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Russo's Rants

Michael Russo gives you complete coverage of the Minnesota Wild and the NHL

Kunin headed to AHL Wild at opportune time: 'I want to be a winner wherever I go'

Luke Kunin has had the special touch on most every international team he has ever played on. Now a former University of Wisconsin Badger, Kunin hopes to help push the Iowa Wild into the Calder Cup playoffs for the first time.

Kunin, drafted 15th overall last June by the Wild, will make his Iowa debut Friday night in Cleveland after he signed an amateur tryout Thursday. That followed agreeing to terms with Minnesota on a three-year, $2.775 million contract, plus performance bonuses (his 'A' bonuses are representative with a mid-first-round pick of his pedigree), that’ll kick in next season.

He’ll sign officially Friday.

Iowa, which has 12 regular-season games left including two in a row in Cleveland, ranks fifth in the Central Division with a .531 points percentage. The top-four in each division make the playoffs, and Charlotte is fourth at .540 and Cleveland sixth at .523.

So Kunin’s arrival comes at a good time.

“I want to be a winner wherever I go,” Kunin said by phone a few hours before flying to Cleveland with a connection in Minneapolis on Thursday afternoon. “And right now, that’s Iowa. I want to do whatever can, just work hard and just help any way I can. I’m just looking forward to getting down there and playing a game with those guys.”

Kunin, who has played center mostly for USA Hockey, played wing down the stretch for the Badgers and will initially start at right wing on a line with Ryan Carter and Pat Cannone with Iowa, said coach Derek Lalonde. He may eventually get a look at center.

Kunin, 19, the first sophomore to captain the Badgers in 41 years, led the team with 22 goals and 38 points in 35 games one year after leading them with 19 goals.

The 2016 Wild first-round pick captained the United States to gold at the most recent world junior championships.

During his career, Kunin has represented Team USA at seven international tournaments - winning the championship six times and finishing second once. He captained the U.S. to a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, leading the team and ranking T-3rd in the tournament with six goals in seven games.

“A lot of people don’t realize, his freshman year at Wisconsin, he really should have been a high school senior,” agent Pete Rutili, an Augsburg College grad, said. “He’s got three world championships before he even turned 20 – under 17, under-18 and under-20. Pretty impressive young guy.”

Kunin said talk of signing immediately with Minnesota was brief. The Wild didn’t want to burn the first year of his contract, nor thrust him right from college hockey into an NHL playoff run.

“After talking with [GM Chuck Fletcher], he said that’s just the way they do it,” Kunin said. “Everyone in Minnesota has played in the American League at some point, and it’ll be a good step for me to take. We’re definitely on the same page.”

After losing in double overtime of the Big Ten championship to Penn State, Kunin went to St. Louis with a couple teammates to root on the Badgers’ women’s team, which includes his girlfriend, Wayzata’s Sophia Shaver, in the Frozen Four.

After the tournament, Kunin stayed in his hometown to decompress from the season and talk to his parents about the decision he had to make. He stayed in contract with Badgers coaches Tony and Don Granato and Mark Osiecki. He wanted to gauge their advice.

“It’s never easy,” Kunin said. “I loved Wisconsin, my teammates, but I knew it was time and I was ready to make the jump to pro hockey.”

Added Rutili, “The American League is second-best league in the world, and he’s getting real game experience. That’s what he’s looking for. He’s looking to get exposure, get the experience, get rolling and then he has every intention going into training camp with an eye of making the Wild next year.”

That’s why Kunin thinks these next 12 games and hopefully beyond will be valuable.

“I think it’ll be good to learn the system and how they want us to play,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to playing the pro game and adjusting and seeing what it’s like and continuing to get better every day.”

Miami University junior defenseman Louis Belpedio, a third-round pick in 2014, is also mulling over whether it’s time to turn pro, said Rutili, who also advises Belpedio.

Wild signs Luke Kunin to contract starting next season

Wild and Philadelphia Flyers tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

The Wild has just signed Luke Kunin to his three-year entry-level contract starting next year. His agent (no longer advisor), Pete Rutili, is currently meeting with the Wild to iron out his travel to meet up with Iowa and some other details in the contract, like bonuses. For the rest of this season, he'll play for Iowa on an amateur tryout. That's 12 regular-season games and the playoffs if they make it.

Kunin, 19, the first sophomore to captain the Badgers in 41 years, led the team with 22 goals and 38 points in 35 games one year after leading them with 19 goals. The 2016 Wild first-round pick captained the United States to gold at the most recent world junior championships.

The Wild, 3-8 this month, snapped a five-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over San Jose on Tuesday. It magic number is two, meaning it can clinch its fifth consecutive playoff berth with a win, if it gets one point and the Kings lose in any fashion or the Kings lose in regulation.

Years ago, this would be celebrated here. Not anymore.

“My expectations are a lot higher,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.

The Flyers are toast, but they’re desperate. They’re 2-5 in their past seven. But, they’re full of stars, can score, draw more penalties than anybody in the league, have a good power play and since 2003-04, their .767 points percentage against Minnesota is second-best in the NHL.

