The new veteran Canuck in search of the place of the blue line

Maple Ridge native Brad Hunt competes with young and highly touted young Jack Rathbone, former first-round player Olli Juolevi for the vacant third pair

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ABBOTSFORD – Brad Hunt is a 33-year veteran with many miles on his hockey odometer.


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The well traveled defender was able to afford to be serious and stoic when the Vancouver Canucks opened training camp Thursday.

After all, he has logged 191 National Hockey League games with five clubs and this rite of passage to the regular season rarely moves the emotional metric of any player who has been there, fact.

No Hunt.

The diminutive defender couldn’t contain the joy of being in a camp in his home province. And locked in a three-way fight with rookie Jack Rathbone and Olli Juolevi to earn a spot on the left-throwing roster in the third pair, the Maple Ridge native was radiant at the prospect of playing for a club he grew up watching. .

“It’s a great feeling to be here,” said the 5-foot-9, 177-pound Hunt. “It is something really special to have a lot of family and friends around and there is such a great atmosphere in the city. You take the opportunity and run with her and I hope she’s here for a long time.

“It is not something that I am looking at in the short term. I like it here.”

What do the Canucks have in Hunt, who signed a one-year, one-year, $ 800,000 free agency deal? His former coach knows it.


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Minnesota bench chief Dean Evason took a break from camp Thursday to trumpet the undrafted blue player, who played 100 games for the Wild in the past three seasons.

“Honestly, he’s probably the nicest person and team player I’ve ever coached,” Evason said. “He has a wonderful offensive conscience. And if he gets into trouble with speed and size, he can make up for it with intelligence and a good club. “

Hunt’s experience and 59 career points (19-40) with Edmonton, St. Louis, Nashville, Las Vegas and Minnesota could give him an edge over the competition. The 22-year-old Rathbone teased dynamic offensive potential in an eight-game cameo with the Canucks last spring and the club’s 2017 draft fourth-round steal scored his first goal on May 6.


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Juolevi, 23, has overcome previous back and knee procedures that slowed his progress, but the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft has to build a good start last season and not let hardships drag him down.

If the Canucks want a veteran component to help solidify the rear end on a playoff push, Hunt has a shot. If young people are served, then Rathbone can hook the place. It should be good theater throughout seven preseason games because there seem to be other pairings.

There’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tucker Poolman and the absent Quinn Hughes with Travis Hamonic. Tyler Myers will anchor the right back in the third pair, while Juolevi and Luke Schenn could be extras.

Young defender Jack Rathbone leans into play during the first official day of Canucks training camp on the ice at the Abbotsford Center in Abbotsford on Thursday.
Young defender Jack Rathbone leans into play during the first official day of Canucks training camp on the ice at the Abbotsford Center in Abbotsford on Thursday. Photo by Jason Payne. /PNG

As for Hunt, his plan to beat Rathbone and Juolevi is simple.


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“There is no way I’m going to avoid them,” Hunt said. “If you need help, I am here, but I am also fighting for a job. And it is important for your career to have healthy competition and not receive anything. It makes you stronger and better as a person and as a player.

“I’m an offensive defender, but over the years, having to adapt to a different style and a more defensive team forced me to build my entire game. As a young player, it’s something you have to work on: your strengths and weaknesses. The NHL is now about being a complete player and not one-dimensional. “

Rathbone is staying afloat playing at Utica and Vancouver last season and making the leap from taxi squad practice to NHL roster option. On Thursday, he started the process of getting better each day and knows the skates are going to be tough, especially the traditional Day 1 end-of-session bag skate.


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“It doesn’t get any easier, but I’m looking forward to being part of the team as badly as ever,” Rathbone said. “There is always competition in a good team and that is what we are excited about, showing you in camp and in some preseason games. I stay focused on myself, but the competition is good. Hockey players are designed to thrive at it and it makes coming to the rink that much more fun.

“It’s a pretty physical league, but I’m a pretty competitive guy. I need to play a little smarter and I learned to play with a more professional style in the AHL, which was huge. “

Rathbone is a product of his hockey environment. Being paired with Adam Fox at Harvard University helped accelerate his progress. Fox had 42 points (8-34) in his rookie season with the New York Rangers and finished fourth in the Calder Trophy voting in the 2019-20 season.


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“Everyone knew he was going to be a very special player and I have never seen a man with a better hockey IQ to think about the game the way he does,” Rathbone said. “We also had Johnny Marino on defense, who is with the Pittsburgh Penguins, so being in that environment was very important to my year of development.”

Rathbone skates with new teammate Conor Garland in the offseason and for two smaller players with big offensive advantages, they share that shoulder chip drive to quell criticism. For Garland, it was proving that he could play and produce in traffic. For Rathbone, it will be defending physically at this level.


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“Skating against a guy like that in the summer is great because you really can’t turn it off,” Rathbone said. “You only get better. There is excitement and driving where my game is right now. “

Hunt gave Rathbone and Juolevi some sage advice on how to handle the three-way battle.

“Don’t stress the little things,” he said. “When I came to the league, you think too much about everything and worry about what other guys think and what you should do for them in front of yourself. Play the way that got you there and play with confidence.

“Learn. Don’t block anything, be a sponge and enjoy it because it happens fast.”

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