When you look at the Nashville Predators this season, it is hard to say that anyone has been an outright disappointment. The team’s best players have consistently shown up, and with that being rare throughout the past few seasons, it has helped boost them to where they are this year.
That being said, one player who emerged as a bright spot has had a rough go this year, and that is Luke Kunin. He finished last season strong and was looking like a sure piece of the future core, but has seemingly taken a step back this season. He already has one fewer point in 45 games this year than he had in 38 all of last year, and just is not making plays happen in front of the net like he did last year.
As someone who is only 24 years old and fairly inexperienced at the NHL level, it obviously is not the end of the world for Kunin. Plenty of guys in his situation go through growing pains, and it is especially understandable given the amount of youth and overall new direction in which the Predators are going. But how much is on him, and how much is it due to the situation that he is in?
To be honest, even though he has played in a top-six capacity the whole season, the fact that he has not been on a consistent line might be impacting his production a good bit. If you look at who he has been playing alongside for the majority of the season, you can see that he has not been given a completely unfair opportunity to be consistent.
He looked to be in a firm spot when he got put with Tolvanen and Ryan Johansen, but injuries and COVID-19 have messed with their opportunity. So now he is currently alongside Johansen and Nick Cousins, which is not optimal for his chances to produce.
With the opportunity to play alongside Johansen and Tolvanen again, there is a good chance that Kunin could return back to the player we hoped he would be. That line was starting to show signs of serious chemistry early in December, and it must be noted that Johansen’s point totals have also started to dip since they were broken up. Once the Predators are completely healthy again, I am sure they will be put back together, and Kunin might be able to somewhat salvage his season then.
It is also going to be interesting to see how this impacts his contract negotiations going into the offseason. He has one more year left on a bridge deal that pays him $2.3M per year, and with this season, you would not think that he is making a case for a huge pay raise.
Heck, who knows if the Predators will even want to keep him. There are rumors of them being in the mix for Matthew Tkachuk, and you never know, Kunin could be a piece that the Flames could use in a returning package.
Is it likely that Kunin is dealt? It is not, or at least it would not be ideal. He almost definitely has not reached his potential yet, and his physical style of play fits the mold of hockey that the Predators want to play.
That being said, few players are truly replaceable, and Kunin has not even come close to showing that he should be untouchable. In a perfect world, he stays in Nashville and develops into the player we hoped for when he found success last year, but he has to step it up soon in order to show that he can.
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