With all the talk this offseason about Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (and their injuries), I thought it was only right to also give a little attention to Chris Kunitz. Here's a guy who makes his living on the forecheck, throws his body around with reckless abandon and exhibits an "act first, react later" style of play. That same forecheck has led to goals, the reckless style has led to injuries and the action/reaction has led to suspensions and fines.
But a healthy Kunitz can be a significant asset to this Penguins team. His best season (at least in terms of games played on Pittsburgh's schedule) was his first one, albeit a shortened one after he came on board via a 2009 trade. In 20 games that season he registered seven goals and 18 points en route to Pittsburgh's third Stanley Cup. Since then, however, injuries have crept up and kept him out of the lineup for significant periods of time.
In 2009-10 Kunitz played in 50 games for the Pens, tallying 13 goals and 32 points along the way. A lower-body injury, followed shortly after by an abdominal tear that required surgery, kept him out of Pittsburgh's lineup for the better part of the season. He returned with about a month or so remaining in the season, only to suffer a shoulder injury that kept him off the ice for the remainder of the regular season. But with Kunitz being Kunitz, he sucked it up and made a go during the postseason, producing four goals and seven assists in 13 games before Montreal eliminated the Pens from playoff contention.
Last season was a slightly better output, as Kunitz played in 66 games, posting 23 goals and 25 assists on the year. But once again a series of lower-body injuries kept him out of the lineup during a time when the team could've benefited greatly from having him healthy and producing on the ice. Despite his physical presence during the postseason, his one goal for one point in six games against the Lightning better reflected that of a disappearing act. Unless of course you take his one-game suspension into consideration that resulted in him missing Game 4 of the series.
In two seasons with the Penguins (not including his first half-season), Kunitz has played in 116 of a possible 164 regular season games. By now we've all read countless stories about the never-ending quest to find a winger for Crosby, but there's a good chance the best solution is right under Pittsburgh's own nose. All Crosby and Kunitz have to do is stay healthy long enough to really put that to the test. Unfortunately that may be easier said than done.