Penguins’ Kahun “Starts from Zero,” Rises to Challenge

Dominik Kahun spent 82 games with the Chicago Blackhawks last season, proving that rookie status didn’t affect his ability to read the ice, nor did it disqualify him from playing on lines with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad.

Instead of gearing up for his sophomore season in the red and black, Kahun will suit up for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2019-20 following a trade that sent Olli Maatta to the Blackhawks on June 15.

Kahun is used to starting over and climbing through the ranks of a team and has the potential to do so again in Pittsburgh.

Kahun’s German Roots

Though he was born in Plana, Czech Republic, Kahun’s family moved to Germany when he was young, and that is where the 23-year-old versatile forward began playing hockey.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, a German international broadcasting company, Kahun noted that the popularity of hockey lags behind soccer in that country, and, because it doesn’t get as much attention, opportunities are more difficult to come by in terms of training and getting noticed by professional teams and scouts overseas.

Chicago Blackhawks Gustav Forsling, center, celebrates with Dominik Kahun and Jonathan Toews
Dominik Kahun (left) pictured as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. (AP Photo/David Banks)

That didn’t stop Kahun, however, from making a name for himself. He told Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun Times:

“Hard work gets paid off. That’s what I’ve done since I was little. I never got something given to me. I always had to do it myself. I try to work as hard as possible,”

(from ‘Dominik Kahun coming on strong as a rookie for the Blackhawks,’ Chicago Sun-Times – 1/4/19).

Hard work did pay off for Kahun, and he earned a spot on the Jungadler Mannheim U18 team in German Development League (DNL) in 2010. He played 43 games over two seasons with the club, scoring 57 points in his career with the team. He was the squad’s leading scorer in 2011-12, with 21 goals.

After two seasons in the DNL, Kahun knew to keep climbing in hockey he had to travel somewhere that he could get more exposure, and become accustomed to the nuances of North American play. That place was Canada, specifically Sudbury, Ontario.

Kahun in Canada

In 2012, Kahun made the jump across the Atlantic to Canada to join the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

For most, a transition to a foreign country would be difficult enough with having to learn a new language and get used to new customs. To make the situation trickier, add in that Kahun was just 17 years old at the time and that he would have to get used to not only the cultural aspects of his new home, but also changes in the workplace, as North American hockey tends to be more physical and operates on a smaller ice surface than European hockey, among other differences.

Chicago Blackhawks' Erik Gustafsson Dominik Kahun Duncan Keith
Chicago Blackhawks’ Erik Gustafsson (center) celebrates with teammates Dominik Kahun (left) and Duncan Keith (right). (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

But in an interview with Dan St. Pierre of Hockey Moves International, just a few months into his transition, Kahun didn’t seem to be having many problems at all. Of his experience in Canada, Kahun said:

“At first it was… not difficult, but different. It’s always great to try new things and I’m happy I have the opportunity to do that… It was hard to transition at first to the physical style of play of North American hockey… But to be honest, it really only took about five games to make the adjustment.”

The ease of his adjustment showed on the stat sheet as well. Kahun played 101 regular-season and 14 playoff games with the Wolves over two seasons. He put up 79 overall points for the club.

His time in Ontario got the attention of scouts back in Germany, and on Apr. 4, 2014, Kahun began his professional hockey career with the Munich Red Bulls of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL), the highest level of professional German ice hockey.

Kahun’s Return to Europe and Rise to the NHL

Kahun was able to showcase his playmaking abilities in the DEL over four seasons with the Red Bulls. In 157 regular-season games, he put up just 39 goals, but also added 72 assists for 111 points. The Red Bulls made the playoffs all four seasons – even winning the DEL title in 2016 –  and Kahun played in 49 postseason games, adding an additional 38 points to his career total.

An unusual statistic that Kahun can boast is his ability to make plays and rack up assists while staying out of the penalty box. During his time in the DEL, he accumulated just 18 total penalty minutes in four regular seasons and six penalty minutes in four playoff runs.

Dominik Kahun
Kahun is known for his playmaking abilities and his notion for staying out of the penalty box. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

These two key qualities caught the eyes of Blackhawks scouts and coaches, and they signed the undrafted forward to a two-year entry-level contract on May 21, 2018. Though he easily transitioned to North American hockey during his time in Sudbury, the NHL and the OHL aren’t on a level playing field. Kahun was, yet again, back at the bottom of the heap and had to hustle to prove himself.

During Blackhawks training camp in 2018, Kahun told Madeline Kenney of the Chicago Sun-Times:

“I feel like I always have to start from zero because I have to fight for a spot… It doesn’t matter if I’m good today; I have to wake up tomorrow and be even better… You never can be really happy with yourself because you have to come the next day and be better,”

(from ‘Forward Dominik Kahun makes case for earning roster spot with Hawks,’ Chicago Sun-Times – 9/20/18).

His keep-trying, keep-climbing attitude impressed former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who added him to the opening-night roster, and current head coach Jeremy Colliton, who took over the team in November 2018 and kept Kahun in the lineup for the rest of the season.

Of signing Kahun, Colliton told Jimmy Greenfield of the Chicago Tribune:

“I had no clue what we were getting [with Kahun]. His work ethic was like he had professional habits. To me, that was a really good sign of his opportunity to play this year. I didn’t expect him to have as big an impact as he’s had. We’ve been able to play him on every line,”

(from ‘Dominik Kahun’s body of work has the Blackhawks excited for what he can bring to the future,’ Chicago Tribune – 3/24/19).

Kahun was everything the Blackhawks were looking for last season, even nearly becoming the first NHL player to complete a full season without taking a penalty. He was just shy of the mark with six penalty minutes to his credit in 2018-19, in addition to 13 goals and 24 assists for 37 points.

Though the Blackhawks failed to make the playoffs last season, Kahun already has professional playoff experience from his time with the Red Bulls, as well as a knack for scoring in big games, like the 2019 Winter Classic, and making a positive impact in games on the world stage.

Kahun’s Olympic and International Play

Kahun has played in six different international hockey events for Germany over the past eight years, including the World U17 Hockey Challenge, the IIHF U18 World Championship, the IIHF Ice Hockey World Junior Championships, the Ice Hockey World Championships, the Olympic Qualifiers, and the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The shining moment of Kahun’s international play was the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang when Germany took home the silver medal. He scored two goals and three assists in seven games to help his team earn the honor.

Germany forward Dominik Kahun
German forward Dominik Kahun celebrates a goal at the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Despite his success in all different leagues and at all different skill levels, Kahun is at the bottom once more, starting a new tenure with the Penguins. With established stars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin anchoring the top two lines and rising stars like Jared McCann and Jake Guentzel popping in to score goals on a regular basis, Kahun will have to prove again where and how he can be an asset to a new lineup.

One person that doesn’t seem concerned about Kahun fitting in is general manager Jim Rutherford. In a tweet Saturday after the trade announcement, Rutherford said the following:

Time, training camp, the 2019 NHL Draft, and future trades will tell just where Kahun fits into the Penguins’ puzzle, but wherever that is, he’s sure to work hard to get there.