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Minnesota Wild draft Wisconsin Badger

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In need of a goal-scoring prospect, the Wild drafted an 18-year-old they hope can develop into the type of forward with a knack for the net that they've lacked in recent years.

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Luke Kunin puts on a team jersey after being selected as the number fifteen overall draft pick by the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft at the First Niagra Center. (Photo by Timothy T. Ludwig / USA TODAY Sports)

BUFFALO, N.Y. - In need of a goal-scoring prospect, the Wild drafted an 18-year-old they hope can develop into the type of forward with a knack for the net that they’ve lacked in recent years.

With the 15th overall pick – one of just four they have this weekend – the Wild drafted Luke Kunin, a 6-foot center fresh off a standout freshman season with the University of Wisconsin. He instantly becomes one of the team’s top prospects.

“He’s been a leader wherever he has been and he can score goals,” said Brent Flahr, the Wild’s assistant general manager who oversees the team’s draft. “He plays a complete game. All the research we’ve done and everyone we spoke to raves about his character and determination. He’s a gamer.”

Kunin was a rare bright spot for the Badgers in the Big Ten, where he recorded a team-high 19 goals. Just to get to Madison, Kunin accelerated his academics, graduating from high school in three years so he could play college hockey early.

“I wanted the challenge of being a 17-year-old playing against men,” Kunin said. “I thought I did pretty well for myself. I could’ve played major junior and made it a little easier for myself, but I was up for the challenge and wanted to play against men. That’s what I’m going to do at the NHL level so I think it really helped my development.”

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Kunin grew up in Missouri playing with his good friend Matthew Tkachuk, the son of former star player Keith Tkachuk. The younger Tkachuk was drafted sixth overall Friday. Their hockey careers began together while they played for Kunin’s father, Mark.

After tryouts together as 8-year-olds, though, Mark cut his son, keeping Kunin off the team and putting Tkachuck on it, a move that caused some confrontation at the house.

“My mom wasn’t too happy,” Kunin said with a laugh. “He spent a few nights on the couch, I think.

“But I just wasn’t good enough. He wasn’t going to give me an easy ride just because I was the coach’s son. At the time I was pretty upset, but in the long run it was probably one of the best things for me.”

The Wild won’t have to travel far to keep tabs on Kunin, who said he enjoys the rivalry between the Badgers and Gophers.

“They’re very intense, very physical games,” Kunin said. “Those are the fun ones to play in. I love going into their building and having them hate the Badgers. And when they come, we hate the Gophers. It’s pretty fun for sure and a great atmosphere.”

Kuemper staying put?

The Calgary Flames acquired St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott, another team filling their need in net.

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That means there’s an increasing chance that the Wild will bring back goalie Darcy Kuemper to serve as Devan Dubnyk’s backup.

General manager Chuck Fletcher had admitted last week that trading Kuemper was a possibility. But with the market for goalies drying up, Fletcher may be unable to find a trading partner for the 26-year-old goalie.

If the Wild don’t trade Kuemper on Saturday, they could re-sign the restricted free agent.

While the Wild didn’t make any trades Friday, Flahr didn’t rule out transactions Saturday when rounds 2-7 are completed.

“I don’t think it’s over,” Flahr said of the trade market. “You’ll see more potentially tomorrow or even through July 1.”

Minnesotans in New York

The New York Islanders, a team with four Minnesotans on the roster last season, added another to the organization Friday.

The Islanders traded up in the draft and selected Edina’s Kieffer Bellows, son of former North Star Brian Bellows, with the 19th pick.

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Tufte to Dallas

The Dallas Stars, a Central Division rival of the Wild, drafted Blaine’s Riley Tufte 25th overall Friday. It marked the first time since 2010 that two Minnesotans were drafted in the first round.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA WILD
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