New veteran Canuck on the hunt for the blue line


Maple Ridge native Brad Hunt rivals young Jack Rathbone and former first-round player Olli Juolevi for a vacant third-pair position

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ABBOTSFORD – Brad Hunt is a 33-year-old veteran with many miles on his hockey clock.

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The well-traveled defenseman could afford to be somewhat poised and stoic as the Vancouver Canucks opened training camp on Thursday.

After all, he’s logged 191 National Hockey League games with five clubs, and that regular-season rite of passage rarely moves the emotional meter of a player who’s been there before.

Not to hunt.

The little defender couldn’t contain the joy of being at the camp in his native province. And locked in a three-way fight with rookie Jack Rathbone and Olli Juolevi to secure a left shooting spot on the third pair, the Maple Ridge native was beaming at the possibility of playing for a club he grew up watching. .

“It’s so nice to be here,” said Hunt, 5-foot-9, 177 pounds. “It’s something really special to have a lot of family and friends around and there is such a cool vibe around town. You take the opportunity and run with it and I hope I am here for a long time.

“It’s not something that I envision in the short term. I really like it here. “

What do the Canucks have in Hunt, who signed a one-year, one-way deal for US $ 800,000 in free agency? His former trainer knows it.

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Minnesota bench boss Dean Evason took a break from camp Thursday to deceive the undrafted defenseman, who has played 100 games for the Wild in the past three seasons.

“Honestly, he’s probably the nicest person and team player I’ve ever coached,” said Evason. “He has a wonderful offensive conscience. And if he has speed and size issues, he can make up for it with intelligence and a good stick.

Hunt’s experience and 59 career points (19-40) with Edmonton, St. Louis, Nashville, Las Vegas and Minnesota could give him a head start on the competition. Rathbone, 22, spoke of dynamic attacking potential in an eight-game appearance with the Canucks last spring and the club’s fourth-round steal in 2017 scored his first goal on May 6.

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Juolevi, 23, has undergone previous back and knee procedures that have slowed his progress, but the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft must build on a strong start last season and not let it down by the difficulties.

If the Canucks want a veteran element to help solidify the rear during a playoff push, Hunt has a chance. If young people are to be served, then Rathbone can hang the spot. It should be good theater through seven preseason games as other pairings seem set.

There’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tucker Poolman and the absent Quinn Hughes with Travis Hamonic. Tyler Myers will anchor the right side in the third pairing, while Juolevi and Luke Schenn could be extras.

Young defenseman Jack Rathbone looks into the game on the official opening day of the Canucks' ice training camp at the Abbotsford Center in Abbotsford on Thursday.
Young defenseman Jack Rathbone looks into the game on the official opening day of the Canucks’ ice training camp at the Abbotsford Center in Abbotsford on Thursday. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

As for Hunt, his plan to beat Rathbone and Juolevi is simple.

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“I’m not going to run away from them in any way,” Hunt said. “If they need help, I’m here, but I’m also fighting for a job. And it is important for your career to have healthy competition and not to give yourself anything. It makes you stronger and better as a person and a player.

“I’m an attacking defender, but over the years having to adapt to a different style and a more defensive team has meant that I have to develop my full game. As a young player, that’s something you have to work on: your strengths and weaknesses. The NHL is now about being a complete player, not one-dimensional. “

Rathbone is motivated by the fact that he played in Utica and Vancouver last season and has gone from training the taxi team to the NHL roster option. On Thursday he started the process of getting better every day and knows the skates are going to be tough – especially the traditional Day 1 end-of-session skate bag.

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“It doesn’t get any easier, but I’m about as hungry as ever to be a part of the squad,” said Rathbone. “There is always competition in a good team and that’s what excites us, to showcase you at camp and in some pre-season games. I stay focused on myself, but the competition is good. Hockey players are built to thrive because of it and it makes coming to the rink a lot more fun.

“It’s a pretty physical league, but I’m a pretty competitive guy. I need to play a little smarter and have learned to play a more pro style in the AHL which was huge.

Rathbone is a product of its hockey environment. Being paired with Adam Fox at Harvard University has helped accelerate his progress. Fox tallied 42 points (8-34) in his rookie season with the New York Rangers and finished fourth in the Calder Trophy ballot in the 2019-20 season.

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“Everyone knew he was going to be a very special player and I’ve never seen a guy with a better IQ in hockey think of the game the way he does,” said Rathbone. “We also had Johnny Marino on defense, who is with the Pittsburgh Penguins, so just being in that environment has been huge for my year of development.

Rathbone is skating with new teammate Conor Garland during the offseason and for two smaller players with big offensive advantages, they share that impulse on the shoulder to calm critics. For Garland, it proved he could play and produce in traffic. For Rathbone, it will be physical defense at this level.

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“It’s great to skate against a guy like that this summer because you really can’t stop him,” said Rathbone. “You’re just getting better. There is excitement and driving around my game right now. “

Hunt gave wise advice to Rathbone and Juolevi on how to handle the three-way battle.

“Don’t insist on the little things,” he said. “When I got into the league you think about everything too much and worry about what other guys are thinking and what you should be doing for them compared to yourself. Play the way you want to and play with confidence.

“Learn. Don’t block anything, be a sponge and enjoy it because it goes quickly.

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Helen L. Cuellar

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