Michael Bunting is aptly named since he understands the concept of sacrifice.
The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds forward is living proof it is possible to get a foothold in major junior and become a NHL draft hopeful without playing in cost-prohibitive AAA hockey well before reaching puberty. Bunting, son of a bookkeeper and a heavy equipment operator, played AA in his native Scarborough through his his age-16 year. Once he finally played AAA with the Don Mills Flyers in 2012-13, he got on the OHL radar and was drafted by Sault Ste. Marie, where he stood out with 15 goals and 42 points over 48 games as a 18-year-old newcomer.
Bunting believes those years playing at a more lightly regarded rung of minor hockey sowed his willingness to work. That was evident on a regular basis this season in the Soo.
"I could have definitely made the jump," says Bunting, who is NHL Central Scouting's No. 49-ranked North American skater. "But playing Triple-A in the GTHL [Greater Toronto Hockey League] is five grand a year. That is tough for a family and was definitely tough on my family to afford every year. I had really good friends who were on my Double-A team and really good coaches as well. I just had fun playing Double-A. When the time came, I made the jump
"My offensive game is definitely my strength," adds Bunting, who spent most of his minor hockey days with the Scarborough Young Bruins and Toronto East Enders. "I like the word 'relentless.' I never give up, no matter what. Where I came from, I've always had to be self-motivated and always thinking, 'I can do this.' That's the kind of head I had going into this year. I just went into every game thinking, 'I don't care who I'm playing against, I'm just going to play my game.' That comes from having played Double-A in my whole life."
Bunting is a bit on the slight side at 6-foot and 178 pounds, but projects to be a safe second or third-round pick due his drive and solid hockey sense. The 'Hounds evidently knew they had found an unpolished gem after signing Bunting, since he was assigned the No. 27 previously worn by Philadelphia Flyers prospect Nick Cousins.
"The whole organization with the Soo, they brought me on with open arms," Bunting says. "They helped me out in any way I needed. If I needed extra work, head coach Sheldon Keefe, it was no problem for him. [General manager] Kyle Dubas was always asking how I was doing and making sure I was okay. They took the time with me and made sure I was adapting and getting used to it."
Once he became Greyhounds property after being taken in the ninth round sof the 2013 OHL priority selection draft, Bunting and his parents Andy and Lynda knew it was time to step up their investment in a potential career. Bunting credits 'Hounds director of player development Wes Clark, who also works with young players at the Athletic Training Centre in Mississauga, with helping him get his strength and conditioning up to OHL standards.
"Wes Clark of ATC, he's helped me out substantially," Bunting says. "He's been my right-hand man. Once I got drafted to the Soo, he was there, making sure everything was okay."
1. Every teenage hopeful has to work on his skating and strength, of course; but when you look at your on-ice execution, where do you need to show the most improvement?
"Definitely my defensive zone. I just had my first year playing out on left wing and I had to adapt to that. Being able to get the puck out [of the defensive zone] quick when I'm on the boards, being able to make that simple play to get the puck out. I just need to work on that and get the confidence to do that."
2. Which NHL player(s) do you watch for pointers?
"A Brad Marchand type of player. I enjoy getting under people's skins and also being able to put up offensive numbers for my team. I see him doing that a lot for the Boston Bruins."
3. What other sports did you dabble in before committing to hockey, and how did that help with your growth?
"I was into basketball, tennis, volleyball, soccer, badminton. Three years in a row in my high school [Blessed Cardinal Newman in Scarborough, Ont.] I was named an athlete of year. I was all over the map with sports. I also played ball hockey in the summer. That helped a lot. You have to keep your head on a swivel and the ball obviously bounces a lot more than the puck. It helps your hand-eye [coordination]. Tennis did a lot for my hand-eye as well."
4. Which 'Hounds teammate really helped you settle into playing in the OHL?
"Definitely Tyler Gaudet [who signed with Phoenix Coyotes as a free agent]. He lived around the corner from me and drove me everywhere because he had the car up there. I got really close with him and Jean Dupuy. It was easier for me, having some older guys show me the ropes. The whole team, we were a really close group. There weren't any cliques."
5. What is your favourite TV show and/or movie?
"Favourite TV show is How I Met Your Mother. It just ended, but I liked it." (What did you think of the way it ended?) "I was a little disappointed with it."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.