Who is this guy?
Tom Kuhnhackl is a 6'2" 172lbs Right Wing from Landshut, Germany who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 4th round of the 2010 NHL Draft. His father is the legendary Erich Kuhnhackl, member of the IIHF Hall of Fame and voted Germany's Player of the Century. So being the son of the massive 6'5" 214lbs "German Lemieux" that was the greatest German player to ever lace up the skates means our Tom has quite the hockey pedigree.
What are they saying about him?
Back when Kuhnhackl first moved to North America and was preparing to enter the Draft, the scouts said of him "Tom is a surprisingly mobile, good skater for a player of his size. He has a very good understanding of the game and has good offensive instincts. His overall skill level is good." It's not the most glowing recommendation, but rather quite understated, just like Kuhnhackl's ability. He was at one point considered to have the potential to be a Top 10 prospect, but a series of injuries and suspension, and the transition from Germany to North American hockey caused him to fall. Even then, he was projected to be a late 1st/early 2nd round pick, so him falling all the way to the 4th was considered quite a steal for the Pens.
Kuhnhackl said that growing up his favorite team was the Pittsburgh Penguins and that him and his father would watch the games together amazed at the skill and ability of Mario Lemieux. As he got older he decided to model his game after Sidney Crosby, stating "he’s a play-maker, a great skater and he’s the best player." Growing up his childhood idol was the top German-born player in the NHL, Marco Sturm, who many scouts have favorably compared him to.The European scouts that saw him play before his move to North America have said he is "a winger with good skating and a hard shot. Has an excellent understanding of the game and good creativity. An all-around forward who is useful on both powerplay and penalty kill."
"Kühnhackl has been compared to Marco Sturm in that he is fast, agile, possesses great acceleration and plays well in both zones. He’s much larger than Sturm, and possesses more high-end skill. Both Kühnhackl and Sturm, as well as Erich, came out of the same development program in Landshut, yet another pointer towards the younger Kühnhackl’s pedigree."
"His skating level is very intriguing and has very smooth stride that picks up large amounts of distance which very little effort. He reads the play well and reacts accordingly, displaying a fair level of hockey sense. He has a decent all-around offensive game, with a good mixture of hands, shot, vision and overall offensive zone play."
"He’s an explosive player with a very quick stick and a high-end hockey IQ. He’s a beanpole (6-2, 172 pounds) who has a lot of filling out to do, but scouts love his live athletic build and know he’ll pack on enough mass to handle the physical aspects."
"He has good offensive instincts on the ice and is good at getting space for himself to unleash his shot. He is a great forechecker and is great at forcing the defense into a mistake with his tireless pursuit of the puck. Kuhnhackl has an excellent wrist shot as well as a heavy slap shot that he is not afraid to use. A player really strong on the forecheck, Kuhnhackl also has an edge to his game not really expected from a player like him."
Where has he been?
Kuhnhackl started out playing for his hometown club in Landshut, Germany. From the ages of 12-14 he played for the EV Landshut U16. Then at 15 he moved up to the U18 club and by 16 was skating with the adults in the minor league 2.Bundesliga Landshut Cannibals. And by the time he was 17 he got to move up to play a handful of major pro games with the DEL Augsburger Panther. It was at that point that he moved to North America to play in the OHL.
He joined the OHL Windsor Spitfires and quickly became on of their top players, finishing the season #1 in Goals, #13 in the entire OHL, and was #1 in both Goals and Points during the playoffs, #3 in the entire OHL. The following season he was traded to the Niagra IceDogs, and injury and suspension shortened his season so that he only appeared in 34 games. He turned pro playing for the ECHL Wheeling Nailers, but after just 2 games he was recalled to the WBS Penguins, where he played a mere 11 games before a shoulder injury ended his season.
When can we expect to see him?
Kuhnhackl's career has been derailed both in the Juniors as well as in the AHL due to injury, so developmentally he is a year or two behind where he should be at this point in his career. He is under contract up through the 2014-15 season, so an additional two years of development in the AHL seems quite likely. His injury shortened season last year meant he didn't play enough games to burn his rookie eligibility, so he returns this season as technically still a rookie. He needs to have a big season this year and play to earn an extension next year, but he could be pushing for an NHL roster spot within the next 3 years.
Why is he #9?
Kuhnhackl received 2 votes for 7th, 3 votes for 9th, 1 vote for 10th, and 3 votes for 14th.
How can he climb the list?
He needs to stay healthy, that is the biggest thing. He needs to play and prove he has what it takes to contribute in all 3 zones and in all game situations. He could also stand to bulk up by adding a few pounds of muscle, as he is still quite lanky and his injuries have impaired his summer development regime.