Veteran core will help fill void left by Kunin's departure to pro hockey

Luke Kunin left the Wisconsin Hockey program to pursue an NHL career in the Minnesota Wild organization.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Big expectations have been put on the Wisconsin men’s hockey team coming off its breakout year last season (20-15-1). The preseason USCHO poll has them ranked No. 12 in the country, and they have been talked about as a dark horse candidate to make the Frozen Four for the first time since 2010.

Still, the Badgers are not entering 2017-’18 without adversity. Despite returning a large part of their lineup from last season, they will have to replace the team’s widely regarded most valuable player and captain from a year ago: Luke Kunin. Kunin lit up the scoreboard last season, tallying 38 points on 22 goals and 16 assists. When he was named the team’s captain after his freshman year, he made history as the youngest team captain for the Badgers in the last 40 years. His incredible skill on the ice and leadership skills off it earned him the 15th overall pick in last year’s draft by the Minnesota Wild. Obviously, no one player can completely fill the void created by Kunin’s absence, but UW has the pieces in place to support that loss and thrive despite missing the former captain’s constant, two-way impact.

One player the Badgers will look to in the absence of Kunin is senior Cameron Hughes — who led the team in assists by a fairly wide margin a year ago. Hughes may be asked to handle more of the scoring load this year. The senior was also named the team captain after being an alternate to Kunin last season. The team will look to him for leadership on and off the ice, and there is no reason to suspect he won’t be a solid successor to Kunin.

The Badgers will also look to Trent Frederic following his incredible freshmen year, where he was unanimously named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team. The center, who was drafted in the first round of last spring’s NHL Draft by the Boston Bruins, averaged an astonishing 1.18 points per game in his rookie campaign.

Another player primed for a breakout year, Seamus Malone, will try to improve upon his solid 2016-’17 campaign as well. Malone has good shooting ability, incredible vision and could easily top his ten goals from last year.

One thing that was often overlooked about Kunin was his drive to do whatever it takes to win. Kunin was an incredible two-way forward with rare defensive and shot blocking ability. He killed penalties and significantly helped out UW in the defensive zone. Fortunately for UW, Hughes, Frederic and Malone are also great two-way players and will be able to continue Kunin’s example of sound defensive hockey.

This Badger team is filled to the brim with talent and should make a serious run at a Big Ten championship again. Losing Kunin certainly hurts, but his slack should be picked up by the rest of a very solid roster. With Hughes as a captain, Fredric looking to have another huge year and Malone looking like a breakout candidate, the Badgers should improve after an impressive rebound campaign last season.

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