Throughout the course of this season, Oklahoma City Barons defenseman Brad Hunt has gone from an occasional healthy scratch to one of the most offensively productive defensemen in the American Hockey League.
Despite being out of the Barons lineup for a handful of games in October and November, the 25-year-old Hunt has 47 points (11 goals, 36 assists) in 60 games, ranking second on Oklahoma City's roster and fourth among all AHL defensemen.
Hunt's progression is due in large part to his infectious positive attitude, for which he has become well-known in the Barons locker room, according to coach Todd Nelson.
"When we sat him out just because of numbers, that was a tough pill for him to swallow," said Nelson, who won a Calder Cup championship as a defenseman with the Portland Pirates in 1994. "But you wouldn't know it -- as soon as he left my office after I told him, he was the same person.
"That speaks volumes about his character. His attitude is fantastic, and that's what makes him who he is. He's very positive, and it's contagious."
A native of Ridge Meadows, British Columbia, Hunt played four years at Bemidji State University, making two NCAA tournament appearances, including a run to the Frozen Four in 2009. He left as the highest-scoring defenseman in school history (112 points).
Undrafted, Hunt joined the AHL's Chicago Wolves after his senior season and recorded five points in 14 regular-season games along with four points in five games during the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs. As a rookie on an AHL contract with the Wolves in 2012-13, he had 33 points in 65 games and competed in the 2013 AHL All-Star Classic.
Last summer, Hunt signed his first NHL contract with the Edmonton Oilers, whose general manager, Craig MacTavish, briefly coached him when he joined the Wolves at the end of 2011-12. In Oklahoma City, he has flourished since sitting out earlier in the year.
"You just try to control the things you can control, and not really worry about stuff that's out of your hands," Hunt said. "When I did get a chance to play, my thought process [was] just to work my hardest and prove that I should be in the lineup every night. It just kind of started to take off."
Hunt's career took off all the way to Edmonton when he made his NHL debut with the Oilers as they faced the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 3.
"That was something I've wanted to do since I was a little kid," Hunt said. "To get a chance to play with the Edmonton Oilers -- obviously a team with as much history as they have -- it's just a dream come true."
He appeared in three games with Edmonton before being reassigned to Oklahoma City, where he continues to work on honing his game.
"The AHL really did help and develop me to become more comfortable up there," Hunt said. "I just want to get another chance, so it's another thing to push forward to. You have to get better and better every day."
Hunt's dedication to improvement is evident in the numbers -- he has 29 points and a plus-8 rating in 26 games since Jan. 24.
"We knew that he was going to give us offensive numbers, but we didn't know that he was going to explode like he has this year," Nelson said. "He has really caught fire the last couple of months, and he's playing with confidence."
In his second full season as a pro, Hunt believes he has found the right fit within the Oilers organization and amongst his Barons teammates.
"I can't say enough good things about the people that I've been in contact with at both [Edmonton and Oklahoma City]," Hunt said. "It's just one of those things where you kind of get into a groove, and once you feel comfortable, you're not really thinking; you're just playing and having fun."
Nelson and the Barons are equally as appreciative of the 5-foot-9 Hunt, who has quickly emerged as a guiding presence for his teammates both on and off the ice.
"He's one of our go-to guys," said Nelson, who is in his fourth season as Oklahoma City's coach. "His role is very significant for our club -- he's arguably our veteran defenseman even though it's only his second year. He's probably our leader on the back end along with Taylor Fedun, and he's handling it well.
"His overall attitude really helps out the young players in our room. He's just one of those guys that walks in a room and makes everybody smile."
Hunt's commitment to his team is only further amplified as the Barons make the final push for a Calder Cup Playoff spot, two points out of eighth place entering the weekend.
"We're in a big battle to get into the playoffs," Hunt said. "I think that's a really important thing in progressing as a player and as a team, and will help everybody get farther and farther in their future hockey careers."
No matter the team, no matter the league, it's his trademark positive attitude and genuine care for his teammates that continue to drive Hunt.
"Like I said, it's just controlling the things that I can control, and that's trying to help the Barons get into the playoffs," Hunt said. "That's my focus right now. All the other things hopefully will come with time."
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