A lot of people are crediting Chris Kunitz's success this season- 18 goals and 40 points- to playing on a line with Sidney Crosby. But Crosby see's it differently;
"Anyone who has played with him will tell you that he does so many little things. He makes us all look good by putting the puck in the back of the net." ~ Sidney Crosby
Chris Kunitz currently sits 2nd in NHL scoring with 18 goals and 40 points, behind his linemate Crosby. He's on pace to set a career high with 66 points and 30 goals despite this only being a shortened season. Heck there's even talks the un-drafted winger has a shot of winning the Art Ross trophy. It would be hard to look at the success Kunitz is enjoying this season and not relate it to Crosby, who has assisted on 14 of his 18 goals and has the ability to make all his linemates better.
There's no doubt he's benefited from playing on a line with the best player in the world but in all fairness to Chris Kunitz you have to look at what he brings to the table and his track record. While Kunitz was playing with the Anaheim Ducks he played on lines with Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf and Andy McDonald and put up at least 50 points in all 4 seasons with the Ducks. He also won a Stanley Cup while in Anaheim and was given the role of alternate captain in his final year before being traded to Pittsburgh.
Last year while Crosby was out with a concussion Kunitz played on a line with Evgeni Malkin, ironically Malkin won the Hart trophy. This season Kunitz has been reunited with Crosby and guess who's one of the leading candidates to win the Hart- Sidney Crosby. Perhaps Chris Kunitz is a little more valuable than people think.
When watching Chris Kunitz play this season there's two things that stand out. His confidence and his willingness to go to the tough areas. The most important thing for Kunitz is that he understands his game. He knows he doesn't have a menacing shot like James Neal or the play making ability of Crosby but he does have speed, grit and an ability to make life miserable for opposing goaltenders as he camps out in front looking for the tip. He plays a north-south game, keeping things simple and hunting for loose pucks always waiting to pounce.
When the Penguins faced off against the Toronto Maple Leafs last week there was a play by Kunitz that really stuck out to me and showed how much confidence he has in his game. He carried the puck into the Leafs zone put the breaks on and skated back towards the blue line where he was greeted by two Leafs and there was a third not far behind. Kunitz didn't panic and passed the puck to Dupuis alone in the slot.
He has so much composure when carrying the puck into the oppositions end, he doesn't automatically look for Crosby he waits and tries to make a play. His play this season has turned himself into a solid first line winger who the team can count on and most importantly he has earned the trust of Crosby.
"He's just so dependable and that's contagious. When a guy is that responsible, you want to make sure you're following that up. You build that trust" ~ Sidney Crosby.
Chris Kunitz has certainly won over both his teammates and coaches for his skill and versatility;
"Chris does a lot of little things well to be a good complementary guy to play with."He goes hard to the net, forces turnovers, is a physical guy, but maybe more so this year than other he has moved into that slot area and been a weapon with his shot." ~ Dan Bylsma
The thing that makes Chris Kunitz the perfect winger for Crosby is the fact he doesn't like the spot light, he's perfectly fine being over looked. As Penguins GM Ray Shero said "he flies under the radar." When the opposition thinks about defending the Penguins they think of Crosby, Malkin, Neal and even Kris Letang but Chris Kunitz is an after-thought.
Perhaps his humbleness and willingness to do the dirty work is what helps his chemistry with Crosby, whatever it is the two just seem to connect becoming one of the best duo's in the league. Being an un-drafted, underrated player is likely one of the key reasons to his success. The opposition doesn't play him as hard as Crosby and he's usually left un-guarded when Crosby is working his magic with the puck.
Once thought to be an NHL journeyman traveling from team to team finding a brief stay on third lines Chris Kunitz has found a home in Pittsburgh playing on the top line along with Sidney Crosby. Not bad for a kid who played tier 2 college hockey and was un-drafted. Kunitz has turned himself into a consistent scorer netting 20 goals in 6 of 7 NHL seasons and now at the age of 33 it appears Chris Kunitz is making a name for himself and emerging from the shadows.