Thursday, October 8, 2009

Trent Hunter's Tale and the Hunter Hate Debate

In the 2001-2002 Islanders so-called “Renaissance” season, a rookie by the name of Trent Hunter was in Bridgeport breaking former Bridgeport records and establishing himself as a good prospect coming up through the Islanders system. Ironically enough, the New York Islanders did not draft Hunter. He was actually drafted in the sixth round, 150th overall, in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by the previously named Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Less than two years later, general manager Mike Milbury saw something that he liked in Hunter, and he struck a deal for Hunter that only cost the Islanders a fourth-round pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

Although he appeared during the 2001-2002 playoffs for the Islanders, as well as eight games in 2002-2003 for the Islanders, Hunter’s true rookie season did not come until the 2003-2004 season, and he broke into the NHL in storm-like fashion. After compiling a team-high 25 goals (tied with Mariusz Czerkawski), 26 assists, and a team-high of 51 points (tied with Oleg Kvasha…this is your cue to laugh), Trent Hunter finished third in voting for the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year (ironically, again, behind Andrew Raycroft who played for the Bruins at the time).

Unfortunately for a developing player like Trent Hunter, the NHL went into a yearlong lockout immediately following his rookie campaign. For a player who had just had a highly successful season, it was very unfortunate for furthering his development.

The 2005-2006 season would be the first season back from the lockout, and Hunter’s second full season in the NHL. Although not as effective as his rookie season, Trent Hunter still managed to put up 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points. Since that season, Trent’s numbers are as followed:

2006-2007: 77 GP, 20 Goals, 15 Assists, 35 Points, 22 PIM

2007-2008: 82 GP, 12 Goals, 29 Assists, 41 Points, 43 PIM

2008-2009: 55GP, 14 Goals, 17 Assists, 31 Points, 41 PIM

For a player who had showed such a tremendous amount of promise in the American Hockey League, these numbers can be considered somewhat subpar. However, it has become visible that since the changeover from the old-style National Hockey League play to what many call the “New-NHL,” Hunter’s lack of speed has been his shortcoming. That does not mean he is ineffective, and this is where I must begin the Hunter Hate Debate.

Almost anytime the name Trent Hunter is mentioned in any Internet article, it seems to me that a majority of the passionate Islanders fan base becomes fired up over his inability to score goals and the fact that he is even playing on the third-line for us. The comments range anywhere from asking why he is in the NHL, to why he gets as much ice time as he does, to why he isn’t scoring 30 goals. The one thing I don’t understand though is why people overlook everything else he brings to the game.

If you watch every game that Trent Hunter plays in, you will obviously notice a guy that maybe isn’t as fast as those around him, however, you will not notice a guy who lacks effort, who lacks heart, and who lacks the desire to be there. Each and every shift, it is obvious that Hunter doesn’t mind taking the body to make the play, he doesn’t mind going into the corners and fighting for the puck, he doesn’t mind standing in front of the net to take a beating if it means that a goal will come about, and he doesn’t mind getting back into his own defensive zone to make the proper defensive player.

Furthermore, have you ever seen Hunter scrap for the puck along the boards with an opponent? Eight out of ten times, Hunter comes out of the scrap with the puck, and he proceeds to make an intelligent first pass. Rarely do you see a pass leave Hunter’s stick that doesn’t arrive at its desired destination, and you rarely see Hunter just give up the puck without any pressure on him. For a guy that is slower-footed, his intelligence and knowledge of the game truly help him to make up for his shortcomings. This is not something that can be said about several of the other Islanders on the current roster.

Trent Hunter is a third line winger, and he will remain a third-line winger for the better part of his NHL career. If you don’t agree with any of the points I made, or you still feel that he should be contributing more offensively, there are several things you must take into account. First, during the 2006-2007 season and the 2007-2008 season, Hunter was playing under a very defensive-minded, trap-style Ted Nolan that discouraged offense greatly. Under a more wide-open, offensive-minded Gordon, Hunter was doing extremely well offensively until his serious injury that knocked him out for quite a lengthy period of time.

If you still don’t buy into this, then here are some numbers from other third-liners that may strike interest into Hunter’s play:

Jordan Staal, third-line center for the Pittsburgh Penguins:

2008-2009: 82GP, 22 G, 27 A, 49 Points, 37 PIM

Sean Avery, 2007-2008 stats for the New York Rangers:

2007-2008: 57GP, 15G, 18A, 33 Points, 154 PIM

Tomas Holmstrom, third-line winger for the Detroit Red Wings:

2008-2009: 53GP, 14G, 23A, 37P, 38PIM

Two out of the three players on this list were integral members of teams that went to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. To take it further, Staal played appeared in 27 more games than Hunter last season.

I can understand where a small amount of the Trent Hunter scrutiny comes about, however, for a player that is not only a leader on and off the ice, but also a smart and decent contributor on the ice, I cannot understand where the hatred and harsh words come about. Now that it is a new season, I can only hope that Hunter is able to play in Gordon’s wide-open system for 82 games so that we can see just what he can do when he is given the opportunity to perform offensively as well. In one game already this year, he has one goal and one assist, so it’s not a bad start by any means.

Trent Hunter is a good hockey player, and I think he is going to show that this season. Let us lay off the overly harsh words as he finally is on a platform to prove himself. It’s only his fifth season in the NHL, and I think he will silence the large number of Hunter Haters.

What do you think?

-Justin (IslesNet@Gmail.Com)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

seems like you were right! Guess i better pick him up in my fantasy pool before someone else does.