The whirlwind of emotions Dryden Hunt went through in a 48-hour period last week began with a bit of a shot to his ego, when the Rangers put the 26-year-old winger on waivers after he played significant minutes for the club last season .
It quickly turned into a confidence boost, however, when the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Avalanche, picked him up.
“It’s kind of like a new life,” Hunt said before his new team took on his former team at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. “A lot better than the alternative, going to [AHL] Hartford. Super happy, and then to be claimed by a team like this is pretty special. It could be way worse.”
There was a call from Chris Drury to inform Hunt of the organization’s plan to carry 22 players instead of 23, which was a move the Rangers president and general manager had to make in order to save cap space. Still, that didn’t make the news any easier to hear.
Hunt, who signed a two-year deal with the Rangers in July 2021 as a free agent, not only played in 76 of 82 regular-season games in his first year in New York, but he even spent some time in the top six on the right wing of Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. Even though Hunt only skated in three of their 20 playoff games, Rangers coach Gerard Gallant opted to play him in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning in place of Kaapo Kakko.
“It was [tough], I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Hunt said of finding out he had been waived. “Pretty surprised, for sure. I really wanted to build off last year and I thought I had a great camp and decent preseason, so it was a bit of a shock for sure.”
Since his flight to Denver was delayed, Hunt played in his first game with the Avalanche on just a few hours of sleep. After the 3-2 loss to the Kraken on Friday night, the Avs shipped out to Vegas for the second night of a back-to-back. Hunt admitted it was rough having to skate in two straight games amid all the travel and time-zone change.
Jared Bednar said he hasn’t gotten to see a lot of Hunt yet, especially since he was limited to just 4:27 of ice time in the first game and 6:15 in the second, but the Colorado head coach said he liked what he saw from the winger on video. In noting that the Avalanche picked Hunt up for a reason, Bednar said he’s been asking all the right things and getting dialed into their system.
“He’s a physical guy, goes to the net hard,” Bednar said. “So hopefully we can get a better look at him if we can get into our game and get into our rhythm a little bit.”
Hunt is in the process of getting settled in Denver, but he noted that the area reminds him a little bit of his home in Calgary. It’s certainly been a change of pace from New York City, he said, but Hunt is enjoying it. He’s planning on clearing out the rest of his stuff from his home in Greenwich during the Avalanche’s off-day on Thursday.
“It was a bit of a wake-up call,” he said. “Not to say I didn’t put the work in. I had a great summer, I thought I had a great camp. You look at the [Rangers] lineup and they bring in guys and stuff like that, so you kind of see the writing on the wall.
“But at the same time, I thought maybe there was a chance that I’d stick around. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. Happy to be here.”