After breaking into NHL as undrafted free agent, Chris Kunitz set to join exclusive 1,000-game club

After breaking into NHL as undrafted free agent, Chris Kunitz set to join exclusive 1,000-game club

Chris Kunitz is the only active NHL player with four Stanley Cups on his résumé. And he’s about to join another exclusive club.

On Thursday when he takes the ice against the New Jersey Devils, the 39-year-old winger will become the 25th active player to hit the 1,000-game mark and 335th player in league history to do so. In a classy gesture, the Blackhawks held Kunitz out of the lineup on Tuesday in Boston so the milestone would come in front of family members in Chicago, where his wife and her family grew up.

“It's something that's kind of been on the radar, but I knew coming here it wasn't something that I needed to say my career has been complete," Kunitz said. "That's obviously a really nice thing, and the team and organization has found a way to help me get into a game at home. It'll be a really big day for my family."

Hitting the 1,000-game mark isn't exactly a goal you set out to achieve when you start your hockey career, but one you grow to appreciate when you hit that plateau. Especially when you think back to the days where you wondered if you'd even have a career in hockey after going undrafted.

"I didn't actually think I'd have a career until you start playing in it," Kunitz said. "And once you're in it you just try and hang on as long as you can. I've been very fortunate the opportunities that I've had and teammates and people I've come across in my career."

Despite averaging only 9:27 of ice time this season and finding himself in and out of the lineup, Kunitz has been a first-class teammate and perfect mentor for some of the younger players, both on and off the ice.

“He's a great guy and a great teammate, and obviously brings leadership and experience," Jonathan Toews said. "We have a young team. A couple of veterans and a lot of young guys that are really developing and showing what they can do at this level and obviously showing there's a lot more to come down the road. I think a guy like [Kunitz], with his limited opportunity, he's played really well when he's gotten the chance.

"But aside from that, he adds that veteran presence and that leadership in the room. Plus, he's just a great person and a great guy to be around. You look at what he's meant to the championship teams he's been on in his career, you kind of realize what he brings to the table and what he means to a team in the locker room."

Having a veteran like that in the locker room is so important to building a winning and tight-knit culture. Nobody knows that more than Kunitz, who’s been on four different championship-winning teams. It's why the Blackhawks brought him in on a one-year deal this summer.

"He’s a great person, great teammate," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Obviously, his career has been fantastic and I think he’s been playing pretty well lately, giving us professional shifts. He does a lot of little things away from the puck. There’s a reason why he’s had so much success as a player, played on championship teams over and over again.

"He’s had a great career. His accomplishments speak for themselves. He’s been a terrific presence in the dressing room and he’s played pretty well, too. Big night for him."

While 1,000 games in the NHL is a big accomplishment, Kunitz downsized the individual achievement because the Blackhawks find themselves in the thick of a playoff race and he knows the importance of Thursday's game. His focus is on doing anything he can to help the team come away with two points.

"It's really nice that it's happened," Kunitz said. "I'm sure in a few years I'll think of it maybe a little different, but I still think of it as just going out and helping the team win tonight."

Snake-bitten Blackhawks light the lamp Saturday

Snake-bitten Blackhawks light the lamp Saturday

Three unlikely heroes emerged in Calgary on Saturday night to help the Blackhawks find some footing near the end of their five-game road trip (currently 1-3-0) that wraps up Sunday in Winnipeg.

Blackhawks rookie center Kirby Dach hadn't scored a goal in six games; Alex DeBrincat had one marker in his last nine after finishing last season with 41; Alex Nylander had one goal in his past 17 contests.

The trio bounced back against the Flames to help the Hawks to an 8-4 victory.

Nylander scored twice, and DeBrincat and Dach each had a goal.

"It’s a learning process for us that [haven't] been through this," Nylander said after the game. "And we are lucky that we have these vets that are on our team that can help us and see that something like this in the season happens."

Related: Blackhawks' offense explodes in Calgary

Of all the Hawks who have gone cold this season, the most surprising was DeBrincat, who posted 41 goals last season and 28 as a rookie the year prior.

"I've been fighting with the puck a little bit too much," he said. "Even today, I didn't really play that well, but finally got rewarded."

Six points out of a playoff spot, having the three forwards off the schneid could be a big factor in the Hawks putting a streak together to keep their playoff hopes alive.

"Those guys, they have the ability to chip in for us offensively and if they can do that it's going to make a big difference for us," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said of the three. "Ultimately, it comes down to their work ethic away from the puck."

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews felt Dach, DeBrincat and Nylander gave the Hawks a much-needed lift on Saturday.

"For guys like that and the way they think, the way they play the game, their skillset, scoring goals gives you a ton of energy, it gives you a lift," Toews said. "It's nice to see them get a few and see a few pucks go in.

"I think even if you're just on the ice, you have nothing to do with the play, just to be around goals is infectious. So it's nice to see those guys make those plays as a result of their hard work and it's an incentive to keep doing the same thing."

Hopefully the goal infection spreads for the Hawks. Despite being six points out of the playoffs, Chicago has three games in hand on the Arizona Coyotes, who occupy the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

With 24 games remaining, scoring contributions will have to come from across the board for the Blackhawks to go on a successful run to secure a playoff spot.

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Andrew Ladd joins Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Andrew Ladd joins Blackhawks All-Decade Team

The Blackhawks got a big lift out of skilled and scrappy forward Andrew Ladd during his first three seasons with the Blackhawks. 

Ladd was selected at No. 4 overall in the 2004 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Maple Ridge, British Columbia native won a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006 before coming to Chicago in a trade for Tuomo Ruutu on Feb. 26, 2008. 

In four seasons with the Blackhawks, Ladd displayed strength on both sides of the puck, recording 111 points and a +/- rating of +29 in 203 games.

In 19 games during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, Ladd had six points (three goals, three assists) and a +/- rating of +4.

Related: Versteeg joins Blackhawks All-Decade Team

After the Hawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, Ladd was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 2011 second-round draft pick in a salary cap move. 

Ladd was traded back to Chicago with Matt Fraser and Jay Harrison for Marko Dano and two draft picks on Feb. 25, 2016. He had 12 points (eight goals, four assists) in 19 games in his final season with the Hawks. 

Following the 2015-16 season, he became a free agent and signed a seven-year contract with the New York Islanders.

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