On Monday, December 19, the Toronto Maple Leafs pulled off a trade just before the Christmas deadline when they moved Swiss forward Denis Malgin to the Colorado Avalanche. The player coming back was 27-year-old, undrafted British Columbia native Dryden Hunt.
Hunt has landed in Toronto having scored two goals in 28 games this season for the Avalanche. He has scored 42 points in his 193 career NHL games over six seasons, starting with the Florida Panthers, the Arizona Coyotes, the New York Rangers, and most recently, the Avalanche.
Although he hasn’t yet been able to “keep a job,” in that he keeps moving from team to team, in essence, Hunt played a full 2021-22 season with the Rangers by playing in 76 games and scoring six goals and 11 assists (for 17 points). The word is that, while the Rangers liked the young player, they had number of problems and were forced to move him.
What Does Hunt Bring to the Maple Leafs?
When Hunt was first picked up by the Maple Leafs Sheldon Keefe summarized what he thought Hunt might bring to the team. Coach Keefe noted that Hunt, “plays a hard and simple game… (that he’s) physical and competitive… (and that) he brings a bit of a different element to the depth of the team.”
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Right now as Maple Leafs’ fans look ahead, Hunt promises to add a little more toughness to the team in a player who can be taken in and out of the lineup as needed. He’s a bottom-six kind of player.
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He brings a more physical game than Denis Malgin. This might be something that the Maple Leafs could use going into the home stretch of the season. It is, however, worth noting that, in 2015-16, as a 20-year-old in the Western Hockey League (WHL), Hunt scored 58 goals and produced 116 points for the Moose Jaw Warriors. Take that for what you will.
What Three Options Exist When Hunt Hits the Lineup?
If we split the forwards up into who we know are top-six players and who we know are bottom-six players, we can generate the following lists:
The team’s top-six forwards are Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares, Michael Bunting, and (second-line Left Winger – currently Calle Jarnkrok).
The team’s bottom-six forwards are Alex Kerfoot, David Kampf, Pierre Engvall, Zach Aston-Reese, Pontus Holmberg, Joey Anderson, and Dryden Hunt.
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This list suggests that eight forwards are currently bottom-six players. We could add a healthy Nick Robertson as another option. Similar to Malgin, however, we don’t know what happens to Robertson if he doesn’t fit into the top six. Could he be well suited for a bottom-six role?
Option One: Auditioning a Bottom-Six Player for a Top-Six Role
Option one would be to keep trying out players like Kerfoot, Jarnkrok (who currently seems to hold the spot), Robertson, and even Engvall in the top six and hope one of them sticks. If one of these players can do the job, Hunt could fill their spot in the bottom six.
Option Two: Use Hunt in the Bottom Six, If He Works Out Think Trade
If the Maple Leafs feel confident that Hunt, at a salary of $762,500, can adequately fill a bottom-six role along with cheaper players like Kampf, Aston-Reese, Holmberg, and Anderson, it could free up some trade options for the Maple Leafs. It might mean moving one, or a combination of, more expensive players.
These players could include Kerfoot with a cap hit of $3.5 million, Engvall with a cap hit of $2.25 million, or (even) Jarnkrok with a cap hit of $2.1 million in an effort to acquire a bonafide top-six left-winger to play alongside Tavares.
Option Three: Might Hunt Play in the Top Six?
This option is a long shot. When Hunt first entered the league, his scouting report stated he had an NHL-caliber shot. It is obvious with only 14 goals in 193 games that shot has either not been utilized or has not yet been realized. It is possible that general manager Kyle Dubas could feel that, by playing Hunt alongside Tavares and Marner, he could get more of an opportunity to utilize his shot.
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With Hunt’s physicality, he could play a similar role to the one Bunting plays alongside Matthews. The biggest question about using Hunt in this role is his skating.
There are contradicting reports about Hunt’s skating. Some reports say that Hunt is fast. Others suggest that his skating needs improvement. If the latter report is correct, even if the Maple Leafs’ development team could work with him and improve his skating, it is not something that would happen overnight.
Might Hunt Become Another David Kampf?
Hunt is the typical cheap, diamond-in-the-rough player with unrealized potential that Dubas is known to be constantly seeking. The cost of acquiring him was a player (Malgin) who had ample opportunity with the Maple Leafs but never panned out as the organization had hoped.
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Hunt is an inexpensive low-risk gamble who most likely will not have a major impact, whether he works out or not. That said, there’s always David Kampf as an example of a player who shone in new surroundings. Could Hunt become the next Kampf? It isn’t much of a gamble to see.
The ideal outcome of Hunt’s acquisition would be the second option. If he worked out, the Maple Leafs might have taken the first step to acquire a top-six left-winger (or even a top-rated defenseman) at the trade deadline.
Such a move could help the Maple Leafs take the next step in the playoffs. As has been well-documented, this team will ultimately be judged by how it fares in the postseason.
Options one and three would still be considered successes as well if they led to the same result, a deep playoff run.
As usual, we will have to see how it all plays out.
[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.]