Don't look now, but Chris Kunitz is quietly having an MVP season out in Pittsburgh. If that sentence takes you by surprise, you might be among the large percentage of hockey fans that have failed to take notice of Kunitz's incredible work to date in 2013.
It's really no surprise Kunitz's success has been mostly covered up in the NHL. Amidst Chicago's ridiculous streak and fellow teammates Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scoring goals that seemingly break the laws of physics, there just hasn't been time to cover just how good he has been this season.
You might be asking how much of Kunitz's success can be directly tied to playing with Corsby and Malkin, two of the best players in the NHL? The short answer is plenty, but don't let that fact deter you from Kunitz's wealth of accomplishments.
Through 23 games, Kunitz has scored 12 goals and 16 assists for a total of 28 points. He ranks 5th in the NHL in goals scored and is tied for third with Martin St. Louis in total points, sitting behind Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos. These numbers alone should be worthy of Kunitz receiving plenty of coverage by hockey analysts across the country, especially when you consider that at age 33 he has taken his game to an entirely new level.
In 2011-12, Kunitz had a career season. He scored 26 goals, added 35 assists and finished with a career-high 61 points. Remarkably, Kunitz might approach these totals again in 2013 during an abbreviated 48-game season.
Kunitz is currently carrying a shooting percentage of 24.5%. That's a ridiculous number. For his career, Kunitz has a 12.7% success rate on his shots, a number he has nearly doubled in 2013. Is this due to the passes he's receiving from his immensely talented teammates, a factor of good luck, or is it just Kunitz showing off some immense skill when he fires the puck? The answer is a combination of the three.
While Kunitz benefits from some outstanding talent around him and he has had some bounces go his way, give the man credit for knowing how to bury the puck when given the opportunity. His shooting percentage is currently one of the best in the NHL, and while it may trail off, his ability to bury the puck when it's on his stick is worthy of considering him one of the league's best stories.
The other aspect of Chris Kunitz you need to consider is the fact he shows up on defense and in the gritty areas of the ice. He currently leads the NHL with a +17. While you never should make too big of a deal out of a stat like plus/minus, Kunitz leading the NHL demonstrates that he's not just scoring goals but also getting back on defense to make sure the opponent isn't lighting the lamp. He's even better on the road in terms of two-way play, as seen in his +6 at home and +11 on the road. By comparison, Sidney Crosby is +7 at home and +4 on the road for an overall plus/minus of +11.
Further supporting his +/- statistic is his 57 hits, a number that places him tied for 22nd in the NHL. Clearly, he doesn't mind throwing his body around to disrupt the opponent.
This is one player you should be watching. While it's highly unlikely you'll see Kunitz beat out other NHL stars, even ones on his own team, for an MVP trophy, his body of work deserves to be in the conversation.