Chris Kunitz knows there are a lot of hockey players who would trade places with him nowadays.
He gets to reap the rewards of playing on a line with arguably the best player in the game today, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. And despite being 34 years old and now in his ninth full NHL season, Kunitz never has been better or more productive than he has been so far in the 2013-14 season.
Kunitz has become better than a point-per-game player since the start of last season (62 points in 56 games heading into the Pens' game Monday) and this past summer Hockey Canada officially declared him a candidate to be on the 2014 Canadian Olympic team by making him one of 45 players invited to attend Canada's Olympic orientation camp in August.
He's not naïve. Kunitz knows he was in Calgary because of the chemistry he has with Crosby. It makes him one of the most intriguing candidates to represent Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia.
Kunitz never has been thought of as one of the best dozen or so Canadian forwards in the NHL, but no one in the NHL has better chemistry with the best Canadian player in the game.
Like everyone else, Kunitz wonders if that chemistry with Crosby coupled with his production will be enough to convince Canada executive director Steve Yzerman to take him to Sochi. He spoke with NHL.com about that possibility, playing with Crosby and fellow linemate Pascal Dupuis, and what it's like to be him these days.
Here are Five Questions With … Chris Kunitz:
Do you think about the potential for being on the Canadian Olympic team?
"I try not to, but definitely I do. It was obviously a huge honor just to be invited to go to Calgary. That's a huge honor for my whole family, not just for myself. It's something everybody has always watched every four years, the Canadian Olympic team. It would be an honor to be on a team like that, but you try not to let it affect your day-to-day living. I want to go just play for the Pittsburgh Penguins and have as much success as we can. If you have a bad start you really don't have much of a chance to be on that [Olympic] team. If you go out and play your game, do the things you do well, you can show every night that you can be a guy that can be put on that team and have success."
Do you think that you set the bar for yourself last season with 52 points in 48 games even though you had what arguably was your best season at the age of 33?
"Production-wise I don't think I ever thought of being that kind of player. That being said, playing with Sid in the prime of his career is obviously helping that. Having chemistry with Dupuis and Sid, you can go out and enjoy offensive success and still play good defensively. I don't know if I set the bar -- it was out of the norm to have that many points -- but to go out and play the game we did was part chemistry and part confidence. I don't know if it's not possible again. We're definitely going to strive for what we achieved last season."
Rightly or wrongly, a few years ago I'm pretty sure nobody would have thought of you as an Olympic team candidate. You are now. Do you consider yourself elite in that way?
"I've always prided myself on being a good team player, a guy that can go out and play different roles in different situations. When you're putting a team together you need different players to fill certain areas. I've tried to do that throughout my career. I don't think I ever thought of being in that Olympic level. I've been in the League for two of them and watched them from home. I had teammates there and was cheering for them to have success. Being in college and watching it, I was never dreaming about it. It's definitely an honor to be thrown in the mix but there's a lot of work to be done."
You have chemistry with a player considered by many to be the best player in the world. What is it like to be you right now, to be in that position, to get this opportunity in your career when, as you said, you never considered yourself this type of offensive player?
"I don't know really. My first few years were a little bit tough and then [with the Anaheim Ducks] I got to play with Andy McDonald and Teemu Selanne, then stints with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Then I came here and got to play with guys like Sid and Geno [Evgeni Malkin] and Jordan Staal. I try not to think about it too much, just play in the moment and stay in the moment. I obviously have good memories of everybody, but definitely I know I've been fortunate to have good players on my teams and to have a chance to play with them."
You were away for the summer and yet your chemistry with Crosby and Dupuis returned immediately this season. How and why does that happen? What is it about the way you guys play that allows that to happen?
"First off, I think we all enjoy each other's company and humor. We can rib each other about certain things and that just picks up. That's a hockey-player thing. It doesn't matter if you haven't seen guys in a while, we have that bond. I think when you have success, you have that good thought in your mind of what you did in the past, how successful it was, and you try to achieve that again with everybody just playing their part. Sid is the biggest part of that, of our success, and I think we know that and accept that and just try to play our roles. We don't try to change what we're going to do. We just try to be as consistent as we can to play with him.
"You can't just start putting people together for no reason. I know I get to play on [Crosby's] line because I do something well and I have to keep doing that, try to retrieve pucks, turn them over and get to certain areas on the ice. He makes the plays happen. He makes people come toward him. If there are two guys going to him, they're going away from us and that opens up the ice. That being said, we still have to go out and do it, produce it, and we've done a good job of having that chemistry and being successful when we go out on the ice."
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