The Panthers have been looking long and hard for a natural goal scorer to fill a top-6 role, and while that’s not an easy task, they recently signed WHL-standout Dryden Hunt to an entry-level contract with the hope that he’ll turn into exactly that. In our 3rd installment of the ‘In The System’ series, we’ll take an in-depth look at Hunt who’s tearing up the WHL in his final season.
Dryden Hunt is currently in his 4th full season in the WHL, and during those 4 seasons, he’s faced several challenges, all of which he has overcome. Hunt’s first season was less than satisfactory as he posted just 5 goals and 5 assists while being buried in the depth chart of the Regina Pats. The following season, Hunt again played in a depth role for the Pats, however, this time he recorded 21 goals and 19 assists for 40 points in 62 games. He had a slow start to the year as he tallied just 3 assists in his first 14 games but picked things up from there on out and recorded 37 points in the final 48 games.
That year was the first time that Hunt was eligible for the NHL Draft, however it came a year after he missed all but two games of the 2012-13 season as he attempted to recover from 3 separate concussions he sustained prior. The concerns surrounding his concussions scared off teams and therefore Hunt was passed over. Several well-known scouts had him listed as worthy of at least a 4th-round pick considering the numbers he put up in a depth role. After the breakout year, Hunt was invited to the Carolina Hurricanes rookie camp, however he was released by the team shortly thereafter.
Hunt went on to record 47 points in just 37 games during the first half of the 2014-15 season with the Regina Pats, which passed his career high in points by 7 in 15 fewer games, before being traded to the Medicine Hat Tigers. He finished out the year by recording 19 goals and 14 assists in 34 games, just missing his career-high goal mark by 3 in 28 fewer games, and went on to tally 5 goals and 7 assists in 10 playoff games. Hunt was passed over in the 2015 Draft, but the Montreal Canadiens invited him to their rookie camp where he was cut once again.
Just prior to the 2015-16 season, Hunt was acquired by the Moose Jaw Warriors in an effort to fill their final overage player slot. The Warriors’ GM Alan Millar hoped to add experience to the team’s lineup and stated before the season that he thought Hunt could potentially be a 35-40-goal scorer. There are still 8 games left in the season and Hunt has already reached the 50-goal mark. Not only that, but he tallied 5 hat-tricks in a span of 8 games during the month of February, and he’s currently sitting in 2nd in the WHL in scoring with 103 points in 64 games.
This season, Hunt, the assistant captain for Moose Jaw, has played primarily on the top-line right wing (he was recently switched to the right side) with Brayden Point at center and Noah Gregor on the left wing. Hunt also plays on the Warriors’ top power play unit either on the point or at the half-wall depending on the play attempting to be executed. The Panthers were able to sign him to a contract thanks in large part to some behind-the-scenes work by two recent analytics hires they made, Josh Weissbock and “Money Puck,” both of which are well-known within the hockey analytics community. Panthers sources have told us that Weissbock and Money Puck identified Hunt as a target even before the season began and that his impressive season only increased the team’s interest in him. The signing became even more important after the Panthers traded a 2nd-round draft pick to the Flames for Jiri Hudler last week.
Some critics have suggested that Hunt is having such a great season because of Brayden Point, a draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who is one of the best playmakers in the WHL. Point plays a fast, gritty game and carries the puck up the ice really well, and he’s tallied 77 points in 40 games. However, Point has missed 24 games this season and Hunt has played in all of those games, tallying 17 goals and 13 assists, including 2 hat-tricks. Hunt has been very good even Point has been out of the lineup and has produced offensively without looking lost on the ice.
When it comes to Dryden Hunt’s style of play, he does things in a very simple manner. He isn’t a flashy player in that you won’t see him and say, “Wow, he’s all over the place.” He’s a very calm, composed, and calculating player and seems to be in the right place most of the time. He’s not incredibly tall at 6’0″, but he possesses a thick frame at just over 200 pounds which allows him to be really effective along the boards and below the face-off circles.
Above is a fairly simple example of Hunt using his size to his advantage. He doesn’t do anything fancy, but he delivers a small check to the defender while attempting to gather the puck at the same time. The check disrupts the defender, so all Hunt has to do is just skate away. Here’s another example:
In the sequence above, Hunt is checked three times, changes direction twice and toe-drags around one player before giving the puck back to the defenseman at the point. The fact that he’s able to protect the puck and turn the opposite direction in a tight space along the boards and maintain possession while being absolutely hounded by the player in the white jersey is pretty impressive. The defender played it fairly well and stayed on Hunt the whole way, so there’s not much else he could’ve done.
The clip above is similar to the previous one, however Hunt isn’t really contested as he carries the puck along the wall. What you can see, however, is his ability to carry the puck around the lower half of the offensive zone. At the beginning of the clip, Hunt is in the low slot and he anticipates the defenseman sending the puck into the corner rather than on net, so he heads over there. Hunt beats everyone else to the puck despite the fact he was pretty much the furthest from it and took a roundabout path. He also puts his puck-handling skills on display once again as he carries the puck up the wall.
You would’ve liked to have seen him cycle it back to the corner as he had two teammates wide open waiting there and since he’s usually pretty good in the cycle, but fortunately the opponent didn’t get full control of the puck when Hunt lost it.
In this final example, you’ll again see Hunt’s abilities along the boards and below the goal line. When he receives the puck behind the net, he’s being pressured by the opponent in the white jersey. That player then loses his stick which falls in the skates of Hunt making it more difficult to maintain possession of the puck. Hunt nearly loses the puck at first, but you can see he reaches all the way out to the right to regather it and he eventually comes out from behind the net all alone. He then passes the puck to the point and the defenseman scores giving Hunt a primary assist.
