Heading into the 2008-09 season, Matt Hunwick seemed like the Boston Bruins prospect that was most likely to have an impact at the NHL level.
A salary-cap crunch and a logjam on the Bruins’ back end delayed that impact for a little while, but by the end of the season Hunwick had solidified himself among the Bruins’ top six and was even earning power-play minutes. His value to the team was magnified after he underwent an emergency splenectomy and was unavailable to the Bruins for the Carolina series, during which Boston missed his presence moving the puck out of its own zone and creating on the man-advantage.
Stats: 53 GP, 6-21-27, 31 PIM, plus-15 regular season; 1 GP, 0-0-0, o PIM, even rating playoffs.
Contract status: RFA July 1.
Season highlight: A healthy scratch for 10 of the Bruins’ previous 14 games, Hunwick got to play in place of the injured Aaron Ward at Toronto Nov. 17. And at 13:18 of the first period he joined the rush and followed his own shot to bang in his first NHL goal against Vesa Toskala. Two nights later he enjoyed his first multi-point game against Buffalo and established himself as an offensive contributor from the back line in the NHL.
Season low light: After Game 1 of the Bruins’ series with Montreal, everyone was focused on Hunwick’s eye injury and whether Habs defenseman Mike Komisarek had gouged it in a fight. Little did anyone know that Hunwick was suffering abdominal pain that on April 18 required an emergency splenectomy. Hunwick made a full recovery but wasn’t able to return to the lineup in time to save the Bruins from their playoff exit.
In summation … it was a great year for learning for Hunwick, as he not only gained confidence for playing at the sport’s highest level but also learned how to stay sharp when he wasn’t in the lineup on a regular basis.
Grade: B-plus. Hunwick figured out how to use his strength and diminutive body to hold his own in the Boston end and got comfortable with joining the attack, although he could’ve put up a few more points.
The crystal ball says … Hunwick should be ready for top-four minutes in 2009-10 because he has the puck-moving skills the Bruins, like every team, need to be successful.