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Hunt’s prowess as a two-way player pays dividends for Wolves

Defenseman has tallied four goals and 10 assists in 13 games this season in his second stint with the Wolves. (Ross Dettman/ChicagoWolves)

Brad Hunt broke into professional hockey four years ago with the Wolves. But when he left in 2013 after he signed a two-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers, the defenseman never considered his career would bring him back to where it started.

At the time, Hunt was focused solely on what his future held and on making an impact with his new team. But after three seasons bouncing between the NHL and the Oilers’ American Hockey League affiliate, Hunt once again found himself back with his old team.

The move came with a calming sense of familiarity.

“I feel like once you’re in a place, a little piece of you is always going to be there,” Hunt said.

Hunt has long been known as an offensive defenseman and hasn’t wasted any time in becoming a major contributor for the Wolves. In 13 games this season, Hunt has registered 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) and has emerged as the Wolves’ leading scorer as well as the AHL’s top-producing defenseman heading into Friday’s road game against the Iowa Wild.

At 5-foot-9, Hunt has used his speed to his advantage while understanding that because he’s a smaller defenseman, he isn’t as likely to provide the physical play others at his position often can.

His tenacity and work ethic have not only become a badge of honor for Hunt, but have allowed Wolves coach Craig Berube to use Hunt as an example of the kind of player he’s looking for on a nightly basis.

“It’s (about) being smarter and trying to conserve more energy with the bigger bodies,” said Hunt, whose shot was clocked at 99.4 mph during an AHL All-Star Game skills challenge in 2013 but has since reached 101 mph. “But everybody is competitive, too, and so you never want to lose a battle. It feels good when you come out of a corner against a bigger guy and you’ve got the puck on your stick.

“It kind of shows the other guys on your team, ‘Hey – he’s a smaller guy – he can do it. Why can’t we all do it?’”

Since making his AHL debut in the 2011-12 season, Hunt has gotten three tastes of NHL life. He was called up by the Oilers in each of the past three seasons, including for an 11-game stretch two years ago.

Always being on the ready is part of AHL life and is part of what keeps Hunt motivated. But avoiding the temptation to put too much pressure on himself is one Hunt does his best to avoid, which allows the 28-year-old to take a more even-keeled approach to his game. With each call-up, Hunt takes note of how NHL players go about their business and tries to weave a piece of that into his own routine while enjoying every minute of his time, never knowing how long it will last.

“Even as a kid, you want to play in the NHL, so when you get a little bit of a taste of it, you always want to be there and always want to strive to get there,” Hunt said. “It’s not about being devastated when you get sent down to the (AHL), it’s just more fire to get yourself back to where you want to be.”

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.