by Scott King
When the Blackhawks signed 38-year-old forward Chris Kunitz to a one-year deal on July 1, players knew they could lean on the four-time Stanley Cup champ (Anaheim-2007; Pittsburgh-2009, 2016, 2017) for some sage wisdom.
“The biggest thing for me, is looking up to him as a leader,” said forward Brandon Saad, whose meager two Stanley Cups cower to Kunitz’s collection. “It’s something where he’s had so much success and played with so many good teams and players where he’s not only a good player and knows how to play the right way, [but] he can lead by example with that.”
Beyond leadership, there’s a possibility Kunitz could be a jack of all trades this season for the Hawks. The veteran winger has been skating alongside center Jonathan Toews and opposite Alex DeBrincat all four days of training camp thus far.
“I like the player, I like Kunz’ a lot,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think he’s got a lot of great ingredients, he’s a great pro. He’s got some quickness, he finds the way to go to the front of the net directly.
“I just think that [I’m] happy to have him, watch him play out here and watch him working. We’ll find a way to play him, if he plays on that line or not, we’ll see. But certainly we’re going to appreciate what he brings to our team.”
Despite being rewarded early in camp, Kunitz knows he could be up and down the lineup this season, especially with a coach who likes to mix things up the way Q’ does.
“That means a lot, to go out there, it’s been a while since I played big minutes with teams,” Kunitz said of being placed on the first line. “But I knew coming here that I’d be able to slide up and down their lineup and go to whatever role they’re going to put me in and I’m okay with that.
“To go out there early and play with Johnny’ and Cat’ you try to just get up to speed. That’s one of the toughest things to do is think the game as your body is working as fast and trying to get into game speed as [fast] as you can. To go out there, it makes it easier so you have a little familiarity with guys and the way they play.”
It wouldn’t be the first time the forward has played with talented offensive threats – Google Sidney Crosby…
“It’s something where I’ve played with guys of their caliber for a long time in this league, [I’ve] done different roles. Honestly, I like to go out there and compete every single day and try to get better.”
After 16 years in the league and 609 points (263 goals, 346 assists), Kunitz is happy to accept any role with the Blackhawks.
“If that’s where they need me to help this team get better, I’ll gladly play there,” Kunitz said. “If it’s somewhere else, I’m going to work as hard as I can in every single facet I can to make this team better.”
Even with the last three extremely long offseasons and all the moving parts the organization has been trying to implement, Kunitz saw Chicago as a team still capable of winning the big prize.
“I just wanted to come here for the opportunity to play with a great group of guys and guys that have the potential of winning Stanley Cups,” Kunitz said. “That’s why you continue your career at this point is to try and win. It’s not just to add to anything else, it’s to try to win another Stanley Cup.”
If during his quest for another cup he helps some players along the way, all the better for Kunitz.
“The experience is something you can try to share with guys, or things you do,” Kunitz said. “It’s going to be different for everybody. But having maybe a new voice, or somebody that’s done different things in different organizations give a little insight into some of their core guys and the way they work at different things throughout the year, how you can get better and how you can challenge each other to get back to that successful level.
“I think they had so much success early on, it’s pretty far from their minds of how they got there and what great success and how much work it took to dominate this league for five, six years. It’s something that we [have] to get back to and honestly push each other in camp, try to compete as hard as we can and try to make each other better every single day.”