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NHL Draft

2020 Draft: Hunt healthy after skate cut, hoping he impressed scouts

Defenseman missed three months after forearm injury, confident in future

by Aaron Vickers / Independent Correspondent

Every Thursday, will look ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

Daemon Hunt is quick to recall the details of Moose Jaw's game against Edmonton of the Western Hockey League on Dec. 3 at Rogers Place.

It lasted three shifts, and the 17-year-old defenseman didn't play again for three months.

"I just had the puck along the wall," said Hunt, No. 22 in NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters for the 2020 NHL Draft. "I chipped it out. The forechecker came to hit me and he kind of missed and stumbled and his skate blade came up and hit my right forearm. It didn't feel like much at the time.

"A couple seconds went by and I looked down. We were wearing our white uniforms … there was blood everywhere. Me, I just skated off the ice and my trainer was right there with a towel."

The collision took place near the Moose Jaw bench, and coach Mark O'Leary said he saw everything that happened.

"I remember he came out of the scrum," O'Leary said, "and I can't get the look of his face out of my mind, when he kind of looked at the bench and then looked down at the arm and he had that spooked look on his face. I think everybody on the bench knew that it was bad. Then he rushed off.

"For me it was that look on his face of he was obviously afraid of what it might be. I'm glad that in some sense he was lucky in terms of, it could have been a lot worse, but it was a scary moment for everybody."

Moose Jaw athletic therapist Brooke Kosolofski was first to act, followed by members of Edmonton's training and medical staff.

It's then that Hunt got his first look at the damage, the first major injury in his hockey career, before heading to a local hospital.

"When I got all my equipment off I didn't look at the cut," he said. "I didn't look at it. I could see their faces and their reactions. Finally before (the doctor) was putting the stitches in, I looked at it quick. It was a pretty rough sight.

"Lots of things went through my mind, being my draft year and all the pressure and all that. It was a pretty stressful time."

Hunt received stitches that night to close the wound and four days later had surgery to repair the muscles in his forearm. He didn't play again until Feb. 28.

Not exactly an ideal situation for a player trying to make an impact in his first season of NHL draft eligibility.

"It was pretty tough sitting out for three months of the season, being it my draft year and everything like that," Hunt said. "Honestly, I'm not too worried about the draft. I've talked to so many people who have said it's fine and that [scouts] know me and as player and who I am as a person.

"Mentally as well, I talked to my sports [psychologist]. It wasn't easy mentally sitting out being my draft year and the pressure that's there. He helped me so much with everything. I play hockey because I love hockey. Just dealing with it … not being on the ice was really key for me, and not getting down on myself. It helped me so much."

Hunt had 11 assists in 23 games prior to his injury and had been invited to play in the Canadian Hockey League Top Prospects Game in January. He had four assists in five games after returning to the lineup, but O'Leary said the strengths of Hunt's game don't always show up in the box score.

"Skating first and foremost," O'Leary said. "It's with and without the puck. Right away when he's in the lineup we spend less time in our zone because of his ability to skate the puck out of trouble. He skates on top of the ice. 

"Everything he does since he's been 15 playing games with us, he does it so fast, whether it's going back to get a puck or just getting the puck in the forwards' hands, he does everything full speed. You can see the pro game in him. He's just as quick without the puck as well, defending through the neutral zone, skating forward, cutting guys off before they can even enter the zone. He just does everything so fast. That's the thing that stands out for sure is his ability to play quickly."

Hunt would have had more opportunities to showcase his skills, but the pause to the WHL season and the cancellation of the 2020 IIHF World Under-18 Championship resulting from the coronavirus will limit the viewings of NHL scouts.

It's just another setback Hunt's coach has no doubt he'll overcome.

"I think first and foremost he's a positive person," O'Leary said. "He's always smiling, so I think he gravitates towards the glass-half-full [mentality]. He's faced some adversity this year. He's able to handle it better because he keeps things positive and doesn't get too down. He's pretty mature in that side of things. Sometimes you have to remind yourself he's only 17. He carries himself like a 19-year-old. He's a real pro.

"He's got the benefit of having great parents. He's got the support at home. They're kind of the same way he is. They're positive, upbeat people. He was brought up the right way, so I think that's really helped him. He's done nothing but work. He shows up and does what's asked and then some. He does everything as hard as he can.

"That's the pro in him that comes out."


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