In the 2019-20 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2019-20 performances of each member of the Minnesota Wild during the regular season. Players were evaluated based on overall performance with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in their particular role.
Historically, NHL teams have coveted size and strength on defense, and only in the last decade or so have we started to see more and more shorter and skilled defensemen carve out big roles in the NHL. Minnesota Wild fans know this all too well with the always underrated and diminutive Jared Spurgeon.
So, after a trade on January 22, 2019 that sent Brad Hunt from the Vegas Golden Knights to Minnesota, the Wild added yet another small, but skilled blueliner who possessed good offensive and defensive instincts, along with a surprisingly hard slap shot for a player of his stature. And after showing well in a 29-game stint to end the 2018-2019 season with Minnesota, Hunt earned himself a two-year, $1.4 million contract extension through the 2020-21 season to stay with the team.
Before 2019-20, Hunt bounced around from several NHL teams, seemingly unable to find a full-time role in the NHL despite very good numbers in the AHL. Well, after looking back on his 2019-20 season, it’s fair to say that Hunt performed well in his role, and despite the fact that he still likely isn’t much more than a No. 5 or 6 defenseman at best, Hunt proved that he can be a useful NHL player when consistently played in the role that suits him best.
Season in review
While most players on the Wild struggled through a 4-9-1 start to the season, Hunt had maybe the best stretch of his career through the first month of the season, with eight points (four goals and as many assists) through the first 14 games of the season. He was even the team’s leading scorer for a while there.
After that first 20 or so games of the season, however, Hunt’s offensive production started to dry up a bit, in part because the rest of the team was actually starting to play better, as well as the fact that he was occasionally a healthy scratch and missed some games in that time. For the most part, he fit well on the third pairing with Carson Soucy, and his faster, more offensive game complimented Soucy’s defensive style well, while also providing Minnesota with more options on their special teams units.
Despite those offensive struggles in the middle of the season, Hunt still provided a stable and consistent presence when in the lineup on Minnesota’s third defensive pairing and power-play unit, all while only costing a minimal $700,000 against the salary cap. When you consider what other defensemen who have put up equal or worse numbers than Hunt make each season, that’s a pretty good deal for the team, and it should continue to be as Hunt goes into the last year of his contract in 2020-21.
While there wasn’t a clear standout moment from Hunt this season, this goal he scored in a game against the Arizona Coyotes on December 19 was pretty sweet. From a nearly impossible angle, he somehow snuck it in for his first goal and second point of the game in a crazy 8-5 win against the Coyotes.
Not certain this goal is actually possible pic.twitter.com/CbsAhkvMl1— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) December 20, 2019
As for Hunt's immediate future with the Wild, he will likely play a key role on Minnesota's third defensive pair if and when the NHL playoffs start up. After that, Hunt still has another year remaining on his current contract at a $700,000 cap hit, so despite the fact that he will likely have to compete for ice time with players like Greg Pateryn, Brennan Menell, and Louis Belpedio, he still will have a good chance to stick in his role on the third defensive pair and second power-play unit for Minnesota.
While he isn't likely to have a long-term future with the Wild, his style of play combined with his contract make him a very good depth option for Minnesota, and it's safe to say that Brad Hunt performed quite well in an important, albeit limited role in 2019-20.
How would you grade Brad Hunt’s 2019-20 performance?
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