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Kunin, Keller play for Team USA in IIHF World Championship

Luke Kunin and Clayton Keller played for the United States at the recent 2019 IIHF World Championship in Kosice and Bratislava, Slovakia.

Chesterfield’s Luke Kunin played Team USA in the IIHF World Championship hockey team in Slovakia.

The two Chesterfield natives now are professional players and former players for the St. Louis AAA Junior Blues.

Team USA finished seventh in the 16-team tournament.  Team USA went 5-2 in pool play. The team was eliminated by Russia in the quarterfinals, taking a 4-3 loss.

Chesterfield’s Clayton Keller played from Team USA in Slovakia.

“It’s always great and exciting to play for your country,” said Kunin, a 6-foot, 183-pound forward, by phone from Madison, Wisconsin. “Getting to play with guys like Patrick Kane, Dylan Larkin and Ryan Suter was fun. It was fun to play with Clayton again, too. We had a lot of young guys on the team. It was a great time.”

The last time Kunin and Keller played together was in the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. Team USA won a gold medal in that tournament.

“It’s always good to see Clayton again,” Kunin said.

Kunin said he enjoys playing in events like this.

“You always want to represent your country,” Kunin said. “It was a great experience. To get to play more hockey is always a good thing.”

Kunin split time between the NHL and AHL this past season, making 49 appearances for Minnesota in which he tallied six goals, 11 helpers and 88 shots (all career highs).

He figures to be a near lock for next season’s Opening Night roster with the Wild and will almost certainly remain with the big club for the majority of the campaign.

Kunin, 21, recorded 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists) in 49 games with the Wild last season while bouncing up and down the lineup. It was a big step forward for Kunin, who spent last offseason recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

“I feel great,” Kunin said. “It’s all good now.”

When the 2019-20 season begins, Kunin knows what he wants.

“The goal is to stay up this season,” Kunin said.  “That’s what I want to do. I want to help the team win.”

A first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Kunin already has two gold medals to his name — one as the captain of the U.S. National Junior Team and one as the captain of the U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team. He played two seasons at the University of Wisconsin prior to turning pro.

Keller, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound forward, scored 14 goals and 33 assists for the Arizona Coyotes. 

Keller hasn’t let a lack of  keep him from making a big impact in the NHL as a forward. Keller is among the new generation of small, nimble forwards such as Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames who have the skill to beat bigger opponents without taking a pounding.

After breaking Phil Kessel’s all-time record for points by a player in the U.S. National Team Development Program from 2014-16 (189), Keller was selected by the Coyotes in the first round (No. 7) of the 2016 NHL Draft.

He played one season at Boston University, finishing with 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists), and helped the United States win the gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship before signing with the Coyotes on March 26, 2017.

Three days later, Keller had an assist in his second NHL game against the St. Louis Blues.

Keller scored his first NHL goal in Arizona’s 2017-18 season-opening game against the Anaheim Ducks and continued to pile up goals and points despite the Coyotes’ slow start. He scored 11 goals in Arizona’s first 16 games and reached the end of 2017 leading Arizona in goals, assists and points, although he was still more than six months away from his 20th birthday.

He finished his first NHL season with 65 points (23 goals, 42 assists) and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL’s top rookie.

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