Tom Kuhnhackl is the pride of German hockey this week. Less than two months after being the first German player to ever bring the Stanley cup to his home country, and only the third to ever hoist it, he scored the game-winning goal on Tuesday against Latvia to clinch a spot in the upcoming winter Olympics for Germany.
After not getting to participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Germany will be playing in PyeongChang in 2018 — and they will be playing with Kuhnhackl in their ranks. While he was in the country, the Landshut native brought the Cup to a youth hockey team’s locker room, and as Philip Pritchard (the Keeper of the Cup) tweeted that day, Kuhnhackl is now an “inspiration to German youth hockey.”
— Philip Pritchard (@keeperofthecup) August 16, 2016
Kuhnhackl’s NHL Introduction
2016 was Kuhnhackl’s first year in the NHL and it went pretty much as well as it possibly could have. After being selected 110th overall in the 2010 draft and spending several years in the Penguins minor leagues, with several major injuries along the way, Kuhnhackl was called up to play an important role on the Stanley Cup winning team.
He played alongside stars like Sidney Crosby, playing in 42 games and tallying 15 points — five of those being in the crucial stretch of the playoffs. Overall, Kuhnhackl was one of the examples of how young players pushed the Penguins to the Finals as a gritty second-string player whose speed and energy perfectly fit the mold of the 2016 Pittsburgh team.
It’s important that Kuhnhackl is doing so well — he’s an example of exactly what Pittsburgh is doing right.
Pittsburgh’s Considerable Rookie Force
Kuhnhackl is only 24-years old and like other up-and-comers that were an important part of the Penguins’ last season, such as Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary, he has only just begun his NHL career. His speed is a crucial part of what gives the Penguins their edge.
And the best part for Pittsburgh? Kuhnhackl, alongside Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson, signed on at the beginning of this summer for two more seasons so he’ll be playing with Pittsburgh until at least the 2017-18 season. He’s one more piece of the puzzle that Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford managed to keep locked down over a summer full of tumultuous trades for other teams. Pittsburgh is sure to benefit from this in the future. One thing these three players had in common, apart from their speed was that the Penguins played better with these players on the ice than they did with them off of it, according to
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 14, 2016
Keeping a Stanley cup-winning team almost intact with the trade deadline looming is no easy feat, especially considering the ominous expansion draft hovering in the near future, but the Penguins are starting the 2016-2017 season very nearly identical to the team that hoisted the Cup in June. Kuhnhackl is an example of this feat and of the youth and energy that helped this team get to the championships last season. Germany isn’t the only place that should be proud of Kuhnhackl; Pittsburgh should be as well.
Julia Stumbaugh is a student at the College of William & Mary.