GLENDALE -- When watching the Tucson Roadrunners play, it's usually difficult not to notice forward Michael Bunting.
The 22-year-old winger is an emotional player who's seemingly always in the face of an opposing player, playfully chirping. By his own admission, he's a Brad Marchand clone (minus the licking).
"I've been like that since I can remember," Bunting said recently. "I love getting under their skin because that gets me into the game and gets me going, too."
Bunting's style of play could provide a spark for the Roadrunners, who will enter Wednesday's American Hockey League playoff game at the Texas Stars trailing a best-of-seven series 2-1. Tucson has lost two games in a row after winning the series opener a week ago.
Bunting is more than just an on-ice pest. The third-year pro, whom Arizona drafted 117th overall in 2014, contributes points on a regular basis. During the regular season, Bunting co-led the Roadrunners with 23 goals in 67 games. He also ranked third on the team with 43 points. In three AHL seasons, he's produced 47 goals and 49 assists.
In seven playoff games this season, Bunting has chipped in three goals and one assist, and has logged a team-high 25 penalty minutes.
"He's definitely a thorn in the other team's side," Roadrunners General Manager Steve Sullivan said. "That's good for us. We need that."
Bunting grew up in Scarborough, Ontario, and was a three-time recipient of the Athlete of the Year award at Blessed Cardinal Newman High School. In addition to hockey, he played soccer, softball, tennis and basketball. To say he's competitive is an understatement. But Bunting has discovered there's more to pro sports than just showing up with your skills and an I-want-to-win attitude.
"You light it up in junior hockey and think you'll light it up as a pro and that's not the case," said Bunting, who starred for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League. "That was definitely an eye-opener, so you start learning the little things, and I think I've been good about that in my three years. I've improved each year."
Bunting is in the final year of a three-year contract he signed in 2015. It's an important juncture of his pro career and he knows it; he wants to play for the Coyotes someday soon.
"I just want us to have a good year and I want to get noticed by the big club," Bunting said. "I feel like I've had a pretty good year and hopefully I can ride that the whole playoffs."
Sullivan, Arizona's one-time director of player development, has enjoyed watching Bunting mature on and off the ice.
"We've seen progression all three years," Sullivan said. "We always talk about development and about the different paths young players can take. It's taken him a little bit longer. He needed to mature a little bit from when he got here, and he has. He's really found his game and grown as a person. He's learned how to be a pro everyday and his game has evolved, and I couldn't be more proud of the effort and commitment he's put into it."