Welcome to this year’s Top 25 Under 25 series. If you’re unfamiliar, we’re going player-by-player in a ranking of the top 25 Minnesota Wild players that are under the age of 25. It’s fairly simple. Enjoy!
Daemon Hunt is probably in the conversation for unluckiest prospect in the Minnesota Wild pipeline. Drafted in the early third round by Minnesota in 2020, Hunt has been highly effective in the WHL for his age-18 and 19 seasons but has yet to see extended action at a professional level. Both seasons he was selected to try out for the Canadian World Junior team, a prestigious opportunity to test his abilities at the next level. Both years, Hunt has been unable to compete due to a training injury. Both years, that injury has come from a blocking a shot in practice and hurting his hand.
Fortunately for Hunt, the best word to describe his game is “patient,” a quality he may need to channel off the ice as he tries to break into the pros without opportunities against high quality competition. The central tenets of his game come from skating efficiently in defensive transition, angling plays to the outside before smothering his opponents’ rushes.
His other main asset is an opportunistic slapshot. Between these two attributes, he profiles as a defensive defenseman molded by the modern game.
Over the past two seasons, Hunt saw his WHL points balloon from 18 to 39. He saw marginal improvements in his points per game and goals per game, and drastically improved his plus-minus rating. On the other hand, his PIM per game ballooned by nearly 86%.
While this is solid production for a teenager, it’s also largely stagnant. This is the reason Hunt so desperately could have used the chance to showcase his skills at the World Juniors — it’s tough to know what kind of NHL prospect he is when he only sees WHL competition. Hell, the subtitle of his ranking last year mentioned “nothing more to prove in the WHL.” Barring his injury, last season would have been a tune-up in the Moose Jaw to be ready to play against the best players of his age group.
On the other hand, Hunt’s production is still in a good place as a prospect. If you like capital-A Analytics, take a look at his skater card from HockeyProspecting.com, which uses points production adjusted for the quality of competition to project the aging curve of developing hockey players.
As a third-round pick, a 50/50 shot to play out 200+ NHL games is very good value. Considering further that this is primarily based on offensive production and the strength of Hunt’s game is his defensive reputation, the odds of Hunt sticking in the league are likely underrated by the HockeyProspecting model.
On the subject of aging curves, it’s important to note that while injuries have stalled Hunt’s developmental opportunities to this point, these injuries are not highly recurrent. Being cut by a skate has no bearing on Hunt’s future availability, and the hand injuries can be avoided in the future with improved shot blocking technique, which I’m sure Hunt is eager to learn at this point — hand injuries hurt. Compared to injuries that create structural damage or require extensive rehab (think ACL tears or back issues), Hunt’s injury history doesn’t imply that he’ll have limited availability or development in the future.
What this means is that Hunt has experienced the full impact of these setbacks already — in other words, there’s no need to project out the impacts of these injuries. While they cost him two shots at a World Junior roster, he’s still vying for an AHL roster spot at just 20 years old. For this reason, breaking into the AHL this summer would be a huge step in the right direction for Hunt.
Roll the Tape
Hunt’s reputation from what he’s put on tape prototypes as a two-way defenseman. Corey Pronman, The Athletic’s resident prospects expert, highlights Hunt’s defensive skating and physicality, plus a strong shot. He’s also widely considered to be an effective passer in transition more so than the type to join the rush as a fourth attacker.
While the best parts of his game are undoubtedly defensive, his shot is what shows up on his highlight reel:
Correction! First PRO GOAL! Congrats Hunt! https://t.co/ud9Tefm9bV— Iowa Wild (@IAWild) May 13, 2021
It’s surprising that Hunt beats an AHL goaltender from that distance, especially given that he’s off balance and unable to fully wind up. This is the reason that he’s credited as an exciting shooter.
If you want to see Hunt get all of one, as well as see some of that vision and skating that’s been referenced in his profile, take a look below:
On the subject of Hunt’s two-way game, I think that this shows there’s a real switch in his aggression once the puck is across the offensive blue line. On offense, he’s talented at pinching, shooting, and shows his vision. At all other times, he will have a similar mentality to Ryan Suter or Jonas Brodin — carefully angling plays outside and supporting the offense rather than creating it himself.
Finally, I’ll leave you with something a little more exciting in Hunt’s power play tape. Another example of Hunt’s blistering shot, but in this case deployed with a measure of creativity. You don’t often see power play goals scored on this type of low-to-high pass in the NHL, but Hunt finds a way to do something unique for Moose Jaw.
Hunt originally fell to the Wild in the third round due to a skate injury which hampered his draft-year season. Even as an early-third round pick, he’s becoming a great value given that his potential to become a full-time NHL defenseman within the next few years. There’s clear offensive upside to Hunt on top of his solid defensive reputation.
On the other hand, he came into the Wild system with plenty to prove and he’s lost further time since then. After showing in 2020-21 that he could out-class the WHL, it would have been preferable to see him in more AHL action last season or the World Juniors to really see a next step to his game. Entering his age 20 season, Hunt still has two to three developmental years before being in his most productive years as an NHL player, but it’s crucial for him to make the most of them. At this point, there is certainly pressure for him to crack the AHL roster this season as he’s already lost time to two hand injuries and the skate cut the season before being drafted.
Hockey Wilderness 2022 Top 25 Under 25
25. Mason Shaw, C/LW
24. Sam Hentges, C/LW
23. Simon Johansson, D
22. Hunter Haight, C
21. Nikita Nesternenko, C
20. Marshall Warren, D
19. Filip Gustavsson, G
18. Mikey Milne, LW
17. Mitchell Chaffee, RW
16. Pavel Novak, RW
15. Ryan O’Rourke, D
14. Daemon Hunt, D