This is our third Toronto Maple Leafs’ player review. First, we wrote about Auston Matthews and what we believe makes him the best player in Maple Leafs’ franchise history. Yesterday, we looked at why we believe that Mitch Marner is so underrated. Today, we’ll look at our third Maple Leafs’ player – Michael Bunting.
As a reminder, if you missed the first two posts, we’re basing much of these reviews on the film study and note-taking of long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith. As he reviews each game after it’s played, he notes what each player does with the puck, without the puck, where they are, and what they’re doing while not directly involved in the play, etc.
Related: Maple Leaf’s Commentary: The Honeymoon’s Over for Dubas & Shanahan
The purpose of our series of posts is to review and discuss Maple Leafs’ players based on Stan’s notes.
Maple Leafs Player Three: Michael Bunting
If there ever were a tailor-made situation for a new player to experience success with the Maple Leafs, Bunting found it. Joining a line with Matthews and Marner seems like a huge opportunity for success. And, in the end, that’s what Bunting found as a player.
However, that success wasn’t just given to Bunting. He earned it. He provided that line with exactly what it needed after Zach Hyman departed for the Edmonton Oilers.
Michael Bunting’s Differences from Zach Hyman
Bunting does his job on the first line just as well as Hyman did. Bunting is nowhere near as good defensively as Hyman was, but he plays exactly the same role Hyman did in the offensive zone.
Related: The 8 Best Defensive Forwards in Hockey History
While his linemates prefer to enter the zone with control of the puck, they also had the option with Hyman, and now Bunting, to dump the puck into the left corner of the zone and have Bunting retrieve it. Bunting uses his speed and tenacity to either beat the opposing player to the puck. Or, if he can’t reach the puck first himself, Bunting will pressure the opponent so quickly that he can’t do anything with the puck if he does get there first.
Bunting uses his body to separate and shield the puck from the opposing player. Once he has the puck, he has an advantage that Hyman did not have.
Hyman was a right-handed player playing on the left wing. Once Hyman had retrieved the puck, his first play was usually to pass it back to the point and head to the front of the net.
Bunting, as a left-handed winger, has an “out” where he can just backhand it hard to the point. Because he’s left-handed, he can also look for other options and other open players to move the puck to.
Bunting’s Weaknesses (and Other Strengths)
One other thing that Bunting does better than Hyman is that he gets under the opposing players’ skin. This leads to him drawing more penalties.
Related: The Rise & Fall of Andrew Raycroft
Bunting has a decent shot and can score. He also has good hand-eye coordination and is able to pick the puck up quickly if it’s loose in front of the opposition’s goalie.
On the downside, puck possession is not one of Bunting’s strengths. Fortunately, playing alongside two of the best players in the NHL allows him to leave puck possession to his linemates, and concentrate on doing the other things he does best.
Bunting is also not at the same level defensively as Hyman. You won’t see him killing penalties, or being the first man back on rushes the other way.
Because of his style of play, along with the whole agitator role, Bunting does take his share of penalties. This past season he was second on the team for most penalty minutes taken after Wayne Simmonds. He also had twice the penalty minutes (80 mins to 41 mins) of the player who was third on the team in penalty minutes (Justin Holl).
Bunting Found an Opportunity and Skated Away With It
It is no fluke that the Maple Leafs’ first line is the highest-scoring line at five-on-five in the NHL. While still being the third wheel on this line, Bunting still plays a huge part in that line’s success.
Related: Maple Leafs’ Michael Bunting: Not Someone to Bet Against
Bunting was placed into the perfect position to be successful with the Maple Leafs, and he plays that position perfectly. What a great (and inexpensive – this season) addition to the team.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]