Dark horse defenceman Brad Hunt is a man to watch in camp

Hunt, Brad

Brad Hunt has flown under the radar as a candidate for the Edmonton Oilers’ blue line. To a degree, that makes sense: there are a bunch of high draft picks and guys with one-way contracts in the running to make the team, and the guy who stands 5’9” and never even got drafted doesn’t stand out against that group.

But it would be a mistake to forget about him entirely, because there’s a reasonable scenario that sees him make the team.

How he got to Edmonton

Craig MacTavish

Hunt’s roots are in B.C. He was born in Maple Ridge, and played his junior hockey in Burnaby with the BCHL’s Express. A late-bloomer, he was a point-per-game skater in that league at age 19, which was enough to get him into Bemidji State University, where he was a teammate of current Flyers’ forward Matt Read.

His pro career started with the Vancouver Canucks’ farm team in Chicago. He had a cameo with the Wolves in 2011-12 and spent all of 2012-13 with the organization on an AHL contract. His time with the club included 19 games under the eye of Craig MacTavish, then the Wolves’ coach and now the Oilers’ general manager.

MacTavish took over hockey operations in April 2013; less than three months later Hunt was signed to his first NHL contract, an entry-level that pays him the league minimum in the majors and under $100,000 in the minors.

The point of all this? It’s pretty reasonable to draw a straight line between MacTavish and Hunt; that’s a pretty nice friend to have in the organization. It won’t make a difference if Hunt doesn’t play well enough, but it should keep him from getting overlooked if he does.

A very particular set of skills

Hunt was a revelation on the Oklahoma City Barons’ power play in 2013-14. The team finished third in the AHL with a 22.1 percent success rate; and Hunt scored nine goals manning the point and added 24 assists, meaning that he earned a point on 43.4 percent of Barons power play goals.

The Oilers already have Justin Schultz as a first unit power play defenceman, but Hunt brings something that Schultz doesn’t: a rocket shot and a willingness to use it. Hunt’s shot was clocked at 99.5 miles per hour at the 2013 AHL Skills Competition and he used it 170 times in just 66 AHL contests in 2013-14. Edmonton lacks a defenceman who can really rip the puck from the point; Hunt has that ability.

He’s also versatile. The Barons had a ton of left-shooting defencemen last season, so Hunt spent basically the whole year on the right side. As the seventh defenceman with an NHL team, that’s a pretty valuable asset – it means he can fill in on either side of the third pairing if injury opens up a spot.

Hunt’s size is a concern, of course, but it’s a concern somewhat mitigated by the offseason additions of Nikita Nikitin (6’4”, 217 pounds) and Mark Fayne (6’3”, 215 pounds) to the mix on the blue line.

The Scenario

Worst_Case_Scenario_Title_Card

There are five NHL veterans on rich one-way contracts with the Oilers at present. All will make the team. Martin Marincin isn’t quite a lock for one of the two remaining spots, but given what he did last season he’s a very good bet to take it.

That leaves just one job open. On a short-term basis, the Oilers could employ one of the star prospects (Darnell Nurse or Oscar Klefbom) and rotate Marincin and the vets through the No. 7 slot. It’s not likely to be something the team is comfortable doing long-term, however, which means that barring trade or injury Edmonton will probably want an older player in the seven slot, somebody the team can scratch without harming his development. Naturally, the specifics change if Nurse or Klefbom beats Marincin out for a spot in camp, but it won’t change the fact that a cheap veteran is the preferred option in the No. 7 slot.

That’s why Keith Aulie—on a one-way, $800,000 contract—is expected to win the job. He’s 25 years old and has 136 NHL games under his belt; he can be scratched without worrying about derailing his development. That he had a bad game on Sunday doesn’t condemn him; he’ll be given plenty of rope.

But imagine a scenario where Aulie has a lousy preseason, rather than just one lousy game, a scenario in which he continues to look slow and make bad decisions with and without the puck. Further, imagine that Hunt plays well and establishes that he can help the power play whenever he’s dressed.

