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Analyzing Michael Bunting’s Impact on the Carolina Hurricanes – Last Word On Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes moved quickly this offseason to bring in new faces via free agency. One of those seemingly added strength to a place of strength in defenceman Dmitry Orlov. The other, however, addressed multiple needs for the Hurricanes in forward Michael Bunting. His impact will be felt in many ways as he should bring a lot to Carolina this coming season.
July first is one of the most exciting days in the NHL as the free agency period opens and the signing trackers start lighting up like Christmas lights. Unlike in other years when Carolina moved more slowly in free agency, this offseason they pounced. One of those signings came on the first of July when they signed forward Michael Bunting. Bunting was one of the top free agents this offseason, albeit in a weaker free-agent class.
As somewhat of a later bloomer, Bunting, a 2014 Arizona Coyotes fourth-round pick, started to show something in the 2020-21 season. Following 10 goals in 21 games with Arizona that season, he signed a two-year deal with the Toronto Maples Leafs. Bunting scored 23 goals in both of his seasons with Toronto. Additionally, he had 85 hits last season which was good enough for tenth on the team. While Bunting was not a 40 or 50-goal scorer, he provided Toronto with another decent goal-scoring forward. He was fifth on the team in goals last year. But with tighter salary cap constraints and many questions surrounding resigning players like Auston Matthews and William Nylander, Bunting went house hunting. And Carolina had the open door for him.
The first item Michael Bunting will impact is Carolina’s look for additional scoring up front. The defence showed its ability to score by leading the league in goals last year even without the newly acquired Orlov. But as a team, and especially among the forwards, putting the puck in the net is a big area of focus this offseason. Sebastian Aho led the team with 36 goals. Bunting’s 23 would have left him tied for third on the team with Andrei Svechnikov. His 49 points would have him fifth on the team in that category as well.
While Carolina has talented forwards, and scoring was spread around the team (especially in the playoffs), Bunting’s 23 goals, or hopefully more, will be a major benefit. Likewise, Bunting will fit into Carolina’s strong analytical game after having 28 expected goals last year, good enough for second on Carolina. Equally important as Bunting’s scoring ability numbers-wise, is how he likes to score goals. Bunting will fight in front of the net to get gritty goals. Not that he can’t also score from further out, but his strength and desire is to get in tight around the net and clean up rebounds. This is perfect for a team that likes to generate shots from the point. Stefan Noesen played in this role for Carolina some last year, but having Bunting will help alleviate fans’ desire to see someone in front of the net more frequently.
This tenacity and desire to get to the dirty areas and make plays will be a welcome addition. You combine this with the return of Andrei Svechnikov and Carolina could have a force driving the net complimenting their elite defence and strong perimeter-leaning players like Teuvo Teravainen and Martin Necas. Bunting’s scoring ability will be a positive impact on the team.
The margins of error were so small in the Hurricanes loss to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Finals even though it culminated in a sweep. In addition to Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rock-solid play in net, Panthers players like Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett played with an edge that the Hurricanes did not entirely match. Insert Michael Bunting. Bunting is also known for playing a relentless style very fitting for Rod Brind’Amour‘s game plan. But he also takes that relentless style and plays the role of a pest. Even being compared to Brad Marchand. Bunting had at least 80 penalty minutes in each of the last two seasons. Maybe more importantly, he led the Leafs last season in penalties drawn with 43, 15 more than second-place Matthews. This came largely as a result of Bunting’s relentless energy and agitating style.
Much like his career, Bunting will claw and grind to get results. This competitiveness gives him a chip on his shoulder that carries over into getting under opposing players’ skins. At 6′ 2″ and 192 lbs., Bunting is not the biggest player but plays larger than his size. Being somewhat overlooked early on, this style seems to paint the picture of a player who has had to earn his place. Having a player with this style certainly fits a Hurricanes need. Now, Bunting can take some ill-timed penalties and cross that “line.” This will be a task for Brind’Amour to reign him in so that Bunting can play his game but keep it under control. But it’s a task Brind’Amour will relish.
Bunting has shown that he can be impactful in a team’s top-six forward group. His ability to play relentlessly around the goal, put the puck in the net and play the agitator role should make him an asset to any line he fits on for the Hurricanes. Depending on how the rest of the offseason unfolds, you could easily see Bunting on the first or second line. Putting Aho, Seth Jarvis and Bunting together could form a solid top line. Bunting would bring his net-front presence and hard-grinding style to two skilled players who also like to play relentlessly. This would most likely leave Svechnikov, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Necas to form the second line. That line had some chemistry last year so it may be worth giving them a look early on.
Meanwhile, Brind’Amour could shift these lines as Teravainen is a top-six forward if playing on his game too. Bunting could be an offsetting compliment to Teravainen’s style for example. The good thing about Bunting is that he could really fit into any line. If they want some additional scoring on the Jordan Staal line, Bunting’s play does not sacrifice in the heavy forechecking style. This versatility makes him valuable.
And then, on the power play that frankly struggled most of last season, Bunting will be a welcome addition on either unit. With a game plan of getting the puck to the point or the dots for shots, having someone who lives in front of the net will be crucial. But if they decide to shift to a more down-low cycle or overload style Bunting can be impactful in tight as well. The reality is that Michael Bunting’s impact on the Carolina Hurricanes should be big. His addition plus a healthy Svechnikov could add around 50 goals to Carolina while both play a welcomed physical style. Even if that physicality is a little different.
Main Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
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