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Nelson's Dryden Hunt called up by Florida Panthers — plays first NHL game Friday in Buffalo

Dryden Hunt was all smiles during a post-practice interview with the Panthers media. Bottom, Hunt works through a drill during practice. — Photos courtesy courtneyd@floridapanthers.com

It’s a call every hockey player wants to get — pack your bags, you’re headed to the National Hockey League.

This week Nelson’s Dryden Hunt received the call, and will be in the lineup Friday when the Florida Panthers visit the Sabres in Buffalo.

“It was pretty surreal,” Hunt told Doug Plagens, play-by-play announcer for the Florida Panthers following practice Thursday.

“It was a pretty quick day. We played (Wednesday) night and got the call after the game and I was on the flight the next morning so I couldn’t be happier.”

“We played last night in Springfield against Hershey and got the call after the game and was on a flight at 5 a.m. this morning,” Hunt added.

The Panthers signed Hunt to an entry level contract in the spring of 2016.

The Nelson Minor Hockey, winner of the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the Western Hockey League's (WHL) player of the year, recorded 50 goals and 102 points in 63 games during his final season of junior with the Moose Jaw Warriors.

He attended the Panthers training camp in 2016 and 2017, sent down to the minors this season in Springfield with the Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League.

At Springfield after 13 games, Hunt has five goals and three assists — including a hat-trick last month against the Belleville Senators.

“It’s nice coming into your second season knowing more guys and being more comfortable with the league,” Hunt explained when asked about the second season at Springfield.

“I’ve had a bit of a slow start but the last eight or nine games I’ve been coming on . . . like I said I couldn’t be happier to be here right now.”

Florida has struggled to start the season with a 4-8-2 record, eighth in the Atlantic Division.

The Panthers lost 3-1 to Caroline Hurricanes Tuesday.

Hunt, born in Cranbrook, played most of his minor hockey in Nelson before joining Notre Dame Hounds.

He returned to play BC Major Midget with the Kootenay Ice. The next season he joined Regina Pats of the WHL.

Hunt struggled early in Regina with some injuries, playing two games in the 2012-13 season.

The next year began to blossom with Regina and Medicine Hat Tigers.

His final season in the WHL with Moose Jaw Hunt put up some incredible offensive numbers.

He hopes to bring some youth and energy when he takes to the ice Friday for his NHL debut against the Sabres.

“I’m kind of a power forward role, strong down low,” he said.

“I’ve been working on my two-way game. I’m hoping to bring energy and a lot of intensity and play a simple game.”

Who knows this 21-year-old Heritage City star just may be what kick starts the Panthers when the puck drops Friday at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York.