In that situation, which of the two players gets the job? Aulie has an edge in size, an advantage in NHL experience and a one-way deal, so it won’t be easy for Hunt to unseat him. It is, however, certainly within the realm of possibility.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    I think Hunt’s path to the NHL is as an injury replacement. Doesn’t make sense to slot Aulie into the lineup if one of the PP Dmen go down (I believe there are 2 PP dmen in Nikitin and Schultz). One of those two go down I think Hunt gets a look. If he plays well he becomes #7 upon their return and Aulie hits the waiver wire.

    Klefbom replaces any of Ference/Petry/Marincin/Fayne/Aulie in the event of injury.

  • Just makes sense to have Hunt come in if he outperforms Aulie. If Ference/Petry/Marincin/Nikitin/Fayne/Schultz are all starters you don’t want Klef as your nbr seven.

    One of Ference or Nikitin should be traded if Klefbom is a clear upgrade, but the Ference contract, and the fact that Nikitin just got here pretty much mean that if Klefbom is going to be on the team, then Petry is not.

    Or maybe (considering the contract and the letter on his jersey, this is clearly an idea for birds) Ference becomes the #7 and he and Klefbom split that bottom time.

    Fayne Petry get the toughs
    Marincin Jultz get the butter
    Nikitin Klef get teh left overs

    Ference and Klef swap spots throughout the year….

    Or just send Klef back to OKC and keep hunt in place of Aulie.

  • pkam

    If Aulie continues to show poorly I see no advantage in keeping him. Give Hunt or Klefbom a chance and rotate them in the D lineup to get them ice time.
    We will need some experienced backup if Petry is traded.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    I just have a hard time seeing Aulie making the team. We have a problem on d for at least a year. This kid could make it for his shot on PP wish we had better options.

  • pkam

    Demoting Aulie to the minors doesn’t affect the salary cap, his 800K salary only affects Katz’s wallet. Is 800K really a concern to Katz, I don’t think so.

    IOW, if Aulie continues to be awful in the preseason, I see no reason not to send him to the minors.

      • pkam

        My understanding of the new CBA is you can send any player with one-way contract to the minors and take up to 925K of his salary off the cap.

        Since his salary is only 800K, so we can take his whole salary off the cap.

        We may lose him to the waiver, but do you care? Honestly, if he continues to be awful, I wish someone will take him off our hands and save us that one spot in our 50 man roster limit.

  • I honestly am unsure why Aulie was signed. I’m pretty skeptical he’s the type of player needed here. That said, like with any player, I hope I’m proven wrong here. I don’t want to see anyone fail.. So I hope for the best from him.

    As for Hunt.. Quietly making a name for himself. I am intrigued… Seems like he could be a Torey Krug type here. The Oilers don’t really have a big blueline shot (actually I guess Nikitin can fire it, but it’s good to have another hand at this)

    • Admiral Ackbar

      He was signed because he was once highly thought of and is now inexpensive. He also previously played for Eakins and, as such, benefits from familiarity. He’s gigantic too.

      Not saying he’ll be good, just saying that he could.

      • Ya I understand the connection, but I just don’t think there’s enough there to go down that road. But nepotism is going to happen in hockey.. Happens a lot. I just don’t think it was a signing that made sense to me. But again I’m hoping Aulie surprises. Everyone deserves a break.

  • If Justin Schultz was not here, Hunt may get serious concideration for a job. To be honest Schultz is over-rated for the fact he shoots floaters. Hunt is better option on the powerplay because a guy who can shoot and distribute reduces the other teams ability to break down the powerplay. Media has given him no shot, but I believe he will see time in Edmonton early in the year if the Oilers PP is brutal.

    My hope he shows well enough he gets an opportunity during the year. With a team that emplyed Philip Larsson who was godsend for most other teams every night, I think the Oilers have shown they will give guys opportunity. Unless your name is Fedun.

