DENVER – As information trickled in, making the reason behind the conversation clearer, defenseman Brad Hunt’s emotions began to change.
When a phone call from Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee interrupted his drive home Monday evening from T-Mobile Arena after he watched his Vegas teammates fall 4-2 to the Wild, Hunt wasn’t sure what was happening.
Once he learned he’d been traded, he was sad to realize he’d be leaving the group.
But after he heard his destination, Hunt felt excited.
“I’m really happy that I’m here,” he said.
A former standout at Bemidji State, Hunt is returning to Minnesota after the Wild picked him up to continue its second-half shuffle — an acquisition that bolsters the team’s experience on the blue line and gives Hunt an opportunity to get back into a regular role in a familiar setting.
“It’s gonna be a lot of fun,” he said.
With the trade not finalized until after the Wild had departed Las Vegas, Hunt wasn’t able to catch a ride with the team to Colorado, where it’ll play its final game before an eight-day break that includes the NHL All-Star Game.
And although he didn’t make it to the University of Denver in time for the team’s practice Tuesday, Hunt likely will make his debut Wednesday against the Avalanche.
“It’s a new beginning,” he said at the Wild’s Denver hotel.
Hunt had spent most of the season with Vegas as a healthy scratch, getting pinched out of the lineup by steady performances from the team’s starting six.
He dressed for just 13 games but still managed to flash his knack for offense in that time, chipping in two goals and seven points — this after he set a career-high with 18 through 45 games last season, his first in Vegas after stops in Edmonton, St. Louis and Nashville.
Overall, in 91 career games, the 30-year-old has seven goals and 34 points.
“My offensive ability is probably the strongest part of my game,” Hunt said.
Not only did the Wild identify him as a puck-mover, but the team also pegged him as a point option on the power play who has a heavy shot.
While the defense has been mostly sturdy in its own end since Matt Dumba was sidelined in mid-December by a torn pectoral muscle, ranking in the top-10 in goals-against average at 2.84, it has lacked a spark from the back end on the power play — an offensive flair that Hunt has adopted as a 5-9 defender.
“That was the thing that I kind of had to focus on to make myself stand out from others, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it,” he said.
During four seasons at Bemidji State from 2008-2012, Hunt racked up 112 points in 150 games which included a run to the Frozen Four. He also met his future wife, Katie, who’s from Grand Rapids, there; the two are expecting a boy in April.
“I called her, and she was super happy,” Hunt said. “Called her parents, and they’re super excited, as well. So it’s one of those things where she’s pregnant, and hopefully our son’s born in Minnesota. So she’s really excited about that, too.”
The boost in experience was another incentive for the Wild to swing its third trade in less than a week. Team brass felt that was more helpful to its playoff push than relying on a youngster such as Louie Belpedio, who was returned to the American Hockey League once Hunt was acquired, along with a 2019 sixth-round pick in exchange for a 2019 conditional fifth-rounder.
“It’s a worthwhile gamble,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Despite being a left shot, Hunt has played primarily on the right side and is comfortable at both spots. The team did skate Jonas Brodin as a right defenseman during practice Tuesday instead of slotting him in his usual perch on the left.
Even though he was being used sparingly by the Golden Knights, Hunt wasn’t expecting to get dealt — but news of the trade also didn’t surprise him.
And with just one game before the break, he’s looking at the post-All-Star Game schedule as almost a new season.
“I’m here with [an] open mind,” Hunt said, “and I just want to try and help the team win and get better each day.”