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Wild’s first-round pick Luke Kunin: ‘I’m a winner’

July 15, 2016 GMT

ST. PAUL — Brad Bombardir was bombarded with texts from players during the first round of the NHL draft in June.

“’Are you taking him? Are you taking him? Are you picking him?’” the Wild’s director of player development’s phone read. “And of course, I didn’t say anything to them.”

The messages were in reference to Wisconsin freshman forward Luke Kunin, who Minnesota did indeed select with the 15th pick of the draft. Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr said Kunin can play all three forward positions, including center, which would fit a large need for Minnesota.

“He was on our radar, no doubt, and honestly, I don’t think we really thought that he was going to be there,” Bombardir said. “But he was there, and we took him. So I thought that was a tremendous opportunity for us to get better.”

Kunin is skating in a Minnesota jersey for the first time this week at the Wild development camp, and was on the ice for an open scrimmage Thursday afternoon.

Kunin admitted the draft experience was “surreal” but said he came into this week wanting to show what he’s got.

“I want to prove to people that I’m one of the best players obviously in the draft,” Kunin said. “I always want to show myself every time I step foot on the ice.”

Kunin doesn’t lack in confidence, which Flahr thinks is because the 18-year-old does everything he can to prepare himself for success.

“There’s lots of his intangibles that attracted us,” Flahr said. “His character, the more you talk to him, you’ll see he’s extremely driven, extremely focused. He wants to be a player and (has) a timeline of when he wants to be a player.”

Former Gophers defenseman Nick Seeler, signed by the wild in March, played against Kunin in the Big Ten last season and walked away impressed.

“He’s a good player, a heck of a player,” Seeler said. “Just seeing him out there, he’s a really skilled guy and he’s quick, so he’s going to be a really good player in the future and he is now.”

Kunin’s freshman season with Wisconsin marked one of the first times he’s played for a losing team. While Kunin finished with 19 goals and 13 assists, Wisconsin was just 8-19-8.

After the season, the Badgers fired coach Mike Eaves and hired former NHL coach Tony Granato.

Kunin said the coaching change created a “new culture” and a “good buzz” around the Badgers’ program.

“I’m a winner, and I always want to be a winner,” Kunin said. “You never want (last season’s) taste in your mouth again. I think to be honest with you it might have been good to have one losing season along the way to have that taste. ... That’s what we’re striving for, to be winners and win championships, and that’s what I’m about.”

Bombardir likes that type of leadership, as well as Kunin’s speed, shot and willingness to work in gritty areas along the boards or in front of the net.

“When you’ve got other players that have played with him, that know about him ... and how they rave about his leadership qualities, you know he’s a good, quality guy,” Bombardir said. “And when you see him on the ice, you know there’s something there.”