Here is a tip for future Toronto Maple Leafs’ players: mention Clark, Domi and Tucker. Michael Bunting dropped a few names as a lifelong fan of the team. That’s a fast way to generate buzz and attract a loyal fanbase. But this wasn’t just name-dropping some of the toughest Maple Leafs in recent memory; he emulates their playing style.
Bunting could not recall a single favourite moment watching the Maple Leafs. So instead, he went with an era, “it was just that Sundin era, that’s where I grew up. I loved watching that team, the grittiness, and the skill as well. It was a lot of fun to watch the Leafs back then.” Bunting was born during the same season, Mats Sundin was acquired in Toronto (1994-95). Sundin played twelve seasons for the Maple Leafs.
Some of that era is also referred to as the Bay Street Bullies. The 26-year-old lists some of the tough guys as favourites. “I’ve always liked a guy like Tie Domi, Darcy Tucker, you know the guys that are gritty. Wendel Clark not afraid to play on that edge but able to put the puck in the net as well.”
Bunting’s Stock Went up after Winning Gold for Canada
That is the type of player observers saw burst onto the scene late last season and carry that type of play right to the World Hockey Championship, “it was fun. It was just a matter of getting that opportunity to show I belonged. I’m kind of a guy that has a nothing-to-lose attitude. So, once I got that opportunity, I just kind of ran with it, and I was fortunate to have that success, and that’s what I want to continue with the Leafs.”
You wouldn’t be alone if you didn’t know who Bunting was before Toronto signed him. Since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, he has only played in 26 NHL games. However, his strong performance as part of the gold medal-winning Team Canada at the World Hockey Championship had him in demand. “I had to take my time. I got home from the World Championship and talked to my agent and talked to family and waited for the process.” And then his hometown team reached out, “I looked at the depth, I had a good conversation with them, and I felt like this was the right fit.”
Maple Leafs Will Give Bunting a Shot in the Top Six
Bunting is competing for not only a roster spot but a slot in the top six. He has found himself around John Tavares to start his development in Toronto, “he is an exceptional player. He’s one of the reasons I signed here to get the opportunity to play with guys like him. It’s fun to play with him and fun to watch him. There is no question why he is the leader here.”
Despite his limited NHL experience, he is not shy about his ambition to be in the top six and sees a spot on Tavares’ wing as a good fit. “I think it would be good. I’m a guy that likes to get to the net and create space for guys like John. I win loose puck battles, and I’m able to put the puck in the net as well and be in front of the net. So, if I’m able to compliment him there, that’s what I’m looking to do.”
It seems Bunting will get his shot on the Tavares – William Nylander line. All the team has told him is to be himself, reinforcing that they signed him for his antagonizing style of play. Suppose he can bring some of his favourite player’s passion and grittiness. In that case, he will be a welcome addition to the lineup. He will also be on a fast track to being a fan favourite. Many loyal fans have those same Sundin-era memories and have been waiting for a player like Bunting.
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.