    Any one on the nation wanna right a good article, I would suggest a where are they now piece. Love to know how some of the old Oilers are doing, former prospects such as Fedun, etc. I always wonder if Ulanov is still patrolling the Polish division 3 senior circuit?

    • Dan 1919

      Will be interesting to see, I’m thinking his value is so low they’ll end up keeping him. An average dman on one of the worst teams in the league with common defensive lapses on a 1 year contract does not fetch a 2C contrary to what many have suggested.

      Best case scenario is Petry comes in, shows he’s made defensive strides, and another Oiler rookie also performs well making Petry dispensable with slightly higher value.

      There’s more value in keeping him and having depth for injury time than there is in trading him for a negligible return. On a longer contract someone may consider trading a legitimate piece for him, but on a one year I don’t think anyone will see it as an acceptable risk.

    • shanetrain

      If that guy doesn’t want to be in Oiler silks it’s time to get him the hell out of there. Enough negativity surrounds this team as is, no more needed.

  • Aulie has never stuck with any other NHL club and I hope that remains the same here , or our defence is awful bad and he makes our roster . Hunt has some offence but I doubt enough defensive ability to make roster . We need Nurse . Klefbom and Marincin to take the next step if we are to entertain moving forward .

  • sportsjunkie007

    He played three games in Edmonton last year, during which he was a complete disaster. Unless Hunt proves himself to be better than last years tryout, he doesn’t have a future in the NHL.

    • i’m glad someone remembered that too. Very poor showing, I distinctly recall a huge giveaway at our blueline resulting in a goal against from him. I’ll give him another try considering that was last year, but I won’t forget it.

  • 916oiler

    Depth. Depth. Depth. Depth. Depth.
    Let Hunt/OK/DN mariate. Or call them up if there’s a spot and if it is earned. Keep Petry. Or trade him. Use Aulie. Or waive him. It depends on what happens during the season, not just the short TC runway. It’s a lovely place to be. Now, about centre….

  • 916oiler

    Keeping a guy on the roster just because hes good on the pp is insane. If Schultz goes down then call him up otherwise let the smurf anchor the Barons PP UNIT

  • The Last Big Bear

    Last year, there were about 250 defencemen who saw more than 5 or 6 NHL games.

    3 of them were under 5’10”.

    There’s a reason these guys go undrafted. Undersized defencemen are very VERY rarely effective at the NHL level.

    I think you’d be better served to give the minutes to the younger guy with a draft pedigree and 136 games NHL experience who is also10 inches taller and 40lbs heavier.

    They can both play a handful of games as an injury replacement, and neither is likely to significantly impact the Oilers’ season.

    But Aulie has years of NHL experience, and it wouldn’t take much of a push for him to become an effective full-time bottom pairing defenceman. Or alternatively convince another team that he has done so, and is worth something in trade.

    For Hunt to become an effective NHLer or have any trade value, he probably has to be one of the top undersized defencemen in the world.

    Aulie is probably worth a 7th round pick just by virtue of being tall and in the NHL, any kind of performance he delivers on top of that is gravy.

    • abbeef

      Years of experience? At 136 NHL games played he has the same level of NHL experience as Justin Schultz (122 games). Let’s not kid ourselves here, Aulie is here to fill the 7th Defenseman slot and do it cheaply. If there is a significant injury I imagine the Oilers will fill it with one of the kids (Klefbom, Musil) and Aulie will get spot duty only. If he gets more than 30 games played this year I’d be surprised and very disappointed.

    • abbeef

      Although, having said all that, I do agree with you that Hunt has a very slim chance at having an NHL career, despite whatever sublime skills he may possess.

    • abbeef

      You love to cherry pick your stats. There was 4 D below 5’10” that played more than 5 games, if you bump it up by one inch there is 19 D that played more than 5 games. You can’t tell me that 1 inch of height makes that much difference in playing defence.

