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Hunwick future unlimited

He’s newly signed and healthy again

MATT HUNWICKSpleen is “a non-issue’’ MATT HUNWICKSpleen is “a non-issue’’
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / July 22, 2009

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After every season, most players pause for a breather upon concluding exit meetings and returning home. The day after Matt Hunwick returned to his offseason home in Michigan, he kicked off his training, figuring he had enough inactivity following his April 18 procedure to remove a ruptured spleen.

“I took my rest in the hospital,’’ said Hunwick yesterday during a conference call. “From that point, it’s been slowly coming back. By the middle of June, I felt 100 percent. I have my wind. My weight is starting to come back. I have absolutely no limitations right now. I’m training just as hard as I did last summer. The spleen’s been a non-issue.’’

It’s an approach Hunwick has taken throughout his career. He was the 224th pick of the 2004 draft, overlooked because of his lack of size. But since Hunwick became part of the organization, general manager Peter Chiarelli tagged the defenseman as one of the club’s hardest-working players, aiming to build himself to withstand the battles of the NHL.

On Monday, Hunwick earned his share of recognition by signing a two-year, $2.9 million extension, becoming the franchise’s second-to-last restricted free agent to come to terms. Phil Kessel is the only RFA yet to sign.

“Matt had a very courageous year and a good year,’’ said Chiarelli. “He proved himself to be an NHL player. He performed well when he had his chance. His style of play, grittiness, compete level, and his offensive bent have certainly allowed him to fit in well to our mix.’’

As a rookie last season, Hunwick scored six goals and had 21 assists in 53 games. Because of his development as a mobile, puck-moving defenseman, Chiarelli swapped Andrew Alberts to Philadelphia at the start of 2008-09 to make room for Hunwick. At the trade deadline, the Bruins included Matt Lashoff, surpassed by Hunwick on the depth chart, in a package to acquire Mark Recchi from Tampa Bay. Hunwick appeared in only one playoff game because of his ruptured spleen.

The injury caused the 5-foot-11-inch Hunwick to drop to 177 pounds. Hunwick, currently entering the speed segment of his summer workouts (fast, heavy lifting), is back up to 196 pounds. He wants to weigh 198 pounds or more when he arrives at training camp in September.

Hunwick projects to be a bottom-three defenseman in 2009-10 who should see time on the second power-play unit. He said he’ll continue to refine his transition game; Hunwick played six games as a forward last season, which helped emphasize the importance of a good first pass.

“One of the biggest things you realize is how much you want the puck on your stick, not in your feet or up the wall,’’ Hunwick said. “If you can make good plays as a defenseman, it really helps the forwards out.’’

By coincidence, the recent extension of Hunwick’s blue-line partner in college played a part in determining the Bruin’s fate. Jack Johnson, the third overall pick of the 2005 draft, signed a two-year, $2.85 million extension with Los Angeles last Friday. Johnson appeared in only 41 games in 2008-09 because of a shoulder injury, scoring six goals (including three on the power play) and adding five assists.

The 6-1, 225-pound Johnson, who skated alongside Hunwick for parts of two seasons with the University of Michigan, is considered a higher-end talent than his former teammate. But because Johnson’s game is still developing, coupled with the leaguewide market correction, the two-way defenseman had to accept a contract worth an annual $1.425 million, thus helping to frame the market for Hunwick. One player agent was surprised that Johnson didn’t push for more money.

The two-year, $2.4 million extension signed last Thursday by Milton native Keith Yandle (4-26 -30 in 69 games last season) with the Coyotes also clarified Hunwick’s market.

Facing challenge
With approximately $54 million committed to 22 salaries (including the buyouts of Glen Murray and Peter Schaefer), the Bruins would have to move a player or two to re-sign Kessel. Candidates include Aaron Ward ($2.5 million annual cap hit) and Chuck Kobasew ($2.33 million).

“Certainly Phil is a type of player that if it comes to a point where I have to make a move to get him in the mix, I will certainly do that,’’ Chiarelli said.

However, as teams fill out their rosters and allocate their dollars, salary dumps will become more challenging.

“Eventually, activity will grind to a complete halt,’’ Chiarelli said. “We see tendencies and trends that show that already. A lot of deals people are talking about are conditional on other deals taking place. That’s the way it happens now. As teams continue to spend and fill their lineups, there’s only a fixed amount of money.

“I’m not so sure how much activity you’ll see, especially now. You might see a pickup before the season starts.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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