Luke Kunin started off his tenure with the Wild by having a good pre-season and making a serious case to stay on the NHL roster. Salary cap troubles and inexperience at NHL level lead the team to decide that he would be sent to the AHL where he went on to score 2 points in 2 games. Meanwhile another former Wild 1st-round pick Joel Eriksson Ek spent most of pre-season recovering from an injury but still got to stay with the NHL roster. Though after the Wild suffered injuries to key forwards Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise and Marcus Foligno they called up Kunin and so far in his few games he has looked like he belongs. Though thanks to their cap situation and a number of NHL capable forwards it’s unlikely that they can keep both Kunin and Eriksson Ek in St. Paul. That then raises the question, which of the two do the Wild keep when (and if) they are healthy again?
Luke Kunin has one clear point going for him, he is a right-hand shot, something the Wild desperately need. The only right handed forwards on the Wild roster are Charlie Coyle and Chris Stewart, and Coyle is out longest of all the injured players on the Wild. Kunin isn’t playing badly, at all, the team isn't doing all that great and that’s hurting his stats but Joel Eriksson Ek has so far been able to put up better stats.
First let’s just look at points, both Kunin and Eriksson Ek have 1 point, Kunin got a 2nd assist on Ryan Suter’s goal against the Calgary Flames, Eriksson Ek on scored a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks. Kunin has only played 4 games so far compared to Eriksson Ek’s 7, which obviously leads to the Kunin having a better points/60. Kunin also beats Eriksson Ek in Corsi For % with a 52.94 compared to Eriksson Ek with an even 50 CF%. That’s about all of the stats where Kunin beats Eriksson Ek. In Goals For % Eriksson Ek has an even 50 compared to Kunin’s 25, in indiviual Corsi For per 60 Eriksson Ek has a 14.97 while Kunin is down at 10.01.
Kunin also has had things made easier for him having played with better teammates mostly on a 3rd line while Eriksson Ek has had to even deal with 4th line duties. This also shows in the stats. Kunin has a 30.16 TOI%QoT (Time on ice % Quality of Team Mates) while Eriksson Ek has 29.17. Kunin also has a slightly higher TOI% Quality of Competition. Kunin’s TOI%QoC is 29.7 while Eriksson Ek’s is 28.39. So their teammates are basically the same level if you also look at competition which is fine. Game score though shows a clear difference between the players. Game score, which is a more recently introduced stat measures single game productivity for a player, is another stat to look at when comparing the two. Eriksson Ek’s game score per 60 is 1.31 while Kunin’s is 0.96. It’s not a huge gap when you look at the gap between the best and worst players, the best in the NHL currently being Dustin Brown with a 5.34 while Andrew Copp’s -1.41 is the worst in the NHL. Even in terms of the Wild that gap isn't huge with Jonas Brodin’s -0.76 is the worst and Chris Stewart’s 2.84 is the best one. But a gap of 0.35 is still notable.
Then there is also common sense that can be applied to the situation. Eriksson Ek is older than Kunin, by almost a full year and has more experience. While both play Center Kunin has been mostly a winger in the last year, playing mostly wing in college and now in the NHL, while Eriksson Ek plays Center and has played that in the SHL, AHL and now the NHL. Neither of the players is slide eligible, but Eriksson Ek already burnt off a year from his ELC last year, playing more than 10 games. Eriksson Ek is also slightly cheaper, with Kunin having a 925,000 contract and with possible performance bonuses it can go up to 1,425,000 while Eriksson Ek can only go up to 1,106,667 with his bonuses. With the Wild being cap strapped it makes sense to pick the player making slightly less, and who also plays Center, which fits better on to the roster. Luke Kunin is definitely going to be an important part of the Wild roster for years to come, but if it stays like it is right now, he should not be a part of the Wild this year at the expense of Joel Eriksson Ek.
Though thanks to the announced back surgery for Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle also still being out for a long period of time the Wild can in fact use the Long-term-injured-reserve rules to their advantage and gain some cap space which could allow them to keep up Kunin, and with 2 top-6 wingers out for an extended period of time we will still get a much larger sample size of him before a decision has to be made. So things can still change between the two.
All the stats used in this article were taken from Corsica on the 25th of October.