Editor's Note: This is Part 2 of a four-part series checking in with four Minnesota Wild prospects who spoke to 10KRinks in exclusive one-on-one interviews during the Iowa Wild's series against the Texas Stars last weekend. Part 1 can be found here.
DES MOINES, Iowa — On Dec. 17, Daemon Hunt stood in the media room located in the basement of Wells Fargo Arena wearing a black and white top coat, black hat, black pants, black shoes, and a white dress shirt. Iowa Wild media relations manager Alec Lessner was helping Hunt improve his tie game. It didn't matter that he just played major minutes on Iowa's blueline against the Texas Stars or finished up an interview with 10KRinks minutes earlier, he's still mastering life as a professional hockey player.
“I think just adjusting to pro life has been pretty good for me," Hunt said. "Obviously, you’re living on your own now. It’s pro hockey, so you have to bring it every single day. I’m the rookie again, but the guys treat me really well, and the vets just kind of show you the path of how to be a professional hockey player. But it’s been a great adjustment for me so far.”
The Minnesota Wild's third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft may only have one goal and six points in 28 games with Iowa this season, but he's adjusted quite nicely, and the point totals don't fairly represent his play this season. He received high praise from Iowa head coach Tim Army, who told 10KRinks he's been "outstanding" and doesn't look like a 20-year-old on the ice.
Hunt scored 17 goals and 39 points as a defenseman in 46 games last season with the Moose Jaw Warriors in the Western Hockey League (WHL). While he previously played six games in Iowa two seasons ago, playing full-time in Des Moines is still an adjustment.
“I think just being able to move pucks quicker and faster, the game’s just that much faster," Hunt said about the American Hockey League (AHL). "I think you could definitely get away with a couple mistakes in the Western League, and with my skating, I think I could have recovered just fine. But here if you make a mistake, you really have to recover really fast. You always have to be moving your feet, especially for me as a D-man. Always working on my gap, defending really hard, the forwards are really skilled, so really just trying to really defend hard.”
Army said they've worked on creating a "cushion" with Hunt this season because mistakes he got away with in juniors because of his skating ability will leave him exposed in the AHL with a faster game and better talent.
Unlike in juniors where it's easier to recover after a mistake — whether it's a turnover, forced pass or mistimed pinch — Army said a mistake in the AHL will often lead to an odd-man rush that results in a goal or a big-time save. Army added that Hunt was often skating without a "purpose" and playing "undisciplined," particularly because he always felt the need to do something, which resulted in opponents exposing him at times.
“[Army’s] used the word busy," Hunt said. "I don’t need to be so busy at times. I can just kind of relax, [and] I’m a good enough skater to keep up with the speed here, so I think just…really trying to find that comfort spot in my game on film and working on my feet, too. But I think there’s a time and place to be aggressive, when not to be aggressive. Just really calming the game down and using my skating to my advantage when it’s needed."
So they're really focusing on building that rhythm to his game cohesively, as Army put it, "five connected" to have that balance and patience to his game rather than forcing things to happen.
“He was just a little anxious, had an element of just kind of rushing, just kind of go without the sake of going or the purpose of going with the other four guys on the ice," Army said. "So we’re trying to add a balance to his game defensively and offensively.”
. . .
Lucca is an Italian restaurant located between Polished Nail Lounge and Jimmy John's on 420 E. Locust St. in East Village, a historic district in Des Moines that includes dining, shopping, and everything in between.
The restaurant has a mix of modern and traditional dishes. There's the salad with creamy parmesan dressing with chicken, bacon, feta cheese, and a mix of carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes according to their menu. They also offer a spiced chicken and provolone sandwich and a creamy spaghetti with tomatoes and shrimp.
It's one of Hunt's favorite places to go to for his pre-game meal of pasta and chicken. When he cooks for himself, he goes for the simple meal of chicken with either pasta or rice and salad on the side. He likes cooking -- well, depending on the day. While Hunt said he's a "low-key" guy and enjoys his relaxing time, football and brunch with the guys is the ideal agenda when the team has Sundays off.
