A week before the start of training camp, Golden Knights general manager George McPhee said he was open to “unknown surprises.”
Someone like, say, Brad Hunt.
Hunt leads the Knights in scoring during the preseason, and the journeyman defenseman has forced the team into a difficult decision with training camp winding down.
“He’s making it real tough,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “I guess going into camp you probably didn’t — that name didn’t really stick out at anybody. But the way he’s played, the way he’s deserved his ice time, we’re real happy to have him in camp, and he’s really pushing.”
Hunt has six points (one goal, five assists) in four preseason games and is part of the reason the Knights power play got off to a hot start, with assists on three of the Knights’ eight man-advantage goals.
He also showed off his booming shot Sept. 19 at Colorado when he sent an Alex Tuch pass into the top corner for the first goal in the Knights’ 4-1 victory.
“When he lets that thing go, it’s eye opening,” Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “He’s definitely turning some heads in camp, and that’s what I think is making it hard. With all of our D-men, it’s making hard decisions everywhere for guys. And that’s what you want. You want there to be hard decisions because that means there’s good organizational depth.”
Hunt split time last season between the American Hockey League, the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators and had one goal and six points in 12 NHL games.
Since turning pro in 2012 after a standout career at Bemidji State, Hunt has two goals and nine points in 33 career NHL appearances.
Hunt, 29, signed a two-year contract with the Knights as a free agent in July and is one of 11 defensemen remaining in training camp on an NHL contract.
“I’ve been a part of this,” Hunt said. “This is my sixth year pro so it’s been like this — minus the first year because that was a lockout year — but every other year after that in NHL camps, it’s always been the same position. And I love that. I love the competitive factor. I feel it makes everybody better.”
Hunt will not be in the lineup when the Knights (3-2-1) close out the preseason at 5 p.m. Sunday at T-Mobile Arena against San Jose (3-1).
If Hunt doesn’t make the Knights’ final 23-man roster when it is submitted this week, he must clear waivers before being sent to the AHL.
That puts the Knights in a use-him-or-lose-him predicament.
Hunt is undersized at 5 feet 9 inches and 174 pounds, but his skating and puck-moving abilities are a valuable asset in today’s NHL.
When Hunt was waived by St. Louis last season, five teams put in claims for the offensive-minded blueliner before he went to Nashville, according to NHL.com.
“Everybody knows the business that we’re in, and I feel that’s what’s made everyone successful, too, because there is that competition factor and everybody is working really hard because everybody wants to be in the NHL,” Hunt said. “I come here in the morning with a smile and go through that day. And when that day’s over, I’ll think about the next day. All I can control is just come here and work hard.”
Who: Sharks vs. Golden Knights
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: T-Mobile Arena
TV/Radio: AT&T SportsNet; KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)