Who the Canucks’ sixth defenceman should be until Rathbone is ready: Burroughs or Hunt?
Photo credit:© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
The defencemen who came home.
Kyle Burroughs and Brad Hunt were two of many Canucks offseason free agency signings heading into the 2021-22 year.
The pair put pen to paper after playing limited time for both of their respective clubs last year— the Colorado Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild. Burroughs notched a two-way, two-year deal worth a league minimum of $750,000 AAV, while Hunt landed on a one-year $800,000 AAV contract.
Despite having vastly different years of experience in the league, both players are in the same boat, looking to solidify themselves as the sixth defenceman on the roster.
With Burroughs and fellow defenceman Tucker Poolman’s injuries, the door has been left open for Hunt, who has made his ever-reliable and accountable presence felt on the blue line — even notching a few apples in the process.
Most notably, the club has taken a more developmental approach with dynamic offensive defenceman Jack Rathbone, who kicked down the door at training camp and earned a spot before being sent down in November.
Rathbone’s demotion and the Canucks’ apparent desire to allow him to round out the defensive side of his game further by playing big minutes in Abbotsford left the door wide open for Kyle Burroughs and Brad Hunt to get into NHL action.
The question now is: Come April, if the Canucks manage to clinch a playoff berth, on the conditions of a healthy roster, who will Boudreau give the nod to?
The spirited gung-ho defenceman: Kyle Burroughs
Young gun and Langley native, Burroughs jumped at the offer to fulfil a childhood dream of playing at home. He was selected with the New York Islanders seventh-round pick in 2013. The former Regina Pats captain did not see any regular-season game-time action last season.
After being dealt to Colorado, Burroughs spent the majority of his time alternating between the taxi squad and the team’s affiliate, the Colorado Eagles, where he recorded four points (1 goal, 3 assists), and a stellar plus/minus of six throughout 11 appearances.
In the five games he managed to play in for the Avalanche, the right-shot defenceman logged one assist.
Five of Burroughs’ six career points have actually come this season as a Canuck in a career-high 36 games played. He got the call on opening night and was a frequent suitor in the lineup during much of Travis Green’s tenure, missing only four games.
Under Boudreau, Burroughs has sat for 11 games, before an upper-body injury sustained early against the Anaheim Ducks on February 19th sidelined him for the following seven games. In that time, the Canucks have been 6-1.
Burroughs was just earning his stripes with the new head coach, logging upwards of 15 to 16 minutes a night, well above his 12-minute average. He previously played nearly 20 minutes in back-to-back nights against Vegas and Anaheim on November 13th and 14th under Green.
What the 5’11 defenceman does bring to the table is a willingness to drop the gloves when necessary. Burroughs has racked up three fights this year for his hometown team — placing him just behind Luke Schenn with four. Nearly half of Burroughs’ penalties have come from fighting alone, whether protecting a teammate or firing up the crowd for a much-needed momentum booster.
So how does the coach weigh in? After a 6-3 loss to Burroughs’ former team, the New York Islanders, Boudreau had high praise for his defenceman during his post-game comments. “He competes his rear end off and he’s the type of guy you can win with.”
There is a ton of upside in Burroughs’ offensive play: he can produce a lot with limited time. His best game came against the San Jose Sharks, a game short of his injury. In just 12:21 of ice time, the least amongst all defencemen, Burroughs recorded two assists, in addition to four hits and three blocked shots.
He has averaged a 37 GF% and a 49.7 CF% on the year. Tenacious, Burroughs is often one of the first players to activate on the rush and has no problem carrying the puck in across the blue line to get the team set up.
His nifty hands translate to pretty passing plays, finding forwards open and ready to fire. He uses every inch of his size to block out opponents and his speed to beat attackers to pucks.
The “quietly” offensive defenceman: Brad Hunt
JT Miller will be the first to tell you that Hunt brings a level of predictability to the Canucks’ blue line.
After their 5-3 victory over Montreal, where Miller recorded yet another four-point night and was the recipient of the Canucks post-game belt, he voiced his appreciation about the third line pairing of both Hunt and Travis Hamonic. “Pucks are coming to the net, [players] go to the net. It’s a very simple game.”
At the core of his game, Hunt is a classic stay-at-home defenceman who converts on scoring chances by doing all the little things right. He dictates play. When he has the puck, you can expect a shot coming from the point, and players make themselves available in front.
It’s not the first rodeo together for the duo of Hunt and Boudreau. The Maple Ridge native played under Boudreau for two seasons in Minnesota, recording 11 goals and 13 assists. Hunt has played all but four of his 27 games under Boudreau this season. Clearly, he wasn’t exactly Green’s cup of tea.
Hunt’s career began back in 2013 with the Edmonton Oilers and continued with stints for the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights, Minnesota Wild, and now, the Vancouver Canucks.
The left-shot defenceman has found success so far this year in just 27 games played, tallying one goal and nine assists. What’s most impressive about Hunt’s play, is despite being known as being a tight, hard checking defenceman, his expected points per 60 are just shy of 1.4 per game.
And it goes back to that shot-first mentality Boudreau stands by. Hunt recorded his career-high of eight goals during the 2019-20 season, putting up 106 shots on net in 59 games. He was even a 50-point go-getter during his time with the Burnaby, now Coquitlam, Express and the Oklahoma City Barons, now the Bakersfield Condors.
Looking at the numbers at five on five, Burroughs has had more scoring chances, resulting in a higher expected individual goal average, and more shot attempts. But Hunt is more likely to get on the score sheet and has a better shot percentage five on five. He has blocked 30 shots on the year and is currently on a four-point game streak.
The Canucks will have to make the decision to re-sign or put Hunt on the market come the end of the season. With only three left-shot defencemen on the team, Hunt is an asset at this point in time. But with the right-handed Burroughs being comfortable on his off side, it isn’t necessary for him to rival that of Travis Hamonic or Tucker Poolman to get back in the lineup.
The future may lay in a younger Burroughs, but only time will tell. As of right now, Hunt and Hamonic hold up just fine as a third-line pairing.
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