Connect with us


Bunting Never Saw Trade to Penguins Coming, But Seems Glad it Did



Michael Bunting

CRANBERRY — No one, especially Jake Guentzel, should have been surprised when the Pittsburgh Penguins moved him as the NHL trade deadline approached.

When Guentzel didn’t re-sign with the Penguins and seemed to be intent on testing the free-agent market this summer, they had little reason to keep him once their playoff hopes became a remote memory.

Conversely, one of the guys included in the package Carolina gave the Penguins to acquire Guentzel had no idea that the Hurricanes had even considered dealing him.

“I didn’t see it coming,” left winger Michael Bunting said, after going through his first practice with the Penguins. “I was actually just getting ready for the game (against Montreal, in Raleigh), and I got called in. I thought I was doing some video with the coach. But … I got told I was being held out for trade reasons. I just kind of waited to see where I went.”

The swap with the Penguins wasn’t announced until several hours later. Bunting proved to be the centerpiece, at least in the short term, of the assets the Hurricanes surrendered to acquire Guentzel.

Bunting was plugged onto Sidney Crosby’s left wing — a spot occupied by Guentzel for many years — on the top line and was deployed on the No. 1 power play during his first workout with his new club.

Whether he will fill those roles when the Pittsburgh Penguins visit Boston Saturday afternoon remains to be seen, but it’s clear that he figures prominently in their plans.

“I thought he had a good practice, but it was a 25-minute practice,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s hard to make any sort of initial impression. … Obviously, we’ve watched Michael play in the league and have seen his body of work with Toronto and Carolina, and he’s a real good player. He’s shown an ability to play with top players.

“He’s a 20-plus goal-scorer. I think he’s a guy who’s shown an ability to play on the power play. He’s really good in that pocket position, the bumper position. I thought he worked really well with the group we had out there today. … I’m sure we’ll explore some line combinations to see where he best fits, but without a doubt, I would envision him in the top-six.”

Although working alongside someone with Crosby’s Hall of Fame credentials can be intimidating for some players, Bunting teamed with the talented likes of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner when he was with Toronto, where he had back-to-back 23-goal seasons, so that shouldn’t be an issue for him.

“Obviously, (Crosby) is one of the best, if not the best, that ever played this game,” Bunting said. “You can just tell, in the little time I’ve been here, the way he carries himself. He’s all professional, and he works so hard out there on the ice. If that’s where I’m slotted in, I’m ready to go and contribute.”

Bunting would seem to be best-suited for a middle-six role, but has played up and down his team’s lineup throughout his career.

“I’m a complementary player,” he said. “I think I can play anywhere in the lineup.”

Bunting has what he described as “a great relationship” with Kyle Dubas, the Penguins’ president of hockey operations and GM, who included him in the return for Guentzel.

Dubas drafted Bunting for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, and later acquired him while serving as GM of the Maple Leafs.

In a matter of hours, Bunting went from being part of a team regarded as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender to one destined to slog through the final weeks of a disappointing season. Nonetheless, he was adamant that he’s pleased to be with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I’m excited to go where I’m wanted,” Bunting said. “I’m excited to be a Pittsburgh Penguin. This franchise has a lot of history, and knows how to win.”

Even if he’s here because the Penguins haven’t done that nearly enough in 2023-24.