The Nashville Predators went into this morning with two picks early in the second round, a great luxury with good players falling—and now it’s the Minnesota Wild who will be taking advantage of the 37th overall pick, as the Predators have offloaded Nick Bonino and one more year of his $4.1M cap hit, along with the 37th and 70th picks, to the Wild for forward Luke Kunin and the 101st pick.
Bonino had an solid season, with 35 points—including 18 goals—in the 67 games he played. He also had a team-high 17.3 shooting percentage, which doesn’t scream “sustainable.” Bonino is either an average player who endears himself to coaches and fans alike with a willingness to block shots and make defensive plays—
—or a solid defensive player, excellent at limiting quality, but without much to recommend him on offense—
—who had a very good 2019-20 season.
One way or another, it seems like the Preds were in an excellent position to sell high on Bonino. He had a very good season, and at his age the improvements to his game aren’t likely to be permanent.
So what did they do with that opportunity?
Well, Luke Kunin is also a center. The 22-year-old had 31 points, including 15 goals (with a much more sustainable 11.7 shooting percentage), for the Wild last year. His faceoff percentage was, uh, bad.
On paper, there isn’t much else to like about his game either.
Bad offensively, bad defensively, bad on the power play, and bad on the penalty kill? When you get the chance to trade for a player who meets all four of those criteria, you have to take it.
Kunin doesn’t improve if you look at him through a different lens, either.
His power play performance was a little better—or a little luckier—in 2019-20 by evolving-hockey’s model, but his shot rates against are quite literally off-the-charts bad. Extraordinarily bad. Over three standard deviations below the mean is not, uh, ideal.
Hopefully that was just a fluke bad season, but not much about Kunin’s record exists to balance it out.
Looking at the data that Corey Sznajder has manually tracked, it looks as if Kunin struggles in every aspect of transition play—zone exits, zone entries, and making plays off of entries—compared to both the NHL and his own former teammates.
He’s not great on the forecheck either, at disrupting plays or recovering dump-ins, and he’s not much of a playmaker, preferring to take shots rather than pass (though making decent passes on the occasions when he does). His shooting rate is about the only way he’s solidly above average in any way.
He is young, and could possibly be developed into a more useful NHL player, but at the moment there’s nothing to like about the trade except the salary cap situation.
Kunin is a restricted free agent and it should be possible to sign him more cheaply than Bonino was signed.
Statistics and analysis from hockeyreference.com, hockeyviz.com, evolving-hockey.com, and Corey Sznajder. Article has been updated to include additional information. Salary cap information from capfriendly.com.