Hunt’s offensive ability is the most impressive part of his game. Positionally, he’s a very sneaky player. When his team is moving up the ice towards the offensive zone or is already in the zone and cycling the puck around, Hunt coasts around looking for the right opportunity to create something offensively. It’s interesting to watch and tough to describe; you don’t expect him to do anything at all until suddenly he has the puck on his stick and puts it past the goaltender.
Hunt doesn’t score on the above sequence but it’s a very good example of his ability to be very sneaky and slide under the radar. At first, he looks very innocent as he glides through the neutral zone watching the play unfold at the beginning of the clip. He has a defender in front of him who is covering him fairly well considering Hunt isn’t doing anything. Hunt sees that Brayden Point, who’s holding the puck, is looking for a pass option, so he makes a quick move, gets around the defender and is suddenly in alone.
He gets robbed by the goaltender, but you can see how he goes from just coasting along to being inches away from scoring a goal in an instant. And again, he shows off his puck-handling skills in tight as he makes a nice move with the puck in front of the crease.
In the example above, we see almost the same thing. Hunt quietly glides over the blue line as his teammates are on the rush, but once he receives the drop pass, he becomes a different player. He gets around and protects the puck from the opponent attempting to cut him off, and as he drives to the net, he’s able to get a decent shot off considering he’s being surrounded by pretty much the entire opposing team.
The best part of Hunt’s offensive game is his game-changingly good shot (if that’s even a word). He has the ability to absolutely blow the puck right by the goaltender, whether it be with a one-timer, wrist shot, snap shot, you name it. We could put pretty much all of his goals in this one post, but there’s a lot of those and we don’t have enough storage space for that, so we’ll just share a few of them with you.
In the clip above, not only do we see Dryden Hunt score his 50th goal of the season, but you see how he was able to get to that point in the first place. He has absolutely no hesitation when he wants to shoot the puck; if he’s gonna shoot, he’s gonna shoot and there will be no delay in doing so. If he was wearing a blue jersey in the clip, you’d think it was Steven Stamkos winding up on the power play, but no, it’s Dryden Hunt. Considering the goalie had to get over due to the cross-ice pass, he was in a decent position for the shot, but Hunt beat him cleanly.
Above is another example of Hunt’s one-timer. It’s just so quick and accurate that the goaltender has no time to react.
Hunt is so good at getting the puck off his stick in traffic, and the clip above proves that. He gets the pass in the slot and as he’s about to shoot the puck, he’s literally in the middle of a circle formed by every player on the ice. Despite that, Hunt is able to wire the puck past the goaltender with no hesitation as if he was all alone on a breakaway.
This clip below proves that you just can’t afford to give Hunt time and space and that doing so should be avoided at all costs. He has so much time to get set and pick the corner that the entire opposing team may as well just leave the ice and let him put the puck into an empty net because he’s gonna score anyway.
The next GIF shows just how accurate Hunt’s wrist shot truly is. The goaltender was hugging the post good enough to stop most wrist shots, but Hunt doesn’t have a wrist shot like most other players. He picks the top left corner of the net with ease:
In this final clip displaying Hunt’s shot, you’re able to see once again that he’s also pretty good at making quick moves to get around his opponents. He cuts into the high slot, makes a nice lateral movement with the puck to get around the defender, and lets a shot go that finds its way behind net-front traffic and then the goaltender. This is just a sweet goal all around:
No one really talks about Hunt’s playmaking ability all that much because of how good his shot is, but it certainly deserves some recognition.
Hunt is able to get the puck from his own blueline to the opposing blueline very quickly to spring his teammate for a breakaway. That’s not an easy pass to make, especially with all of the traffic in the neutral zone, and it’s usually one you see made by defensemen attempting to start the rush. Hunt does it here and it lands perfectly on his teammate’s tape.
This is yet another really good passing play. Hunt notices the soft spot between the two defenders of the opposition and also sees that Brett Howden, the brother of the Panthers’ Quinton, has an extra step on his man, so he sends a laser of a pass to the front of the net and it’s in the perfect spot to be redirected into the net.
These next two GIFs are part of the same sequence, but I’ve separated them to focus on each by itself. In the first one, Hunt is in perfect position to intercept a cross-ice backhand pass made by an opposing forward. Had it gotten through to the other forward, he would’ve had a decent chance to put the puck on net. Hunt gathers it in and quickly turns up the other way before passing it off to his teammate up the ice.
This next clip is a couple seconds after the pass interception by Hunt once Moose Jaw gets back into the offensive zone. Hunt receives the pass in the slot and spots Brayden Point going to the net all alone, so he attempts to pass the puck to him. If you look really close (yes, it’s not the greatest quality GIF), you’ll notice the initial pass is blocked by an opposing defender and sits in front of Hunt for half a second. He then tries to make the pass a second time and it’s a perfect one to the corner of the crease where Point taps into the net. It’s a really smart play and took some quick thinking on Hunt’s end, because had he taken an extra second to try the pass again, it would’ve been swatted away by the opposition.
In terms of where Hunt will play next season, it’ll more than likely be with the Portland Pirates of the AHL mostly because the Panthers’ lineup is expected to remain largely the same as it is now. There are also other guys who could challenge for a roster spot ahead of Hunt like Lawson Crouse and Kyle Rau. Due to his big frame and NHL-caliber shot, Hunt could very well exceed at the AHL level. His skating is something he could definitely work on; his first couple of steps are very average, but once he gets going, his speed is above average.
When it comes to the NHL, Hunt isn’t too far off, and somewhere in the top-9 seems to be the most likely landing spot for him once he makes it. He’s definitely a player to watch considering the numbers he has put and the offensive ability he possesses. It’s still early, but the Panthers have been looking for a player with the potential to be an offensive weapon like Hunt has.