Finding a San Jose Sharks fan in Landshut, Germany might seem like an odd endeavor. After all, there are just over 5873 miles separating the two cities.
But there was plenty of reasons for Tom Kuhnhackl and countless hockey fans in Germany to root for the California team. During the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s, the Sharks employed four of the country's better players in Marco Sturm, Marcel Goc, Thomas Greiss and Christian Ehrhoff.
Three of those players - Goc, Greiss and Ehrhoff - are now members of the Penguins. Kuhnhackl is hoping he can join them some day.
The son of Erich Kuhnhackl, considered to be the "Wayne Gretzky of Germany," Tom Kuhnhackl will have to improve on the limited success he has experienced as a professional thus far if he hopes to reach the NHL. A fourth-round pick in 2010, Tom Kuhnhackl made his professional debut with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL in 2012-13 but was limited to 11 games and four points due to various injuries. During 2013-14, he was mostly healthy but bounced between AHL and ECHL due in part to a bloated lineup in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton full of established AHL veteran forwards.
With the Penguins not pursuing many AHL free agents this offseason, there would appear to be ample opportunity for Tom Kuhnhackl and other forward prospects to account for more playing time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2013-14.
Kuhnhackl, 22, is attending the Penguins' prospect camp this week. Recently, he talked about his development.
You bounced between the AHL and ECHL last season. Was that difficult?
"I think it was a good thing. A really good experience for me, especially since I didn’t have a good couple of seasons before that with injuries and surgeries before that."
How important was it to simply be healthy for the most part after dealing with injuries in previous seasons?
"It felt great. It was just nice to be a part of the team the whole time. To go on road trips. Just to get to know [teammates] better. Because when you’re hurt, you’re mostly not going on the road trips."
How much of an adjustment has it been getting used to slimmer North American rinks versus wider European rinks these past few seasons?
"I like it. You don’t have as much time. You have to make quick decisions. Good decisions. You don’t have a much time so I like the smaller ice."
Are you trying to get bigger and stronger to play in North America?
"I’m trying to gain weight but you don’t want to be too heavy. I want to be a fast skater. If you’re too heavy, you can’t be fast, right?"
What was it like seeing Germany win the World Cup in soccer Sunday?
"Super excited. It was a great feeling. It’s been 24 years since [the last time] Germany won the World Cup. Unfortunately I couldn’t watch it. I was stuck at the airport. I followed it on Twitter. Obviously, it was a great feeling."
Did you play soccer in Germany?
"Yeah, obviously I’m from Germany. I didn’t have a choice so I played soccer."
How did you get involved in hockey? Through your father?
"Yeah. When you’re young, you just look around, you’re looking through drawers and you find videos and pictures of your dad. You’re wondering, ‘Really, my dad was a hockey player, not a soccer player?’ I asked him and he said ‘Yeah, I played hockey.’ So I decided to play hockey too."