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Islander of the Day: Trent Hunter

Underappreciated or underwhelming? Maybe both? I don’t know.

New York Islanders v Phoenix Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The New York Islanders - along with every other NHL team and many other businesses - have temporarily suspended operations due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organizations have strongly advised the public to practice self-quarantining and avoid close contact and crowds to limit the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather in a virtual space and talk about old hockey players.

As long as the Islanders are on pause, we’ll run this series to give folks a place to chat, reminisce, and generally relieve the stress of the times.

Ready to have your mind blown? Here you go: Trent Hunter came in third in Calder Trophy voting in 2004. He came in way behind the winner, Bruins goalie Andrew Raycroft (?!) and the second place finisher, Montreal forward Michael Ryder (??!!), but there he was nonetheless.

That may seem surprising even to those that watched Hunter during his mostly productive but unspectacular eight year run with the Islanders. Hunter’s game wasn’t eye-popping and his speed could be described as somewhere between normal and glacial, but when healthy (and we’ll get to that soon enough), he was a solid contributor on a team looking for an identity.

Two more mildly surprising facts about the large winger: One was that he was not an Islanders draft pick, but was acquired in trade in May of 2000 from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Hunter was taken in the sixth round by the Ducks in 1998 and was dealt for forward Jonas Ronnqvist, who no one reading this remembers. So that’s one feather in Mike Milbury’s cap... for a change.

Second is that he was issued three separate uniform numbers with the Islanders, according to First was 43, which he must not have actually worn in a game wore as a Black Ace for the 2002 playoffs (thanks, Brian). Second was 21, when he was called up for eight games in 2002-03 after having back-to-back 30-goal seasons for Bridgeport. Finally was his most familiar digit, No. 7, which he wore when he became a regular and, apparently, a Rookie of the Year finalist, in 2003-04.

That first season would be Hunter’s best in the NHL. He finished with 25 goals and 26 assist for 51 points in 77 games. His style was unflashy, but he was good low in the zone and had a deceptively wicked shot for a dude who went 6’-3” and about 217 pounds.

Here’s that sneaky shot, beating former Islanders goalie Kevin Weekes in a very pixelated video from the mid-2000s.

Two 35-point seasons followed, one in which he scored 20 goals, and then a 12-goal, 41-point season in 2007-08. We’ve featured players that toiled in these barren transitional periods in Islanders history, and Hunter might be the best example of all. Aside from four playoff games against the Maple Leafs, he largely missed the Renaissance period of the early 2000’s then played a bunch of injury-riddled seasons in the Rebuild era of the late 2000’s. In the middle were some mediocre teams that were sometimes good enough to make the playoffs but never good enough to make any noise in them.

Ah, the injuries. I say this with all due respect in the world, but for a few seasons, it was hard to remember Trent Hunter was even on the Islanders. He missed over 20 games for both the dead ass, first-overall-pick-seeking 2008-09 Islanders, and it’s almost as dead-ass sequel. He still managed to score 31 and 28 points, respectively, in those seasons and became a better-than-average shot suppressor when playing with center and LHH patron saint Frans Nielsen. Occasionally, he would remind us that he could be a useful depth piece on a team that was, you know, actually good.

In 2010-11, Hunter missed 61 games with a torn MCL, costing him a seat on that season’s wild ride. That summer, Hunter and his two year, $4 million salary were traded to the Devils for Brian Rolston and his one year, almost $5 million salary. The trade may have worked out financially for the Islanders, with Rolston becoming a dedicated cap mule for the salary floor-scraping team. But he was absolutely awful on the ice (please don’t ask about the whole power play thing) and his few months on Long Island are not fondly remembered.

New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello eventually bought out Hunter’s contract, making him a free agent. He signed with the Kings, where he played his final 38 NHL games, scoring two goals and five assists in 2011-12 at the age of 31.

Trent Hunter played some good seasons in a weird time in Islanders history. When the organization finally hit reset, he was beset by injuries and missed much of the rebuild experience. He might not have been a face of the franchise, but that bald head once represented a bright future.