Aside from his go-to pre-game meal at Lucca, two of Hunt's favorite restaurants are Eatery on 2932 Ingersoll Ave. and Fresko on 909 Locust St.
Eatery is a mediterranean restaurant with a rustic-wood like feel. The menu includes pasta and pizza and "hints" of Spain, Morocco, Egypt, and Italy. However, the most appealing part of the menu is the hanger steak, Spanish octopus, lamb sliders and cauliflower, and chickpea falafel — not to mention the assorted skewer options.
Conversely, Fresko is an upscale restaurant that offers everything from salads to sushi to flatbreads. It has some eloquent entrees on its menu, including seafood ravioli, crab stuffed walleye, wood fire roasted chicken, and an assortment of steaks, to name a few.
"I've been to Fresko quite a bit," Hunt said, "it's a pretty good spot, too."
. . .
The Wild have a lot of defensive prospects in their system. Calen Addison is playing in the NHL, and Brock Faber is starring at the University of Minnesota. There are also players like Carson Lambos, Ryan O' Rourke, and Jack Peart. So it's easy for a player like Hunt to get lost in the organizational depth chart. But he's a player who fans should monitor, especially with how he's adjusted to the AHL in his rookie season.
Sure, he had a few turnovers last weekend, but he's only 20 and will continue to polish his game. Most importantly, he's added that balance and patience to his game, which makes him a threat on both ends of the ice, especially with his physical defensive game.
While he's smart defensively and strong with his stick in his own zone, he's got good offensive instincts and likes to join the rush offensively. It helps that he's playing major minutes on the top pair, too. The clip below is an example of one of his offensive tools — his strong release.
No wonder he scored 17 goals last season. Hunt only has 28 shots this season, though, an average of one shot per game. Therefore, the lack of shots is likely one of the factors behind his lack of scoring.
“I think the opportunity, obviously I’m getting pretty good minutes for being a 20-year-old, but I think I’ve earned that," Hunt said of his success this season and top minutes. "Every time I hit the ice, I’m just trying to compete, and we’re fighting for jobs. Even though we’re teammates, there’s a lot of D-men here, and we’re fighting for jobs, right? I think everybody wants to get to that next step to play in the NHL. But I think it's just for me, it’s just kind of day-by-day. Studying my game on film and just improving, getting bigger and stronger. And then when that day comes, I’ll be ready for it.”
While some might know him more for his defensive game, Hunt's mobility and offensive instincts help him distribute the puck offensively in addition to his good shot. Not only does his skating allow him to make plays happen in transition, but he's got more offense in him than a lot of defensive-focused blueliners. Take the clip below for example, Hunt threaded a cross-ice pass that landed perfectly on Joseph Cramarossa's tape after Marco Rossi dropped the puck to Hunt in the right circle.
“I think getting into the forwards' hands," Hunt said of what gives him the ability to play a solid two-way game. "I take pride in defending and getting into the forwards' hands and from there just joining the rush. I love being part of the rush and especially in the O-zone, doing switches and finding that open space, and getting pucks on net is I think my game. I like to defend really hard, but I think what really completes my game is having that ability of playing that two-way game and being an offensive threat.”
Hunt's skating ability, one of his greatest attributes, allows him to make an impact offensively and generate scoring chances, not only with his shot from the point but also his ability to make space and drive to the net.
“Now he’s learning a little bit of poise, a little bit of balance, a little bit of that offensive cushion to read off the puck carrier and then when we get something exposed, yeah, now you go, he’s getting a better balance to his game," Army said.
Right now, Hunt said he's just focused on each shift and improving his positioning and defending.
“The little things go a long way," Hunt said.
If he continues with his upward trajectory, the Wild have a sleeper in their prospect system.
“He’s acquiring that [balance]; he’s rounding his game out," Army said. "He’s been outstanding. He’s a very, very, very bright defensive prospect for us."
All Data via EliteProspects.