Whether it’s moving to university or going out on your own for the first time, leaving your parents’ home is an exciting adventure. Moving from Brandon, Manitoba, to the big city of Regina, Sask. (comparable to moving from Mankato to St. Paul) is quite the change for any 18-year-old kid. The move forces young adults to adjust to living with freedom for the first time. Add in trying to play hockey during a global pandemic, and you have an approximation of what Wild prospect Daemon Hunt had to go through last year.
The WHL resumed play last season but followed the strict measures of the NHL and World Junior Championships bubble in Edmonton. All seven teams in the Regina Bubble were forced to take up temporary residence in the dormitories on the University of Regina and Luther College campuses. Not to mention the quarantines, isolation, daily testing, and the all-hockey-all-the-time atmosphere that players had to endure just to get on the ice.
But Hunt captained his team through it all. The Moose Jaw Warriors might’ve ended with an 8-13-3 record, but Hunt finished the season with eight goals and 18 points in 23 games. The 2020 third-round selection led his team from the back end as the highest-scoring defenseman on his team. He finished with the second-most goals in the WHL and was one of the best defensemen in the bubble.
Hunt’s season wasn’t done once bubble hockey wrapped up, though.
Not only were there protocols in the bubble to deal with, but he also made the trip a couple of times over the U.S.-Canadian border. He dressed for three games with the Iowa Wild before heading back to Regina for the WHL season and then came back in early May for another three games after signing his entry-level contract. He added a goal in his second game back. Each of those trips over the border required either approval from the Canadian government and/or a lengthy quarantine period before returning to game action.
By all accounts, Hunt was incredibly fortunate to find games to play. However, what he was able to accomplish in those nearly 20 minutes per game mattered most. By taking top-four minutes and leading his team, he is in line to battle for open NHL roster spots soon.
The Wild had their defensive corps decimated by the Ryan Suter buyout and the Expansion Draft. The next few years will see a defense patchworked together by short-term deals to NHL vets who can make the league minimum. As important as it is for the Wild’s young forwards like Marco Rossi and Matt Boldy to succeed early, the same goes for the defense prospects as well.
Hunt could quickly put himself in the running, along with Ryan O’Rourke and Calen Addison. Think about it: Would the Wild rather pay a thirtysomething vet with no offensive upside $900k with no security past a single year, or have one or two prospects earn their way onto the roster on an entry-level contract? The latter players have that youthful upside and allow the front office to maintain team control to get through the toughest years of the Suter and Zach Parise buyouts.
Hunt’s pre-draft scouting report raved about his high hockey IQ, his big body, and his ability to use both of those assets to make things happen on the ice. The improvement over the last year has the Wild excited for his future, and that improvement has him ranked 10th in 10k Rinks’ Top-10 Wild prospects this year.