Just four seasons into his NHL career and at the age of 27, Trent Hunter is already becoming one of the Islanders' young leaders that will be with the team for years to come. Fresh off a five-year contract extension, Hunter was able to focus solely on hockey with trade rumors long behind him.
"It was very exciting signing the long-term deal," said Hunter. "I talked with my wife and this is where we wanted to be. To have the opportunity to stay for five more years is very exciting for us. We're definitely looking forward to the years to come."
Despite the Islanders failing to miss the playoffs, Hunter had one of his better seasons since he made the NHL All-Rookie Team during the 2003-04 season. Changing his game to more of a setup role, Hunter produced a career-high 29 assists and totaled 41 points, which tied for third on the team. His 29 assists led the team.
"Every year in the league you get more experience," said Hunter. "You're going to take on more of a leadership role and this year is no different. As the year went on and more injuries cam about, we definitely had a lot younger team."
As Hunter mentioned, injuries plagued the Islanders this season, but Hunter was one of the few who didn't get hit with ailments. He and Richard Park were the only two players to play in all 82 games this season.
It was no surprise that when both alternate captains Brendan Witt and Mike Sillinger were out with injuries that Hunter was given an "A" on his jersey.
"It was a great honor being one of the alternate captains," said Hunter. "We have a lot of great leaders on this team and a lot of guys who were deserving of it. It was unfortunate with all of the injuries. It was a good learning experience for me."
With many players called up from Bridgeport in their early 20s or even teenagers, Hunter became one of the elder statesman. And as one of the natural leaders on the team, Hunter felt it was his responsibility to help acclimate the younger players to the NHL level.
"As the year went on, you want to try and help out the young guys as much as you can," said Hunter. "They're all at this level for a reason, so you don't have to give them too much advice. I just told them little things here or there. You try to give them some advice, whether they want to take it or not. You just try and talk to them and make them feel comfortable. You let them adjust at their own pace."
Hunter likes to give his captain, Bill Guerin, a lot of credit. As a new player on a new team, he admired the way Guerin fit in so well and made everyone else feel comfortable as well. "Billy was great all year," said Hunter. "It was the first year he was captain, but he'd been leaders on other teams in year's past. He brought the guys closer in the locker room and always made sure everyone was involved with things. He helped out with the younger and older guys. He was good to everybody."
With Guerin, Sillinger and Witt in the mix next year, it's unlikely that Hunter will be given an "A" to begin the season. But that doesn't mean you're not looking at a future alternate or even captain of the Islanders.
"He's a leader on the ice and in the room," said head coach Ted Nolan. If Guerin were out, you could even see him wear the "C."