The Toronto Maple Leafs Michael Bunting is tied for the team lead in scoring. Yes, Bunting. Through four games, Bunting’s two goals equal 25 percent of the scoring for the blue and white. He would be leading in other categories if they tracked, such as conversations with the opposition, time in the blue paint, time laying on the ice, numbers of helmets removed by the opposition, and the number of face washes by the opposition. Bunting has been all the Maple Leafs hoped for and more, but the team must be cautious with how he is utilized.
After Bunting scored his first goal as a member of his childhood favourite team, one of his heroes growing up, Darcy Tucker, tweeted: So #58 I like it. “Definitely pretty cool,” said Bunting through a smile. Tucker was not only his favourite player, but Bunting also emulates his game by antagonizing the opposition. “If I can resemble anything like Darcy Tucker, he played a long time in the NHL, and he was a really good player. He got those greasy goals, and he worked hard. He wasn’t afraid of pretty much anyone out there. So if I can play like that and play my game and have that secondary scoring, that would be great.”
That style of play doesn’t come without consequences. Tucker’s time was during the Bay Street Bullies era, a brash, in-your-face team that won every night in the penalties received department. Tucker played for 14 seasons in the NHL but only managed to play an entire season once. His tough-as-nails persona cost him knee surgeries and several other ailments that would keep him out of the line-up.
It Took Bunting a Long Time to be an Overnight Sensation
It’s Bunting’s competitive nature that stood out to Sheldon Keefe, “whether he is scoring or not, he is competing at a very high level. He is engaged in the game, and he is engaged in every shift.” Keefe was so impressed with Bunting out of training camp he put him on the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander. Keep in mind Bunting had only played 26 NHL games coming into this season. “He wants to score. Of course, everybody wants to score, but it is very obvious, it is apparent that he is putting himself out there. He is not afraid to go to the areas where a goal is more likely to happen. He is in the fight every day. That is what I like about him.”
It’s an incredible start for a player drafted in 2014 and played mainly in the minors since then. But the long road to the NHL didn’t slow him down, “you gotta have confidence in yourself, and you gotta believe that you belong in the NHL, and I didn’t lack any of that,” said Bunting. “I believed that I belong here, and I believe that could score. Right now, I’ve been lucky for the last two games. But, it’s a long season, so I got to keep that rolling.”
Maple Leafs Must Keep Bunting Safe and Healthy
Anyone watching a Bunting shift, let alone a game, would be concerned about his longevity. However, Bunting is compared to Brad Marchand and his notorious rat style of play. Marchand’s rookie season was Tucker’s last season, which was 2009-10. The Boston Bruins aggressor has managed to stay relatively healthy for the duration of his NHL career. Perhaps that’s a sign of how the NHL has changed. There have been advancements in how teams and players prepare and manage for the game. No doubt, Bunting is on a first-name basis with the training staff already.
He is winning fans over with tenacity and a huge smile. There are already #58 jerseys showing up in the stands, and there is no mistaking those are fans of Bunting. He is the only player in the 105-year history of the team to wear 58. So while he is the first to admit it’s early, it looks like it will be a fun ride for Bunting. Let’s hope he enjoys the ice baths.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.