Brad Hunt latest of five locals to play in NHL this season

The defenceman was riding a bus in the minors, on his way to San Antonio for a game, when he got the news...

Brad Hunt was a standout in the AHL

Brad Hunt was a standout in the AHL

Brad Hunt has arrived.

The Maple Ridge hockey prospect played his first game in the NHL on Friday night.

The defenceman was riding a bus in the minors, on his way to San Antonio for a game, when he got the news. The Oklahoma City Barons coaches called him to the front of the bus, to tell him the Oilers were calling him up.

Hunt made his debut in a 5-2 loss to the powerhouse Anaheim Mighty Ducks, getting about 11 minutes of ice time. The Edmonton Journal said he did not look out of place, despite the lopsided score.

After the game, interviewed by Oilers media, Hunt, who has lost a front tooth in the past year, said how much he enjoyed that first game.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” he said.

“This is a dream come true. Ever since I was a little boy I wanted to play in the NHL, and I finally got the opportunity to do so.”

Then on Sunday, in his second game, Hunt got 17 shifts and 15 minutes, including 1:40 of power play time, in a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Intuitively, an off-season move to the Edmonton Oilers system  appeared to be a break for a young, puck-moving defenceman. The Oilers are laden with talent up front, but have struggled to find the right mix, and pundits have been saying for the past several seasons that the team needs to upgrade its blueliners.

Hunt had excellent numbers with the AHL Oklahoma City Barons, with 15 points in 27 games.

Everyone who watches him play remarks on his slick passing – long, tape-to-tape jobs, to players in the open. And he has a quick shot that gets through blockers.

“It’s an exciting time for Huntsy,” said coach Dallas Eakins on the day of his first game.

“I thought he had an excellent camp. I think it was the game in Vancouver he played and I thought he was excellent. I’m sure he’s excited to get his feet wet.”

Craig MacTavish was the head coach of the AHL Chicago Wolves, then the farm team of the Vancouver Canucks, when Hunt broke into the league. Now the general manager of the Oilers, he knew what Hunt could bring to his organization.

Having finished NCAA hockey at Bemidji State University in 2012, he arrives in the NHL at 25, a slightly older prospect.

Hunt said his approach is to work hard for as long as he is in the lineup, and control the things he is able to.


Five have played in NHL

The list of players from Maple Ridge in the NHL is growing. There have been five play games in the league this year.

Best known is Andrew Ladd, who has steadily improved his game, developing from a checking forward with the Carolina Hurricanes to a frontline scorer and team captain of the Winnipeg Jets.

The veteran has played 577 games in the NHL, tallied 333 points as of Monday, won Stanley Cups with Carolina and the Chicago Blackhawks, and was considered for Canada’s Olympic team.

Two-way defenceman Patrick Wiercioch begame a regular with the Ottawa Senators last season, tallying 19 points in 42 games in the shortened season. That was good for second among rookie defencemen.

This year he continues as a regular blueliner in the nation’s capital, with 14 points in 29 games.

Defenceman Victor Bartley also played his first NHL games for the Nashville Predators last season, getting seven points in 24 games. He was an elite offensive defenceman in the Pred’s farm system, quarterbacking the power play for the Milwaukee Admirals.

This year he has appeared in another 30 games, playing a regular shift, tallying two points.

Speedy forward Brandon Yip, who broke in with the Colorado Avalanche in the 2009-2010 season, is now in the Phoenix Coyotes system. He has played two NHL games this year, and 25 with the farm team Portland Pirates, where he has nine points in 25 games.  For his career, Yip has played 174 NHL games, tallying 56 points.

Brett Sonne was on the cusp of the NHL. He played four seasons with the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL, but this year has moved to Austria, with the team Dornbirn EC. The checking forward is scoring more regularly at that level, with 27 points in 37 games.