Yesterday sportswriter Kevin McGran wrote a nice article about Michael Bunting to share the news that Bunting had been named one of the three finalists for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie. (from “Michael Bunting’s long journey to Calder Trophy nomination for Maple Leafs included plans to be a firefighter,” Kevin McGran, The Toronto Star, 11/05/2022).
McGran noted that during the 2021-22 regular season, the 26-year-old Bunting led all NHL rookies by scoring 23 goals and adding 40 assists (for 63 points) in 79 games. That’s a good season for almost any NHL player, and to happen to a rookie is even more special. Although Bunting isn’t likely to win the award, he’s done well to make the top three. Congratulations.
Quick Hit One: It’s Hard Not to Root for Bunting
It’s really hard not to cheer for Bunting because his road to the NHL was so tough and it took him so long to get where he is. In his quest, he’s overcome a lot to make it. Bunting had a hard time even starting his hockey career as a youth because his family couldn’t afford to put him into the rep leagues. the NHL
Bunting was from Scarborough; and, because he was raised by a single mother, the small family couldn’t afford to spend the funds to have Bunting play “rep hockey.” Fortunately, his high school coach finally encouraged him a chance and helped arrange for the Don Mills Flyers to help support Bunting by covering the costs.
Still, for as good as Bunting was, he wasn’t drafted by the OHL. In fact, as McGran notes, Bunting was passed twice before the Soo Greyhounds picked him during the fourth round in 2013. That draft choice had to be good fortune for Bunting’s career, although he wouldn’t know it at the time.
Quick Hit Two: Bunting’s Two Fortunate Events, Both Involving Maple Leafs’ Leadership
It just so happened that the Greyhounds were then managed by none other than the current Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas and coached by none other than the current Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe. All three of them likely recalled the early seasons they spent together.
Finally, the Phoenix Coyotes took a chance on Bunting during the fifth round of the 2014 NHL draft. However, Bunting never made much of an impact in the Coyotes’ organization and only was called up to the NHL at the tail end of the 2020-21 regular season. For six seasons, he spent most of his time playing in the minors.
When Bunting became a UFA (unrestricted free agent) at the end of last season, he chose to sign with the Maple Leafs during the offseason. He even took less money to sign with the Leafs than he was offered with some other NHL teams. That was his second bit of good fortune.
With the Maple Leafs, although he started on the fourth line while Nick Ritchie began on the first line with Matthews and Marner, Bunting eventually got a chance to become a line partner with two of the best hockey players in the NHL. Those partners are center Austin Matthews and winger Mitch Marner.
Quick Hit Three: Coach Sheldon Keefe Appreciates Bunting’s Play
There’s little doubt coach Keefe appreciates the “feisty-in-your-face” winger who led all NHL rookies in scoring. In speaking about the Calder nomination, Keefe noted that “It’s terrific for him and his family.”
Keefe added that the nomination is a testament to Bunting’s journey. Keefe took the long-road picture to note that, “for a guy like him (Bunting), it’s taken a lot longer. So, he’s had to put in a lot more work. He’s had to stay resilient, and he’s had to continue to believe in himself and he’s had to take advantage of opportunities that came his way.” What coach doesn’t appreciate those attributes?
Although Bunting wasn’t agreeing with Keefe specifically, he basically attributed his own success to his dogged spirit and drive. He’s a grinder and he’s determined to stay in the NHL.
Bunting noted, “My attitude is, keep it going and keep grinding away and having belief in my skill. It’s been quite the journey to get to the NHL for me. I was able to make it and solidify myself. I just kept that same attitude every single day and night in and night out. So, I think I did a pretty good job.”
One of Bunting’s other attributes is that he’s confident. He’s also one of the best bargain contracts on the Maple Leafs’ roster and he’s here at least for another season – if not the long haul.
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