Flavell: Let’s pump the breaks on Matt Hunwick

It’s the season (or offseason) of hot takes. This is why I’m going to provide you with a not-so-hot take: Matt Hunwick may not be as bad as your eye test says.

Stick with me. I know that’s a tough sentence to stomach. It’ll be okay. Let me explain.

Hunwick cracked the opening night line up playing on a third line pairing with Olli Maatta. The pair actually hadn’t been a train wreck. Six games into the young season, Hunwick sustained a concussion during a practice in mid-October. His first six games, albeit some pretty strong ones, had been halted.

Hunwick was slowly transitioning back into the lineup until he hit a “plateau” as head coach Mike Sullivan called it. He had also clearly lost his lineup spot to the journeyman Chad Ruhwedel in the process. It had been a tumultuous month or so for the newly signed defenseman.

Fans had still been skeptical of Hunwick’s play before the injury. He tried to silence them quickly upon his return as he scored the Penguins only goal in a 2-1 loss to Chicago. He also blocked six shots and quickly seemed to endear himself back into the line up. The team had played 15 games prior to getting him back in.

As the season went on, it seemed to only hurt Hunwick’s confidence, though. Hunwick was forced to play the right side despite being a left-handed defenseman. It’s a challenging task for someone who had continually played on the left in Toronto and New York. He was asked to evolve into a lot of things to fit into the system. He wasn’t the fastest straight line skater which was already a down side.

The veteran defenseman finished the season with 7 points in 42 games. That an averages of 0.48 P1/60 meaning he averages 0.48 primary points per sixty minutes of ice time. His Rel CF% is a pedestrian -4.54 meaning he allows 4.5 shows to his net every sixty minutes. That’s not good.

Hunwick was never given a fair shot to be the Penguins’ number six defenseman in my opinion. He had six really good games, played through injuries, then was replaced completely by Ruhwedel who ultimately played well enough to warrant that spot.

Down the stretch, the Penguins didn’t have any injuries and Hunwick didn’t get to re-enter the line up and his $2.25 million cap hit sat and watched most of his teammates.

If you watched the 2016 playoffs, Hunwick was the Maple Leafs’ best player in the Washington-Toronto series and did his fair share in keeping Alex Ovechkin quiet throughout the majority of the series.

Hunwick is an NHL defenseman and maybe he just isn’t a fit for the high-flying style the Penguins want to play. He seems to be more of a possession-driven defenseman but that could be of use to the Penguins. However, I have not completely given up on the Hunwick experiment. If he gets the chance to actually solidify his spot and not play like he has someone breathing down his neck for playing time, there is some potential there.

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