Brad Hunt wants to prove he’s more than just a guy passing through.
The undersized defenseman has been counted out before. Hunt, 28, wasn’t drafted, but has found a way to stick around in professional hockey even if his career NHL stats don’t overwhelm.
Originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Edmonton, Hunt toiled for several years with the organization, tallying three points in 21 total NHL games sandwiched between hundreds in the minors.
After the Blues signed him in July, he didn’t make the roster. It was only by his early-season performance – again, in the minors – that he eventually became hard to ignore. While grinding away with the Chicago Wolves, Hunt notched 29 points in 23 games. When Robert Bortuzzo went on short-term injured reserve in November, Hunt got the call to practice with the big club. Bortuzzo is on IR again, expected to be out for at least six weeks. This time, Hunt has actually gotten to play.
While he’s got it, Hunt is making the most of his opportunity. He came in with precisely the kind of ‘happy to be here’ attitude one might expect from a player just trying to hang onto a job.
“It’s been awesome,” Hunt told Fox Sports Midwest’s Darren Pang after his first Blues game regarding his experience with the organization. “Coming to camp, it’s a new organization, so I didn’t really know what to expect. But everything’s been fantastic. (Wolves coach Craig Berube) down there’s been awesome, preaching the right things. Everything’s been going the right way."
Though his sound bites have been humble, his stat sheet has been flashy in the few games he’s played.
With an assist of Vladimir Tarasenko Thursday – admittedly on a goal Tarasenko created mostly on his own – Hunt extended his point streak to four games. That feat to begin his Blues career ties him with Al MacInnis for the longest such streak among defensemen in franchise history; not bad company for the 5-foot 9-inch journeyman.
Hunt is a defenseman with a mind for offense. Upon his most recent recall by the Blues, he led the AHL in points. While his game may not be as conducive to pure defensive ruggedness, he has given the Blues a boost with his ability to create offense. Blues goalie Jake Allen, familiar with Hunt from his time in the minors, hasn’t been surprised by Hunt’s breakthrough.
“I played against him a lot in the minors and I knew what kind of player he is,” Allen said of Hunt. “He’s such a solid player and he’s finally getting a real good opportunity with us. Which, a lot of guys in the minors grind down there and don’t. It’s really unfortunate. A lot of guys can play in this league but they don’t get a chance. He’s making the most of his chance and I’m really happy for him.
For Hunt, keeping a spot with the Blues long-term won’t be easy. His original chance at playing time came after defenseman Carl Gunnarsson went down with in addition to Bortuzzo’s absence. With Gunnarsson now back healthy, he is in the projected lineup Saturday night against the Blackhawks in Hunt’s stead.
Though Hunt’s energy has sparked the Blues, if Gunnarsson shows good form in his return and the rest of the Blues defense remains intact, Hunt’s regular playing time may quickly vanish. But as long as he continues to take advantage when his number is called, Hunt has a chance to stick around in the NHL – whether for St. Louis or another club.
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