Nick Schultz is in for the Flyers. Kevin Falness and I had him on the radio yesterday and he indicated his career could be wrapping up, so this may be his final game in St. Paul. Remember, Mikko Koivu broke Schultz’s record a few years for most games in a Wild sweater.

Victor Bartley was on the ice for the Wild this morning?

Who, you may be asking?

The veteran defenseman, signed to be a leader in Iowa, tore his triceps in training camp and has been on the Wild cap for the most part ever since. He has accounted for 72 of the Wild’s 179 man games lost to injury.

Because he wasn’t cleared to play by the trade deadline, he couldn’t be loaned to Iowa. That means he can’t play for Iowa the rest of the season and at this point is playoff depth for the Minnesota Wild.

He had a funny start today. After his bag skate, he didn’t know Bruce Boudreau meets with the Wild at 10:45 a.m., so he accidentally walked right into the locker-room meeting and abruptly slipped back out.

Then, after meeting with the media, Bartley was locked out of the locker room.

“It’s been a long season definitely,” he said. “Basically five months away from hockey. It feels good to get back out there and start moving again with the guys.
“It was a lot of time in a cast basically from my wrist to my shoulder for about three and a half months and then the next month was slowly rehab and then last month and a half has been basically strengthening day in and day out.”

Bartley went back home to Nashville and in January started skating with former Wild Eric Nystrom, who then signed to play in Norway. The last month he has been in Iowa skating.
“It’s about getting back in the groove again, going through the same things we do every day, warm ups, bag skates, getting my shooting back, range motion, all that stuff. It just takes time and I think overtime it’ll come back just like anything else,” he said.
The injury, in a preseason game, came on a random faceoff play and it instantly popped.

“It was just a freak accident,” Bartley said. “I knew instantly something was wrong and then after I came off I kind of touched my arm and I noticed there was just a big hole in my arm right here and I definitely knew I had torn my tricep. The doctor was like, ‘No. You couldn’t have done that during a game?’ I was like, ‘Trust me. It’s torn.’ Then right away we got the MRI and it was completely torn off. The doctors did a great job, reattached it, and now we’re back at it again.
“Things were feeling good in training camp. You know, stuff like that happens. Just stay positive about it and good things will happen. I’ve still got another three or four weeks here so hopefully I’ll be back playing soon.”

He said his conditioning is “getting back there. It’s getting back there. I’d say another week and a half, two weeks of skating, then I should be back. I’ve been down in Iowa the last 3 ½, 4 weeks skating and training there, so I’m feeling good. The puck feels good on my stick, shooting’s good, skating’s getting back there again.”

The Wild’s 4-8-1 against the Metro, and has lost six straight.

So, they better me ready.

I’ll be on Fox Sports North tonight and on KFAN at 5.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Twins at Philadelphia (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • Philadelphia at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Baltimore at Twins (spring training)

    6:05 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at L.A. Lakers

    9:30 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Minnesota United FC at New England

    1 pm on Ch. 29, 1500-AM

  • Vancouver at Wild

    1 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers men's hockey vs. Notre Dame

    2:30 pm on ESPNU, 1500-AM

  • Twins at Baltimore (spring training)

    5:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Portland

    9 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Wild at Detroit

    11:30 am on Ch. 11, 100.3-FM

  • Boston at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Twins at Pittsburgh (spring training)

    5:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Tampa Bay at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on FSN

  • Timberwolves at Indiana

    6 pm on FSN PLUS, 830-AM

  • Washington at Wild

    7 pm on NHLN, 100.3-FM

  • Twins at Boston (spring training)

    12:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Twins at Tampa Bay (spring training)

    12:05 pm

Today's Scoreboard

  • Pittsburgh



    - F



  • Minnesota



    - F



  • Miami

    St. Louis


    - F



  • NY Yankees

    Tampa Bay


    - F



  • NY Mets



    - F



  • Cincinnati

    Chicago White Sox


    - F



  • Colorado



    - F



  • Milwaukee



    - Bot 7th



  • Chicago Cubs



    - Bot 7th



  • LA Angels

    San Diego


    - Bot 8th



  • Detroit



    - Top 4th



  • LA Dodgers


    6:05 PM


  • Seattle

    San Francisco

    8:05 PM

No NFL games today

  • Phoenix


    6:30 PM

  • Toronto


    6:30 PM

  • LA Clippers


    7:30 PM

  • Memphis

    San Antonio

    7:30 PM

  • New York


    9:00 PM

  • Tampa Bay


    6:00 PM

  • Columbus


    6:00 PM

  • Arizona


    6:30 PM

  • Carolina


    6:30 PM

  • Pittsburgh


    6:30 PM

  • New Jersey


    6:30 PM

  • Philadelphia


    7:00 PM


  • Calgary


    7:00 PM

  • Vancouver

    St. Louis

    7:00 PM

  • Dallas


    7:30 PM

  • Edmonton


    8:00 PM

  • Winnipeg

    Los Angeles

    9:30 PM

No MLS games today