Ryan Kuffner

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

I know forward Kris Bennett is dubbed the Iowa Heartlanders’ “cheat code” by the team, but forward Ryan Kuffner is its most valuable player.

Unlike Bennett, who’s tallied more goals than assists, Kuffner knows how to find his teammates in scoring position. The former Detroit Red Wing is up to 40 assists on his first ECHL season — tied for seventh in the league despite competing in 32 out of 63 Heartlanders’ games.

When you get over an assist per game, you’re helping your teammates, and that’s showing up in the statistics for the Princeton University graduate. Kuffner’s plus-7 rating is one of the best on the Heartlanders, while Bennett holds a minus-2 rating.

With that, it’s no surprise Kuffner registered at least one point for 16 straight contests at one point during the season.

The left-handed shooter from Ottawa, Ontario, also knows how to score timely goals — and two come straight to my mind.

His first of 12 goals during the 2021-22 campaign came 25 seconds into the first game in Heartlanders history on Oct. 22, 2021. I knew right when the Heartlanders got into the Kansas City Mavericks’ zone before the score that something magical was occurring. It turns out Kuffner was the wizard in that moment, and I recognized he was a valuable asset.

He had another spectacular moment facing the Kalamazoo Wings on March 12. After the Heartlanders surrendered two goals and blew a 3-1 lead in the third period, Kuffner thwarted the comeback by recording the game-winning goal with less than five minutes left.

Kuffner and Bennett are both great leaders for the Heartlanders, and Bennett is the frontrunner for ECHL Rookie of the Year. Yet when it comes down to Iowa’s most valuable player, the evidence suggests Kuffner is the answer.