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The Toronto Maple Leafs could have a star in the making with forward Michael Bunting - and he's still technically a rookie, even at 26 years old.
The Scarborough native has already tallied 19 goals with 23 assists in his first full NHL season after signing a two-year deal with his hometown Leafs last July. And while most of the Calder Trophy talk has centered around the two budding starts of the Detroit Red Wings in Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond as well as Anaheim's Trevor Zegras, Bunting is making sure his name isn't overlooked when it comes time to name the NHL's top rookie after this season.
And as much fun as he's having, he knows not to take it for granted.
“I can’t take this for granted,” Bunting said during a recent one-on-one interview with The Athletic, “because I know how hard I worked to get here, and how quick it can slip out of my fingers if I do take it for granted.
“I just knew if I ever got that shot that I wouldn’t let it go.”
And you certainly can't blame his family and friends for cheering in excitement as they watch him skate with the likes of John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the ice.
“They became hockey fans all over again,” he says. “They can’t believe it when they’re watching the Leafs and they see my face. I think everybody’s really enjoying this season and just living through me and this whole experience. Everyone’s really excited for the rest of the season and what it holds for playoffs in the future.”
“He’s got the skill set to match, and when he gets the puck he has the ability to make a play,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said of Bunting. “He goes to the net. He does all those kind of things. He’s got the personality off the ice to jive with those guys. They’re close off the ice. All those things comes together. Because of the way he competes, and the way he’s involved in everything, he’s usually the most hated guy on the ice. He gets a lot of attention from the other team, and that inspires him to really push.”
Bunting is making the most of his opportunity with the Leafs, and can only continue to grow from here.