When Michael Bunting spoke with Today’s Slapshot during the Arizona Coyotes’ 2015 summer training camp, he was ready to hit his stride as a pro hockey player–and he had the perfect NHL player in mind for who he wanted to emulate. Bunting, a fourth-round draft selection from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, wants to play like Brad Marchand.
He wants to be fast, smart and shifty, with a scoring touch to match an antagonistic streak that makes him as lethal around the net as he is as a pest.
The 20-year-old Scarborough native started off slowly in his first minor league season with Arizona, spending a small stint down in the ECHL with the Rapid City Rush. He didn’t score in his first 13 games at the AHL level, which was partially due to offensive deficiencies for the club and partially due to his own struggles.
As the year has progressed, though, he’s made huge strides. With nine goals and 19 points in 53 games by the time spring rolled around, he’s a player that the Coyotes have truly taken notice of.
During the team’s recent Town Hall meeting with fans, Coyotes GM Don Maloney mentioned Bunting as one of two forwards the club has been impressed with development-wise with the Springfield Falcons this year. He’s expected to see even more success with the minor league club next season when the team brings their top junior players into the system, but for now, he’s already a skater who is catching eyes.
“He and [Laurent] Dauphin have both really grown this year, in their first year as pros,” said head coach Dave Tippett, reaffirming what Maloney said when he called Bunting and Dauphin the team’s promising pair in the AHL this year.
He didn’t just group the two together. Even Tippett has noticed that Bunting isn’t a player known for a calm, collected game and he doesn’t consider that a bad thing.
“They’re two completely different kinds of players,” said Tippett. “Dauphin is a real solid, confident centreman for the club… Bunting is an energy player. He’s aggressive and he’s fast and he gets the team moving when he’s out on the ice.
They’re different players, but they’ve both looked really strong.”
When asked how he felt about Bunting’s desire to be the next Marchand, Tippett didn’t just suggest that’s a need the team could have. He admitted that it looks like an attainable goal for the forward.
“I’d love to get a player like Brad Marchand in the system,” started Tippett. “Guys like that are fast, energy players who bring a lot to the ice with a scoring touch. Great at getting under the other team’s skin; there’s a lot of value in a guy like that.”
“I can definitely see Bunting becoming that type of player, he brings a lot of that to the table when he plays. We’d love to see him keep that up.”
After a late start in junior hockey, Bunting first began to see success in the major juniors during his stint with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
A player drafted for the team by analytics whiz Kyle Dubas during his time with the Greyhounds, Bunting was one of the team’s top scorers during their impressive 2014-15 campaign; the fourth-round NHL draft selection finished third in regular season scoring behind only Sergey Tolchinsky (a Carolina Hurricanes prospect) and Jared McCann (who is currently with the Vancouver Canucks).
He’s good in all situations and has good stamina, something that comes from being a multi-sport athlete up until he hit the OHL.
Unlike a number of young hockey prospects, Bunting played high school hockey for as long as he could, then played AA instead of AAA to lower costs for his family – and he did so while also excelling in badminton, baseball, volleyball, and tennis for Cardinal Newman High School.
That didn’t make the transition to pro hockey a breeze for the winger – who admitted in January that the start of his season was frustrating after having to sit as a healthy scratch prior to his ECHL stint – but that as his confidence has returned, he’s been able to jump into the fray with relative ease.
His defensive game has gotten better, he told the Sault Star in January, and Falcons head coach has gone from sitting him in games this fall to giving him significant power play minutes by the end of the year. He wasn’t very ‘puck lucky’ early on, but his scoring rates have been slowly but surely going up; he’s still drawing penalties and aggravating his opponents, and that’s exactly what the Coyotes are looking for.
Fourth-round draft selections aren’t a guarantee to pan out in the NHL, and Bunting still has a ways to go. The way the Coyotes have spoken about him though, he could be one of those success stories before very long.