Daemon Hunt is officially the newest Manitoban with an NHL contract to his name. Last week, the 18-year-old Brandon product put pen to paper on a three-year, entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild, exactly seven months to the day that he was drafted 65th overall in the third round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
“It was quite surreal signing an actual NHL contract, and actually putting my signature down on the paper and seeing it written there,” Hunt told Game On. “I was beyond thrilled; everything happened really fast, but it was a really cool experience and I’m just super excited to know that this has all been taken care of. Now a few days later, I think I can say that everything has finally soaked in.”
Featuring an $851K cap hit and a $925K annual average value, Hunt’s deal begins in the 2021-22 NHL season and runs through 2024. If playing in the minors, the puck-moving defenceman would earn $80K annually.
According to Hunt, the negotiations went rather smoothly, as he tasked his agent Kevin Epp, of Titan Sports Management with all the heavy lifting.
“Our talks lasted maybe three weeks, maximum,” he said. “My agent mentioned that the Wild were interested in signing me, so from there it was just a bit of discussion with the family and my agent. He did his job and got the best deal for me and I was able to have a lot of say in it too. But at the same time, I can’t be too greedy, as it’s my first contract. From there, Kevin did his job and got me to sign the contract; it was honestly a nice process, nothing complicated, just really exciting.”
Signing a contract at any time is certainly a daunting task, but doing so amid a global pandemic? That is about as far-fetched as it comes.
“First of all, I am extremely grateful to be playing hockey this year,” Hunt reflected. “I know some guys haven’t even been able to play this year at all. So just getting a chance to lace up has been exceptional. And in some ways, playing in the American Hockey League wouldn’t have been possible without COVID. So for me, there has been a lot of negatives associated with it, but at the same time there has been a lot of positives this year.”
2020 was arguably the strangest of years in Hunt’s hockey career. Having had the 2019-20 Western Hockey League season cancelled late in the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the six-foot, 200-pound blueliner was forced to play a bit of a waiting game through the typical ‘offseason’.
He joined the Virden Oil Capitals for a few games before the MJHL season was called off just days after being selected by the Wild in the October running of the NHL Draft. It was there that he earned his first taste of professional hockey with the American Hockey League’s Iowa Wild.
“It’s actually pretty incredible how fast my game has developed just being down here in Iowa before the WHL Bubble and then again being here now,” he said. “This league is extremely fast. To play here and keep the intensity up where things here happen fast, my game has developed every single day. I’m getting bigger, faster and stronger every day, so I have to be grateful for that. This year has been a long summer, a lot of waiting, but as soon as the contract was announced that was very exciting. I’ve been hopping around a lot, but I signed a contract here, so it’s been one of the best years of hockey of my life.”
Earning an invitation to the 2021 Canadian World Junior Selection Camp, Hunt was forced out of the action due to COVID, and was returned to the Wild, where he skated in his first four games in the AHL. That experience helped better prepare him for the abbreviated 24-game WHL season out of the Regina Hub, where he began his term as captain of the Moose Jaw Warriors.
“The ‘bubble’ was so much fun,” Hunt laughed. “It was a really busy schedule, practicing and playing every day. It was a grind both mentally and physically, but looking back on it, it was so much fun. Living with the guys in dorms and having a blast playing hockey every day… there were no fans, so it was literally just the guys and playing hockey against the other guys. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
And other than a disappointing sixth-place finish, things couldn’t have gone much better for Hunt. Statistically, he had a very productive campaign, registering eight goals and 18 points in 23 games on the blueline for the Warriors while playing over 30 minutes a night on average.
On Wednesday evening, Hunt scored his first career professional goal with the Wild. In collecting that tally for Iowa, he now has produced goals in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, Western Hockey League and American Hockey League this season.
— Iowa Wild (@IAWild) May 13, 2021
Now with just two games remaining on the 2020-21 AHL schedule, Hunt will soon pack up and head home to Calgary, where his parents just completed a move. Although switching local gyms, the youngster will stick to his same workout patterns in hopes of finding similar success in 2021-22.
“I’m definitely taking a couple weeks off here as I’m pretty tired from the last half-year or so,” he chuckled. “I plan to stick to the same program, honestly. It’s been working so far. I won’t try to do much different, that’s for sure. But of course with the different gyms and stuff the physical location will change, but besides that I will be keeping all my offseason training the same this year.”
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Oh, and Hunt certainly isn’t broke. Although it’s already been a week since he officially signed the contract, he hasn’t actually been paid his signing bonus quite yet. But according to the 18-year-old, he has a couple ideas on where that first paycheque might go.
“I haven’t really thought about that too much, but I might buy a pair of shoes or something here,” he said. “Actually, I’m thinking of maybe selling my vehicle and making some money from that and then buying something a bit nicer. But I think the first thing I’m going to do is take my family out for supper and I’ll take the bill.”