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Bunting’s fine season with Maple Leafs puts him in finalist category for Calder Trophy

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Michael Bunting’s determination and skill have made him a finalist for the Calder Trophy.

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The Maple Leafs winger is in the running for the award given to the top rookie in the National Hockey League, the league announced on Wednesday.

Bunting is in competition with defenceman Moritz Seider of the Detroit Red Wings and forward Trevor Zegras of the Anaheim Ducks for the Calder.  

Rather than be satisfied with a bottom-six role in the early stages of the 2021-22 regular season, Bunting earned an opportunity to play on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. 

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The 26-year-old Bunting was quick to mesh with the two Leafs superstars, finishing the season with 63 points (23 goals and 40 assists) in 79 games and had a team-high mark of plus-27.

In the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bunting has three points in four games. 

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“That’s just my attitude, is keep it going and keep grinding away and having belief in my skill,” Bunting said. “It has been quite the journey to get to the NHL for me and I was able to make it and solidify myself. I just kept that same attitude every single day, and night in and night out here. I think I did a pretty good job.”

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We would agree. When Bunting signed a two-year, $1.9-million US contract with the Leafs last summer in free agency, not many would have predicted he would be in contention for the Calder. 

There were indications during Bunting’s time with the Arizona Coyotes that he could be an impactful player in the NHL, but only after several seasons with Tucson of the American Hockey League.

When the chance came for Bunting to come home to Toronto in free agency, not only did he jump at it, but through his play he ensured that the Leafs made the right decision in signing him.

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“It’s terrific for him and his family,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It’s a testament to the journey that you’ve been through. 

“For a guy like him, it has taken a lot longer. He has had to put in a lot more work. He has had to stay resilient and he has had to believe in himself and has had to take advantage of opportunities that come his way, yet he has had to earn those opportunities. 

“Early in the season, he was playing on our fourth line. Game to game, shift to shift, it just became apparent that he was ready for more and was earning more.”

Ten Leafs have won the Calder previously, most recently Matthews in 2017.

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