Maple Leafs’ Trade for Hunt Spells End for Simmonds

The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Christmas roster freeze and made their first trade of the 2022-23 season. They dealt speedy but small (5-foot-9 and 175 pounds) Denis Malgin for a bigger but slower Dryden Hunt (6-foot and 195 pounds). 

Related: Maple Leafs Swap Skill for Grit in Malgin/Hunt Trade with Avs

While both players have put up decent offensive numbers in lower leagues — Malgin in the Swiss League and Hunt in juniors and the AHL — their offensive potential has never materialized in the NHL. 

Comparing Malgin with Hunt as Players

Here’s a look at Malgin and Hunt’s NHL output:

PlayerGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPoints Goals / 82 GamesAssists / 82 GamesPoints / 82 Games

Taking into account their age — Malgin is a month away from his 26th birthday, while Hunt just turned 27 — and their NHL experience (both players have played approximately 200 games in the NHL), the table suggests what they might bring to a team offensively.

They are different types of players. The smaller Malgin is faster and more of a playmaker, while Hunt is more physical and strong on the forecheck but is not regarded as a strong skater. 

Why Did the Maple Leafs Make the Trade?

When the Maple Leafs reacquired Malgin in the offseason, the hope was that his offensive success in the Swiss League over the past two seasons (40 goals, 94 points, 93 games) would carry over into the NHL. The thought was that Malgin could possibly step into a top-six role with the Maple Leafs.  

Related: Denis Malgin the Best Maple Leafs Acquisition: Who Knew?

Unfortunately, while he has shown flashes of offence, hasn’t played badly, and at times, has not looked out of place playing on the John Tavares line, he has failed to produce; he’s only scored two goals and two assists in 23 games. That kind of production just isn’t good enough to keep Malgin in the team’s top-six. At the same time, his lack of size and style of play is not best suited for a bottom-six role. 

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On the other hand, Hunt seems to be your quintessential bottom-six or fourth-line player. As we mentioned earlier, he is physical (440 hits in 193 games) and has been known to drop the gloves if required. On the Maple Leafs, he is most like Zach Aston-Reese.  

In essence, what Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has done is traded a player who has had ample opportunity to show what he can do in the top-six, but could not get it done. Malgin had a solid chance but could not adequately address the need that the Maple Leafs had for a left-wing option on the team’s second line.

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: Not Extending Dubas a Smart Move

Coming back is a player who realistically has little chance of playing in the top-six but who looks like he could play in the bottom-six and add a bit of secondary scoring.

The organization seems to have given up on Malgin and will bring in another player who they think might have potential. Hunt has shown flashes of skill but might not yet have reached his potential. 

What About Wayne Simmonds?

There have been games this season when Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has felt the need to insert Wayne Simmonds’ physical play into the lineup. However, when he’s in the lineup, Keefe doesn’t have the confidence in his fading skills to play him; he has only averaged 7:38 of ice time when dressed.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Wayne Simmonds Becoming Expendable

Simmonds is far from the player he was even a few seasons ago. He’s always been a warrior, and he’s still willing to engage physically with an opponent; however, recently, that engagement hasn’t turned out too well. Not even two weeks ago (on Dec. 10) in the Maple Leafs’ overtime win over the Calgary Flames, ​​when the Flames’ Nikita Zadorov cross-checked Auston Matthews in the back, Simmonds felt inspired to step in and throw a punch. He was penalized for roughing, but Simmonds’ anxiousness to stick up for his teammate unwisely negated what was going to be another Maple Leafs power play.

In the ensuing 4-on-4, the Maple Leafs were scored on, and that was the last game Simmonds played. Adding Hunt to the roster just might spell the end for Simmonds. Is there a chance the Flames game might be the last game The Wayne Train plays in the NHL?

What Type of a Player Will Dryden Hunt Become?

Until a new player engages in a body of work with his new team, fans can never really tell what that player will bring to the organization. That’s true with Dryden Hunt as well. We can’t be certain how he’ll fit into the team’s system and structure.

At the same time, we can’t really know what the team’s plans are for their new player. What we do know is that if Hunt turns out to be the same kind of trade the team recently pulled off with defenseman Conor Timmins, there will be a lot of joy this holiday season in the Maple Leafs Nation.

[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.]

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