Scott Cowan The Hockey Writers
Canadiens’ Defense Needs Brad Hunt
I think it’s safe to say that Brad Hunt has had a long road to the NHL. A native of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Hunt spent his first four seasons playing for Bemidji State University, establishing himself as a serviceable offensive defenseman on a weaker WCHA team. Towards the end of his senior season, Hunt signed an amateur tryout with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, which eventually led to a one-year AHL deal. In the 2013 offseason, he signed a two-year entry-level deal with the Edmonton Oilers and has slowly chipped away at an NHL role since then.
It wasn’t until the Vegas Golden Knights signed him as a free agent in July of 2017 that Hunt got his first proper NHL shot, and became a useful addition to a Cinderella story Golden Knights team. Currently, he’s entering the final season of a two-year deal with the Minnesota Wild, demonstrating impressive numbers early on this season which ultimately trailed off.
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Currently, with 19 points in 59 games this season, Hunt continues to attract interest from teams who see his potential, even as he’s past the prime of his career. Personally, I see the Montreal Canadiens as a perfect candidate to acquire Hunt, and I think Marc Bergevin is the perfect general manager to do it. Let’s take a look at why this is.
A Lack of Left-Handed Defensemen
At the moment, the Canadiens’ left-handed depth consists of Xavier Ouellet, Brett Kulak, Ben Chiarot, and Victor Mete. While players like Chiarot and Mete have proven their worth to the team this year, they’re more serviceable in the defensive aspects of their game at the moment. Chiarot established himself as a hard-hitting top-six defenseman with the Winnipeg Jets, and has become a key part of the Canadiens top four this year.
However, his style of play is primarily based around defense, making him a serviceable, if not ideal match for captain Shea Weber on the first pairing. Mete has proven at times to be capable offensively with his fast skating and stickhandling, but he’s still young and needs more time to develop.
While Kulak showed last year that he has the potential to be an NHL calibre defenseman, he’s been on and off this year in terms of his play, being average at best in both his defensive and offensive aspects. Ouellet’s role is pretty much set in stone as an AHL offensive weapon with limited NHL success, but he’s also yet to be given a proper chance in Montreal.
Because of this, I think Hunt is a perfect fit for a team lacking in offensive left-handed defenders and could be a useful addition to the Montreal power play the same way he was for Vegas during their first season. Similar to Kulak last year, Hunt has good vision and passing skills, and the ability to generate rebounds with his shots. Brendan Gallagher scores the majority of his goals from in front and benefited from Kulak’s performance last year. Hunt could be helpful in that same aspect.
A Reasonable Contract
After the 2018-19 season, Hunt signed a two-year extension with the Wild worth $1.4 million. That brings his total cap hit per season to a whopping $700,000. Considering Karl Alzner is making $3 million to play in Laval primarily, Hunt is a reasonable bargain for a player who plays much bigger than his contract.
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It’s a similar story to that of Marc-Andre Bergeron, whom the Canadiens signed to a one-year deal in the 2009 offseason worth $750,000, and got 13 goals and 34 points out of. However, Bergeron was much more of a risky player, possessing lesser if not downright bad defensive skills in exchange for superior offensive abilities.
Hunt has yet to, and most likely won’t, surpass his 26-point pace this year, but with a league-minimum contract and above league-minimum ability, Hunt could be a fine upgrade to a Canadiens team that has struggled to find consistent depth defenseman in Recent years. He’s averaged around 16 minutes a game in his career thus far as well, meaning he could step into a larger role should he need to. With Montreal having gone through numerous injury troubles over the last few seasons, Hunt could also help shore up a team that is lacking in defensive depth.
Power Play Proficiency
Simply put, the Canadiens power play over the last few seasons has been bad. With a 17.7 percent power-play efficiency his year, the team hasn’t managed to use some of their more talented offensive players to form a cohesive and successful man advantage. Consistently slotting in checking forwards like Jordan Weal and Nick Cousins doesn’t help, but even players like Tomas Tatar and Weber struggle to produce without proper cohesion. Weber’s shot has proven to be a deadly weapon in years past, but he’s lacked a proper offensive partner to set it up.
Hunt has proven he can be that partner. In his first season in Vegas, 12 of Hunt’s 18 points were on the power play. Similarly, 10 of his 19 points this year with the Wild were on the man advantage. It’s clear this is where Hunt’s strong suit is, and his ability to feather light passes prime for one-timers (something Alzner was supposedly supposed to do) could make the Canadiens’ power play at least a bit more effective.
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Simply putting Gallagher in front (preferably out of the direct line of Weber’s shot) and having Hunt and Weber flank the blueline could prove effective, especially if Hunt can use his accurate shot to generate rebounds.
Hunt has battled long and hard to prove his worth as an NHL-caliber defenseman, and things finally seem to be going his way. He’s a talented top-four to top-six defenseman on any team, showcasing solid skating, hands, and passing abilities, with the ability to quarterback a power play as well. With a Canadiens team that’s lacking defensemen with these qualities, not to mention ones (like Hunt) that are left-handed, I think it’d be in the team’s best interests to acquire him.
Is this possible? Well considering all Minnesota had to give up was a conditional fifth-round pick to get Hunt (and a sixth-round pick) I think it’s safe to say he’d be an easy player to acquire. The Canadiens are in no shortage of draft picks, and Bergevin has shown an innate ability in the past to acquire talented depth players for practically nothing. All in all, Hunt seems to work for the Canadiens in most aspects, and I think he would be a fine addition to a Canadiens team that is lacking in the very defenseman he’s been his whole career.
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