Pittsburgh Penguins: Chris Kunitz Proving to Be Ray Shero’s Best Acquisition Ever

Chris Kunitz

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

GM Ray Shero is a mastermind and arguably the best in the NHL at making deals to improve his club.

When he was brought in to replace Craig Patrick on May 25, 2006, he wasted no time in building this team to where they are now. The fans of the Steel City had the pleasure of watching some of the greatest players in the game, including guys like Jarome Iginla, Tomas Vokoun, and Bill Guerin.

During his tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he has served well in bringing veteran leadership, defensive depth and solid goaltending to the team, even adding gritty fourth-liners to create a certain toughness that makes this team hard to play against. In the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup run, Shero rolled the dice and waved his magic wand both at the same time to bring in what proved to be his best acquisition yet.

On February 26, just days after naming Dan Bylsma the head coach, Shero sent defenseman Ryan Whitney to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for forwards Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi.

At the time, it seemed like a move that would add some depth to the Penguins within their top six forwards. Since putting on a black and gold sweater, Kunitz has scored 99 goals and 227 points. A majority of his time on the ice has been spent along side captain Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis. The trio is becoming one of the most dominant lines in the NHL.

Kunitz is a huge asset and one of the reasons why Pittsburgh has been ranked one of the top power play units over the last few years. He has shown a great presence in front of the net; he can deflect shots, pick up loose garbage and is not against dropping the gloves when needed.

When the Penguins traded for him, he brought playoff experience to a young team, having won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007. Bylsma described Kunitz as a tough, gritty and talented forward who brings everything to the table.

Not only was he great in 2009 when the Penguins won the Cup, but he came up huge in 2011-12 when Crosby was on and off the shelf indefinitely with his concussion issues. Bylsma placed Kunitz with forwards Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. Even without the best player in the game, Pittsburgh managed to own the best line in hockey as each of them posted career seasons.

Malkin went on to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer and was crowned MVP. Neal had his best season, scoring 40 goals and 81 points (seventh in league). Last year, he led the team with 22 goals and second with 52 points during the shortened season.

So far this season, he continues to be one of the Penguins’ most consistent players overall with his eight goals and 16 points with an impressive plus-12 rating. It is very difficult to stand out on a team with such scoring depth, not to mention playing alongside two of the best players in the world; but, Kunitz has gone from late-season acquisition to one of the Penguins’ most cherished forwards on and off the ice.

Shero wasted no time this past offseason and locked up the left winger to a three-year, $11.5 million contract extension. The deal made last June could prove to be Shero’s second-best move ever, keeping the winger in Pittsburgh through the 2016-17 season.

The chemistry Kunitz has been able to build while on this team makes him irreplaceable, thus making him the best acquisition that Shero has ever made.

Jeff Ekiert is the Pittsburgh Penguins’/NHL beat writer for RantSports.com. Like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @jmekiert and add him to your Google account.

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