The Minnesota Wild initially drafted Kunin at 15th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft out of the University of Wisconsin in the NCAA Division I. As mentioned by Grier, Kunin had served as captain of the USA national men’s juniors U18 team through the entire previous season (2014-15), including the 2015 World Juniors Championship, where USA won Gold.
Kunin returned to World Juniors as captain of the U20 team in 2016-17, again winning Gold. This season also marked his final of two years at Wisconsin, serving as the team’s captain and leading in both goals (22) and points (38). At the end of the season, he turned professional, joining the AHL’s Iowa Wild.
After three seasons in the Wild organization, Kunin’s signing rights were traded to the Predators along with a 2020 fourth-round pick, in exchange for (current Sharks forward) Nick Bonino and two 2020 picks (second and third round) during the second day of the 2020 NHL Draft.
In 251 NHL games, Kunin has totaled 46 goals, 47 assists, 207 penalty minutes and a -30 rating. He’ll become an RFA in summer 2024.