The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed NCAA free agent forward Cody Kunyk to a 1-year deal, the team reported today.
From the team's release:
The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed free agent forward Cody Kunyk to a one year, two-way NHL contract, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Kunyk, 23, skated in 37 games for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks this season, posting 22 goals and 43 points to go along with 22 penalty minutes and a plus-13 rating. The 5-foot-11, 197-pound forward led the Nanooks for goals, points, power-play goals (six) and shorthanded goals (two). Kunyk was named the WCHA's Player of the Year and to the First Team All-WCHA team. He also led the WCHA for scoring during the 2013-14 season.
The Sherwood Park, Alberta native skated in 148 games over four seasons at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, amassing 60 goals and 133 points. He set career highs his senior year for goals, assists (21) and points. Kunyk became the 30th Nanook in program history to join the 100-point club with a goal on November 22, 2013.
Kunyk also participated in the Lightning's development camp this past summer.
Steve Yzerman and the Lightning continue to leverage their development camp to get long looks at potential college free agents, while simultaneously wooing them to play for the Bolts. After winning highly sought after players like J.T. Brown and Andrej Sustr in recent years, Kunyk -- though not as highly regarded -- is another prospect earned via this route in lieu of the draft.
Kunyk reportedly fits the mold of the type of forward the Lightning have favored since Yzerman took over:
Tom Kurvers, Lightning's head college scout, says Kunyk, a center, fits Yzerman's criteria: competitiveness, skating ability, hockey sense.— Damian Cristodero (@LightningTimes) March 20, 2014
That's good, because Kunyk is on the small side for forwards (5'11, under 200 pounds), as Yzerman continues to value other traits over size.
Kunyk is about to turn 24, and his 1-year deal, which kicks in right away, will expire at the end of this season. He will report to the Lightning for now, but could be sent to the Crunch eventually.
It's pure speculation here, but it is possible that the Lightning are using this contract structure as a negotiating tactic to lure college free agents -- giving away a little more money in salary now, and ceding a year of his contract. That allows the player to move one year closer to unrestricted free agency, meaning he can earn more money in his NHL career more quickly.
It's similar to the tactics used when the Lightning signed Andrej Sustr and J.T. Brown; offering NHL playing time right away and short deals that expire quickly, so the players become RFAs almost right away. That gets the player in the building and a fair shake at making the NHL team, which is all any competitive athlete wants. Like Sustr and Brown before him, Kunyk is still going to have to prove on the ice that he belongs, or he'll be sent to Syracuse for development.
Kunyk plays center, but as we've seen before with Alex Killorn, it's very easy to move a college center to the wing. He's played in all situations for Alaska-Fairbanks, so he's a versatile forward that will bolster organizational forward depth. I'd expect the team to let Tom Pyatt walk this offseason after failing to trade him, and Kunyk appears to fill that role quite nicely moving forward for either Syracuse or Tampa Bay.