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Back with Wild, top prospect Luke Kunin knows he has to perform

Minnesota Wild forward Luke Kunin (19) looks to pass the puck during the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Nov. 2, 2017. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL — Luke Kunin could be the shot in the arm the Wild need down the stretch.

At least that's what members of the front office are hoping after recalling the 20-year-old forward from the minors on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

"Obviously, he's a player we think very highly of," general manager Chuck Fletcher said this week.

A first-round pick out of the University of Wisconsin in the 2016 NHL Draft, Kunin watched from the press box on Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center as the Wild dismantled the rival St. Louis Blues.

"I'm really excited to be here," Kunin said. "I'm excited to find my way into the lineup and, whenever I'm there, do my thing."

It's still unclear how coach Bruce Boudreau plans to use Kunin as the Wild push to solidify their playoff position over the last 19 regular-season games, but it's highly unlikely the organization called up one of their top prospects to sit on the bench. It would make sense to play Kunin on a regular basis, perhaps on the third line, and rotate Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis as the health scratches.

"I haven't figured it out yet," Boudreau said. "I'm sure he's going to play more than ... not. In the end, it all depends on how he plays."

Kunin played 17 games in the NHL earlier this season, netting two goals and two assists before being sent back to the AHL to refine his skills.

"I think I got more comfortable as those games (in the NHL) went on and toward the end I was feeling really good about my game," Kunin said. "So, going back down I had more touches with the puck and some power-play time and things like that. I got some more confidence.

"I feel good about my game now. I've been working on a lot of wall play and being strong down low. I'm hoping it translates here."

Kunin quickly become a leader for the Iowa Wild, finishing with 19 points (10 goals, 9 assists) in 36 games while gaining more and more confidence playing top-line minutes. While he no doubt would have liked to be back up sooner, Kunin shot down any sort of controversy.

"It's my first full pro season and I've heard about all the ups and downs," he said. "When I'm up here, play well and enjoy it. When I'm down there, be hungry to be back up here. I feel like my game has grown a lot. It's been a fun season."

It could be even more fun now that he appears to be back in the NHL for good.

Kunin is itching to get back into the lineup, and his next opportunity could come soon as Thursday night's game against Arizona Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz.

"I'm going to have to perform if I want to stay here," Kunin said. "I'm just excited to be here and help the team be successful."