The Toronto Maple Leafs made a few free agent signings this off-season. Most of those signings have worked out as expected. Toronto’s signing of forward Michael Bunting has exceeded expectations.
With the kind of season Bunting is having, it is hard to believe he was available to sign for just $950,000 for two years. The Arizona Coyotes did not know what they had in Bunting when they let him become an unrestricted free agent. Arizona’s loss is the Toronto Maple Leafs gain, and it is paying off.
Bunting is in a close race for the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year. Before Wednesday night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, Bunting has 19 goals and 22 assists for 41 points in 53 games. His 19 goals put him in first for goals scored by NHL rookies, and his 41 points have him tied for second in rookie points. (Stats from hockey-reference.com)
With eight points in his last five games, Bunting will need to keep producing at his current pace if he wants a chance at winning Rookie of the Year. Spending most of his time on the Toronto Maple Leafs top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner will help.
Toronto Maple Leafs Found Their Zach Hyman Replacement
One of the biggest questions facing the Toronto Maple Leafs this off-season was how would they replace Zach Hyman? The team’s first option was to replace him with Nick Ritchie. Ritchie scored 15 goals last season and got signed for two years at $2.5 million a season. With only nine points in 33 games with the Maple Leafs, option one did not work out.
When Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe realized that Ritchie wasn’t working out on the top line, he replaced Ritchie with Bunting. Having Bunting on that line has worked out beautifully.
One of the reasons Hyman worked so well with Matthews and Marner was his ability to win puck battles. Winning puck battles is also why Bunting is working out on the top line. He uses his bulldog style of play to win puck battles along the boards and in the corners. His ability to score doesn’t hurt either.
With only 29 games left in the regular season, now is the best time for Bunting to rack up the goals and points. Doing so will not only help his chance for the Calder Trophy but help Toronto climb the Atlantic Division standings.
When fans watch Michael Bunting play, it is easy to see why they love him. Here we have a local kid helping his hometown team win. He is having a great season, and it is exciting to watch. It would be incredible to see him win the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.