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Rangers' Dryden Hunt has made the most of his opportunity

Rangers left wing Dryden Hunt celebrates with his

Rangers left wing Dryden Hunt celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal during the first period of an NHL game against the Flyers on Dec. 1 at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

Dryden Hunt wasn’t expecting to get good news when someone pulled him aside at the end of training camp and told him Rangers general manager Chris Drury wanted to see him.

"On that day, I think no news is good news,’’ Hunt recalled. "I was trying to stay in the weeds and hopefully [hear] nothing. No one said anything to me, and I just came in the next day and someone tracked me down and said ‘Dru’ wanted to talk to me. And I said, 'Oh boy, here we go again.' And he called me in, and he's like, 'I like to give good news on this day.' … And then he said, 'You can actually go get a house.'’’

That was when Hunt knew he’d made the team, which, entering training camp, he didn’t think was a sure thing. Two months later, he’s playing on what has become the Rangers’ top line, serving as the right wing for Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome.

"He's been good from Day One,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said of Hunt. "We didn't know he's going to be on our hockey team, but he made the hockey team. So that's what you like to see. He deserved it, and he and he earned it. And now he's playing on the so-called first line.’’

The 6-foot, 192-pound Hunt started the season as the left wing on the fourth line. But in a game against the Buffalo Sabres Nov. 21, Gallant didn’t like how the Rangers were playing, so he shook things up in the third period, moving Hunt to right wing on the Mika Zibanejad-Chris Kreider line. The next game, against the Islanders the night before Thanksgiving, Gallant put Kaapo Kakko with Zibanejad and Kreider and put Hunt with Strome and Panarin. He’s had two goals and three assists in five games on that line.

"He skates well, he forechecks well, he finishes some checks, and he’s turned some pucks over to those guys,’’ Gallant said.

Hunt actually played for Gallant early in his career with the Florida Panthers, who signed him as an undrafted free agent after he earned Player of the Year honors in the WHL, where he scored 58 goals and 58 assists for the Moose Jaw Warriors as a 20-year-old, playing on a line with Brayden Point.

Hunt, who hadn’t been drafted into the WHL, either, played 63 games over four seasons with Florida before signing a one-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes last season. He played 26 games for Arizona, scoring three goals and eight points, and the Rangers offered him a two-year, one-way deal worth $1.525 million this summer.

Blue lines

Adam Fox (maintenance) did not skate at Monday’s practice, and neither did Greg McKegg (who remains in COVID protocol) or goalie Igor Shesterkin… With a back-to-back Tuesday in Chicago and Wednesday at home against Colorado, Gallant said he didn’t know if he will play Alexandar Georgiev in both games, or give a start to Adam Huska, who was called up Saturday from AHL Hartford. "We’re going to watch the game (Tuesday) and see how it goes… but there’s no decision made yet on what we’re going to do with the next two games,’’ he said. "Georgie’s obviously going to play (Tuesday) and we’ll see from there.’’

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