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2015-16 Pensburgh Recap: Tom Kuhnhackl

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The Pens forward makes his NHL debut in January and raises the Cup in June. It happened very quickly, 5+ years after being drafted that is

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Age and Contract Status

Age: 24 (DOB: January 21, 1992). Was re-signed by the Penguins in March for two more seasons, will carry a $625,000 cap hit through the 2017-18 season and then be a restricted free agent.

Preseason Expectations

Not very much. 2014-15 was Kuhnhackl's 3rd professional season, and just the first he spent the entire year in the AHL and be demoted to the ECHL. Kuhnhackl ranked only 21st in the 2015 Top 25 Under 25 (bet he makes a big jump up the list this summer) where we said

Kuhnhackl had his best season to date in 2014-15, setting career highs in the AHL for games played (72) goals (12), assists (18) and points (30). More impressively was how he did it- reinventing himself from his past as mainly a scoring winger, to turn into an grinder/energy player on what became a very effective 3rd line in WB/S with Dominik Uher and Carter Rowney. Kuhnhackl's season was enough to earn him another contract for this season. He could be a dark horse injury call-up to the NHL this season, should he get off to a good start down in the minors, now that he's showing that he can excel in a lower line role and play more of a two-way game.

2015-16 Stats

AHL Regular season: 23 games played, 7 goals, 8 assists, 15 points, 18 penalty minutes

NHL Regular season: 42 gp, 5g+10a, 15p, 24 PIMs

Playoffs: 24 gp, 2g + 3a, 5p, 0 PIMs

Verdict

After training camp, Kuhnhackl was assigned to the AHL and spent the first half of the season there, before being recalled on January 7th, making his career NHL debut on 1/9 and never looking back to play the final 42 games of the season and 24 more in the playoffs. By the end of the season he was a regular on the PK (his 0:57 per game ranked 5th among Pittsburgh forwards).

But it wasn't quite so smooth, through the first 16 NHL games Kuhnhackl only had 1 assist (to go along with no goals) as he got used to playing in the NHL. But the coaching staff never quit on him or scratched him as he learned to make his way, and make his way he did, improving as the season went along. By March and April he ended up scoring 12 points over the final 21 games of the regular season and proving his mettle as an everyday NHL player.

Kuhnhackl's playoffs were relatively quiet, but efficient enough from his 4th line role to help the team roll on all the way to the Stanley Cup.

Future

By virtue of his good season and new one-way contract, Kuhnhackl's established himself in the calendar year of 2016 as a cheap, effective 4th line player for the Penguins rolling forward.

2015-16 Pens 5v5 Forward Usage Chart

(via Corsica Hockey)

Kuhnhackl was used in an extremely defensive-minded 4th line role.

Kuhnhackl's HERO Chart

(From Own The Puck)

Not bad for a start, it will be interesting to see what this chart looks like next season, especially if Kuhnhackl has to play without such a productive center like Matt Cullen proved to be (if Cullen decides to move on, that is).

2015-16 Game-by-Game Analysis

(From HockeyViz, explained here)

kuhn72116

A lot of time with Cullen, Bryan Rust and Eric Fehr . Standard 4th line stuff.

Distribution of Teammates and Competition

(From HockeyViz, explained here)

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GIFs of the Year

That first goal 17 games into his career was a pretty one, collecting the puck with speed and beating Ben Bishop with the raised backhand shot, short-handed no less.

Kuhnhackl's last goal of the season wasn't as pretty, but it shows why you have to drive to the net and sometimes good things will happen.

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Feel free to vote in the poll below to rate Tom Kuhnhackl's season. Vote based on your expectations coming into the season, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.