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Hunwick settling in with the Maple Leafs

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs


There are many new names for fans to get familiar with over the coming weeks and months. Among them is blueliner Matt Hunwick.

Hunwick, who was signed to a two-year contract on July 1, is taking part in his first camp with the Leafs. The 30-year-old will look to settle in with Toronto after stops in Boston, Colorado and New York over eight seasons.

"It has been a lot of fun. Obviously it was a great trip to Halifax, a good chance to get to know everyone right off the bat," said Hunwick of the adjustment to life as a Maple Leaf. "Training camp has been pretty good so far. We've obviously had a lot of intense practices but overall it has been very good. "

At 5-foot-11, Hunwick stacks up as a smaller NHL defender by conventional standards. He makes up for what he lacks in stature with hockey sense and mobility. He'll look to slot in for Mike Babock's group as a reliable blueliner who retrieves the puck in the defensive zone and gets it going in the right direction.

For a club that struggled with prolonged defensive shifts in 2014-15, the addition of Hunwick should be a shot in the arm for the revamped Leafs.

"I try to have a good gap and break out the puck as best I can to minimize D-zone time. I'm not going to be throwing guys off the puck but I try to do it with a good stick and body position and try to play the game as smart as possible," said Hunwick. "When I do get the puck I try to move it as efficiently as I can and if I can jump up in the rush, that's great. If not, I just want to be that sound defensive player."

Through roughly two weeks of training camp, Hunwick has held down the left side of a defensive pairing with Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf has played with many defensive partners of varying amounts of experience in recent years. Now, with Hunwick in the fold, the pair will look to give the Leafs some consistency in personnel and a pairing that can log tough minutes.

The work required to build chemistry can be tricky and unpredictable but, according to Hunwick, it's coming along.

"I think it is developing for sure," said Hunwick. "Every day you work at it, you try to communicate as best you can and kind of get used to playing with someone new... I think thus far it has been pretty good."

Through a pair of pre-season games Hunwick has averaged 18:08 in ice time, playing even-strength and shorthanded situations.

In addition to on-ice contributions, Hunwick will look to provide a veteran example for a young Leafs group. As the club looks to re-establish the standard that comes with being a Maple Leaf, veterans will be key in leading the way for younger teammates.

Hunwick points to his time with the Bruins and Rangers — older groups that have had success in recent years — as examples of how veterans can show what it means to be an NHLer.

"I'm not the most vocal guy but just with preparation, how you prepare yourself off the ice, how you practice. Just the way you go about your business", said Hunwick. "I think in New York we had a veteran team and when I was in Boston we had a veteran team and it was very noticeable for older players how well they prepare and how ready they are for games."

"I'll try to set that example here as best as I can and go out and perform."

Leafs head coach Mike Babcock echoes that sentiment on Hunwick.

"Matt's smart and knows how to play the game. A real good pro, he does everything right," said Babcock. "We can all learn by hanging around Matt Hunwick."

The Leafs return to pre-season action on Sept. 29 when they travel to Buffalo.

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