Following today's morning skate, a reporter offered an (extremely) amateur scouting report of left winger Tom Kuhnhackl to head coach Mike Sullivan. It was suggested that Kuhnhackl had a somewhat unique ability to get re-directions or tips off of point shots further away from his body than other net-front players.
“It's a very accurate description," Sullivan said, stopping short of offering a scouting job. "It's one of the things that jumped out at me when I watched him play in Wilkes-Barre."
"Offensively, he's a little bit like [right winger Patric] Hornqvist. He gets to the front of the net. He makes the goalie's job difficult. He takes sight lines away and he has an uncanny ability to get his stick on the puck with those shots that come through. So whether they're wrist shots or pucks that get from from the blue line down to the net area, he has an ability to get a stick on it. I watched it for a couple of months down in Wilkes-Barre. I think he's going to help any line he's on offensively because of that skillset and his willingness to go to the front of the net and take cross checks and pay the price."
Kuhnhackl, who played for Sullivan when he coached the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins earlier this season, showed off some of that ability Saturday in his NHL debut. During the Penguins' 3-1 win at Montreal, Kuhnhackl, 23, played primarily on the team's third line with center Nick Bonino and right winger Bryan Rust. That line produced the eventual game-winning goal by Rust in the second period.
On 13 shifts, Kuhnhackl logged 9:26 of ice time. He recorded two missed shots, including one tip-in which went wide of the cage.
Today, Kuhnhackl talked about his debut, his development and that ability to re-direct pucks away from his body.
What was Saturday like?
"Obviously, it was a dream come true for me. It was really exciting. Crazy rink. Crazy fans. Just an amazing feeling."
Your family watched the game in Landshut, Germany. It was 1 a.m. when the game started at 7 p.m. in Montreal. Did they stay awake for the entire game?
"Yes, they did. They all met at my parents' house. My brother and sister, they watched the game. It was very exciting."
What worked for your line Saturday?
"I think we just kept it simple. We got pucks in deep. We worked in the corners. Got pucks high. We had a lot of pucks on net in the second period. So I think we had a decent game."
You had some injuries early in your professional career and even spent some time in the ECHL as recently as 2013-14. Last season, you posted some career best numbers with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and this season, you earned a recall to the NHL. What was your progression to this point?
"I think it started three years when I was in the [ECHL]. I got my confidence back when I played a lot of minutes in all kind of different situations. Four on four, five on four, [penalty kill] and all that stuff. That really helped my confidence the last couple of years."
You had a serious knee injury at the end of your junior career and a dislocated shoulder early in your professional career. It sounds simple, but how key is it being healthy?
"Obviously, that helps a lot. You can actually work hard in the summer. You don't have to worry about your injuries and little things. Obviously, there's always little things you can't deny but for the most part, I've been healthy the last couple of years."
When did you start developing your net-front game?
"That's a good question actually. I think two or three years ago when I was in Wheeling. Clark Donatelli, the coach back then, he just said, 'Hey, you're a big guy. You've got to be in front. You've got to take the goalie's eyes away.' I think that's when it started. [Assistant general manager Bill Guerin] drove down and watched the games and helped me out."
Guerin had a pretty good career as a net-front presence. What did he show you?
"He just worked with me on how to get my stick on a lot of pucks. How to tip pucks. How to be in goalies' eyes. Be right on top of the crease. Just make life miserable for the goalies."
It seems like you have the ability to tip pucks away from your body as well.
"I've been working on it the last couple of years. Just after practices, get one of the [defensemen] to shoot pucks from the point and I just try to get a stick on all of them."
(Photo: Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)