One interesting thing about covering the Toronto Maple Leafs is that a lot of other writers cover the team as well. And, often, something they write about sends you off on a bunny trail that’s really interesting. That was especially true today when I read an article from June 6 by the LeafsNation’s titled “What changes are coming for the Leafs?” In the article, the writers got and asked the question “What change would you like to see made this off-season?”
When Jon Steitzer got to his turn, he mentioned local player (Scarborough) Michael Bunting as a possible target for the Maple Leafs. If you don’t know Bunting, he’s a 25-year-old who was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes during the fourth round of the 2014 NHL’s Entry Draft. Bunting has kicked around the minors within the Coyotes organization for a few seasons. But he landed well during 2020-21.
But there’s something more. Interestingly enough, Bunting started out his junior career and played during the 2013-14 and the 2014-15 seasons with the Soo Greyhounds. And Maple Leafs fans all know who was in charge of the Greyhounds during those seasons – Kyle Dubas was the general manager and Sheldon Keefe was the coach.
During 2020-21, Bunting had a breakout season – or more accurately half a season – by scoring 10 goals (he had three assists) in the 21 games he played for the Coyotes. As well, Bunting was paid $737,500 last season but is on an expiring contract and is an unrestricted free agent (UFA). Given his familiarity with the city of Toronto and with both Keefe (as a coach) and Dubas (as a general manager), would he be interested in signing with the Blue and White? And, would the Maple Leafs want him?
One thing we can guess is that, given his vagabond history, Bunting won’t take anything for granted and will do whatever it takes to get ice time – at home in front of friends and family. Seems like a bit of a no-brainer for me.
Given almost every team in the NHL seeking depth players who could add secondary scoring on their bottom-six, Bunting might just have a large number of suitors or his services. Although he’s played only 26 NHL games, he’s showed a skill at putting the puck in the net. And, that’s how hockey keeps score. At 25-years-old, he might turn out to be a late-bloomer who also might get several offers.
Coming soon, it's the debut of "Isn't That Mike?", as our very own Michael Bunting will be joined by a special guest and they'll be taking a question from you!— Tucson Roadrunners (@RoadrunnersAHL) April 15, 2020
So, what do you want to know? pic.twitter.com/UGXipxJgtz
It’s probably true that Bunting sort of got lost in the Arizona system, given that the Coyotes have had four general managers since he was drafted. Certainly, the Coyotes notice him now after he exploded on the NHL scene during the second part of the 2020-21 season.
Another question might be whether his goal-scoring prowess is a one-off or might it be sustainable? The answer to that second question is a No. If he did, it would rank him as having the 36th best goals-per-game average in NHL history. Sustainable at that pace won’t happen, but there is a chance he could add some secondary scoring to the Maple Leafs bottom six and would fight hard to keep playing.
That in itself would be a valuable addition to the team. Might the Maple Leafs bite? We’ll see after July 21, the date of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.