2017-18 Player Review: Brad Hunt was a key contributor on the man advantage

The 30-year-old defenseman scored two-thirds of his points on the power play.

In the 2017-18 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2017-18 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. We have assigned each player a grade, which is a Knights On Ice composite grade made up of our individual ratings. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role. Note: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and goalies who played in at least 10 games were included.

It seems like it was eons ago, but at this time last year the Golden Knights were faced with the ominous task of addressing the major logjam on defense. Drafting 13 rearguards in the expansion draft was the primary culprit, but Vegas also signed two additional defensemen via free agency in Chris Casto and Brad Hunt. If you recall, Shea Theodore did not start the season with the big club, and Jason Garrison wore an “A” while Griffin Reinhart (having inked a two-year contract) traveled with the team before getting waived at the end of October. This was after players like Marc Methot, Alexei Emelin, David Schlemko and Trevor van Riemsdyk were traded away.

Despite the fact that defensemen wearing No. 77 have a pretty good track record in the NHL (see: Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, etc.), it was a surprise to see Hunt emerge from the pack. But the Maple Ridge, BC native turned heads with a very impressive preseason (one goal and six points in four games), which ultimately landed him a spot in the lineup. Training camp affords every player an opportunity to stand out, and Hunt did exactly that before going on to mount a “Vegas special,” a.k.a. a career season. Here’s an overview of his 2017-18 performance.

Season in review

Prior to last season, Hunt had amassed two goals and nine points in 33 career NHL games spanning five seasons with the Oilers, Blues and Predators. In 45 games in a Knights sweater, Hunt was able to triple his career point total thanks to three goals and 18 points, giving him 27 points (5-22—27) in 78 games. His 18 points were good for 13th overall on the team.

The 5-foot-9, 187-pound offensive defenseman was most frequently paired with Colin Miller, and the two meshed fairly quickly with similar offensive styles. Their combined Corsi For percentage of 55.29 in nearly 467 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey reflects that, though their 62.57 offensive zone start percentage certainly could have inflated that value.

Regardless, Hunt relied on his speed and puck-moving abilities to effectively drive play, finishing the season with a 52.04 Corsi For percentage as well as a 51.07 percent shot share and 51.81 percent scoring chance share. His goal share (45.83 percent) and high-danger goal share (38.46 percent) were a different story, but he did a lot of his damage on the power play.

In fact, 12 of Hunt’s 18 points came on the man advantage. Only six other Knights earned more power-play points than Hunt, all of whom played in at least 20 more games. There was just a seven-point gap between the team-high (19, by Erik Haula) and Hunt’s 12.

Despite averaging 1.78 shots per game, Hunt found twine just three times last year; his 3.8 percent shooting percentage, good for fourth-worst on the team among players who played in at least 25 games, didn’t do him any favors.

Though not known or utilized for his defensive presence, Hunt’s heat map shows that he was particularly effective around the net, limiting high-danger chances in tight.

He may not have faced difficult competition, but the areas of blue in front of the net are encouraging.

While Hunt traveled with the team, he did not make an appearance during Vegas’ postseason run; instead, the Knights turned to Jon Merrill and Luca Sbisa as the sixth defenseman for eight and 12 games, respectively.

Standout moment

Hunt’s first goal of the year was quite a shot. His laser on the power play was placed perfectly, bar down, and gave Vegas a 3-2 lead against Sergei Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was one of three points Hunt picked up on the night as he set a career high for points in a single game.

KOI composite grade: C+

Knights On Ice awarded Hunt a composite grade of C+, with individual grades ranging from C to B-.

Not many saw Hunt making the team out of camp, and not many could have foreseen he’d play 45 games. But that’s a testament to the fact that Hunt exceeded expectations from the very beginning. The journeyman defenseman wasn’t exactly a walk-on out of nowhere, but he also wasn’t a full-time NHL player with a ton of experience.

While Hunt was effective on the power play, averaging 2:23 per game on the man advantage, his even-strength play was lacking, which is a reason his final grade is in the C range. He averaged the lowest amount of even-strength ice time per game among Knights defensemen (14:11), and he saw just 3:10 of total ice time on the penalty kill all season. His goal share (45.83 percent) and high-danger goal share (38.46 percent) were both the worst on the team among defensemen who played in at least 10 games, and he didn’t crack the lineup in Vegas’ deep postseason run. Whether or not that was the right decision is a separate matter, but it does show that there must be, at least on some level, a lack of trust and confidence within the organization in Hunt’s two-way ability.

But despite not seeing a minute of ice time in the playoffs, Hunt remained positive, supportive and upbeat in the locker room, which is commendable. After all, he was Vegas’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy, annually awarded to the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

Hunt has one more year remaining on a contract with an average annual value of $650,000. It’s unclear exactly where he fits in the Golden Knights’ plans moving forward, though. Merrill seems to be the more likely candidate to fill the 7th defenseman role on the roster, especially with the offseason acquisition of Nick Holden. However, now that Nate Schmidt will be out of commission for the first 20 games of the season, Hunt could move up the depth chart and could very well see some playing time. At most, Hunt will be a third-pairing defenseman who plays on the power play, like last year, but it will depend on whether Vegas makes another move before the season and how things unfold in training camp. Many consider Zach Whitecloud to be a dark horse in this race; either way, Hunt will need to prove himself with a strong preseason effort once again.

How would you grade Hunt’s 2017-18 performance?