      The fact remains that it is harder for small players to make it as a defence but not close to the odds you are saying with your 3 of 250 stat.

      If Brad Hunt can substantially out play Aulie then by all means give him the spot.

    • pkam

      Aulie is probably worth a 7th round pick just by virtue of begin tall and in the NHL? Are you serious?

      In 2011-12, we had a big defense who was drafted 3rd overall and had played over 250 games. His name is Cam Barker in case you don’t know. Wonder which idiot will give us a 7th rounder for him? If Barker couldn’t, what makes you think Aulie can?

      • on that note…..how did the Hawks fleece Minny so bad in getting Leddy and Johnsson for Barker in 2010!!! It’s that kind shrewd trade that hopefully MacT can procure in the future. Leddy is not a top 2 d-man, but is solid, young, and cheap at the moment.

        PS – is Aulie a giant? maybe he could pull off Harvey the Hound’s head cover down in Cgy….MacT would love that!

      • shanetrain

        I don’t really care to argue what Aulie is worth but it’s pretty clear to me Barker is an unfair comparison. Barker was getting paid millions, not 800,000 a year. Aulie also has value due to the fact he can be demoted without the parent club suffering from his cap hit or much financial strain.

        • pkam

          Barker was paid more because he was expected to play the 2nd pairing instead of the #7. So I can argue that his value should be higher than a #7 yet we couldn’t get a 7th round pick for him. So an awful 2nd pairing defenseman cannot get a 7th round pick, how much can we get for an awful #7?

  • Contracts aside…What if Klef plays at a level that is without question superior to Aulie and Ference, but not quite as ready as the remaining defencemen? (Marincin,Schultz,Fayne,Nikitin,Petry)

    Why not make Ference #7? Forget trading your best dman petry. Forget Ference’s contract.

  • I typically agree with Willis but think he missed the boat on this one. Hunt IMO will not be a long-term NHLer and maybe not even a short-term stop gap (i too recall his awful audition last season)….

    If Aulie has a brutal pre-season, it shouldn’t be Hunt filling the 7D role…..not a chance

  • Oiler63

    A powerful shot alone won’t earn him a spot on the team. Does he have the skills to hold the line in a power play? Can he win the one on one battles? Can he make and take a pass? Plus I don’t think one undersized player on ice can be mitigated by a big linemate. Mitigation means lower productivity.

  • Oilers lineup for Jets tomorrow could lead to a blowout .

    Yakupov ( back on LW) – Hopkins – Eberle .
    Pouliot- Draisaitl- Tkachev .
    Hamilton- Yakimov- Miller.
    Kessy-Ewanyk-Pitlick .

    Defence : Marincin-Nurse , Gernat-Klefbom , Aulie-Schultz .

    Goalies : Broissoit and Rimmer

  • pkam

    I don’t recall seeing Brad Hunt play, though I think I remember that give-away last year.

    Minny has Spurgeon. An Edmonton boy who is quite effective. It seems to me they brought him in to help with their power play and he grew from there. Good anticipation. Nice outs. Things a smaller D needs.

    I believe Hunt is about the same size. If he plays smart he could prove to be a good asset. I expect if he has a Sheldon Souray type shot from the point. They could find room for him to get some regular duty on the power play.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Hunt wasn’t a train-wreck as mentioned above?
    To me he looked a little bit overwhelmed his first few shifts, but then settled in nicely. He has a calm demeanor with the puck, and yes he can distribute and receive the puck very well, actually.

    His issue is his lack of size and defensive zone coverage. If the Oilers are looking for a small puck-mover with a big shot for the 2nd Unit PP then he has Aulie beat hands down.

    As far as where is Fedun….he suited up for the Sharks against the Nucks tonight. Played opposite Brent Burns on the PP and nearly scored on a sneaker wrister from the point. Looked pretty good to my eye….not sure if he will make the Sharks big club but he looked OK against the sisters and Vrbata. Oh, and John Garrett is the WORST homer in the league.