You have to look beyond the obvious places to find the Wild’s co-leader in goals and points. He isn’t on one of the top lines, or even among the bottom six forwards. He probably wasn’t an early pick in most fantasy hockey drafts.
Brad Hunt resides far down the lineup card, on the right side of the third defensive pairing. For a scoring-starved team, though, the compact defenseman with the lethal shot has been indispensable. With three goals and five points, Hunt is tied with fellow defenseman Ryan Suter as the team’s leading scorer, and he is tied with Jason Zucker and Zach Parise for most goals.
Since coming to the Wild in a trade with Vegas in January, Hunt has served many functions: Point man on the power play, reliable defender, popular teammate. Scoring leader wasn’t a label that coach Bruce Boudreau expected to add to that list, but he is not surprised at what Hunt has brought.
“He’s been great,” Boudreau said Monday, as the Wild prepared for Tuesday’s game against Edmonton at Xcel Energy Center. “For a guy you picked up and were going to use as an extra, he’s done a great job on the power play, and he’s done a really good job on the right side.
“He’s always been a point producer. The team picked him up for the power play. But he’s had to do everything with us.”
The always-smiling Hunt, known as one of the nicest guys on the Wild, deferred credit to his teammates. After playing sparingly last season with the Golden Knights, the Bemidji State product earned a regular spot in the Wild lineup by mid-February and has held it ever since.
Through this season’s first eight games, Hunt, 31, has logged the same number of points he had in 29 games with the Wild last season. He showed off his cannon of a shot in Sunday’s 4-3 victory over Montreal, when Matt Dumba dished to him in the right circle for a one-timer on a power play. Hunt’s blast tore past goalie Keith Kinkaid and off the goalpost to tie the score at 3-3 in the third period.
For someone who is 5-9, Hunt gets considerable zip on his shot. He is at a loss to explain how he generates his power, other than honing it through thousands of repetitions over many years.
“[Shooting] was something I worked on all the time. I just loved to do it,” said Hunt, a native of Maple Ridge, British Columbia. “It’s just one of those things where I’m fortunate to have a hard shot, maybe. I’m not too sure what goes into it. Just swing as hard as you can, maybe, and hopefully, it hits the net.”
Dumba, who knows something about teeing up wicked shots from the point, called Hunt’s shot similar to his own.
“He’s got a bomb,” Dumba said. “He rips the puck, man. The way he’s shooting it right now, his is probably better. Some guys just got it, some guys don’t.”
In addition to his work on the power play, which has yielded three of his five points, Hunt has filled a vital role on the third defensive pair. The lefty shooter is playing on his off side, with youngsters Nick Seeler and Carson Soucy alternating as his partner.
Hunt doesn’t have a long NHL résumé, with 128 games since his league debut in 2014. But the qualities he has shown at every level of play — such as responsibility, diligence and a kind, generous spirit — have aided Soucy and Seeler as they adapt.
“He’s got that veteran presence,” Soucy said. “When I played my first few games this season, he was telling me, ‘Trust what got you here.’ He’s always there with a few words to help me stay relaxed and calm.”
Hunt noted that he’s still learning, too. Getting regular NHL playing time, and observing teammates such as Jared Spurgeon, are helping him burnish his all-around game.
Though his role as a team scoring leader might not last, Hunt is determined to thrive wherever the Wild needs him.
“It’s been cool,” he said. “But at the same time, the wins are more important.’’