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Game On

With 10 years of NHL scouting experience, NHL Seattle's Dave Hunter focuses a long lens toward the 2021-22 NHL season

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ /

As the NHL Seattle pro scout with the most experience scouting games and evaluating players, Dave Hunter is the go-to source for game-day routine.

"I live in the Boston area," says Hunter, who worked 10 years as an amateur and pro scout for the NHL Carolina Hurricanes. "I go to the [TD] Garden [the NHL Bruins home arena] at least an hour early, find my seat, get the lineups and watch warmups. It gives me a chance to figure out line combinations and defensive pairings, who's scratched, who are the starting goaltenders."

Hunter arrives with a strategic lineup of players: "I have primarily gone through rosters to look for players I want key in on, as opposed to trying to watch every player on both teams or even one team. I'd rather go for quality over quantity. My plan is to focus on five or six players on one team. If player on either team has exceptional game, I will write him up too."

The scout write-ups are like the concrete-and-steel-rebar permanent pile-ons now beginning to be secured 70-feet below ground at the New Arena at Seattle Center construction site. The evaluations provide a foundation for the building of a team--words and numerical ratings, all grist for debate and the team's growing hockey analytics database. The NHL pro scouting staff has already scouted nearly 500 games, contributing thousands of individual write-ups about both NHL and American Hockey League pro hockey players.  

Video: NHL Seattle's Dave Hunter Talks Analytics & Scouting

Next on game days is where life as a pro scout for Seattle's NHL expansion franchise takes a distinctly longer view for Hunter, his fellow scouts and bosses, general manager Ron Francis and assistant GM Ricky Olczyk--all scouting games several nights most weeks. 

"I am typically watching players we might possibly pick in the expansion draft [in June 2021]," says Hunter. "Once the first period starts, with my notebook, of course, I watch those [five or six] players' shifts, concentrating on hockey sense, skating ability, what offensive skills do they have, what defensive skills, if they have any lapses in their game."

Hunter's workload is about 75 percent NHL games, concentrating on the league's Eastern Conference. The other 25 percent is scouting home games of Boston's AHL affiliate Providence Bruins, about an hour's drive for Hunter. He was part of a scouting staff that helped Francis and Olczyk draft and acquire the core of players that fueled Carolina's run to the Eastern Conference last spring, achieving the NHL's version of the Final Four. Eighty percent of Carolina's playoff goals were scored by players Francis brought into the organization, plus a similar percentage of goals were tallied by players Francis acquired for the team's AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers, which won the AHL title last spring. 

Growing up and playing Junior B hockey in St. Catherine's, Ont., Hunter played four seasons of collegiate hockey for Cornell University. Hunter and Francis first met through a mutual friend, Mark Canduro, who was Hunter's hockey teammate and best friend at Cornell. Francis was offered the opportunity to play for Cornell during the same time frame, but opted for his hometown juniors team in Sault St. Marie, Ont., which resulted in the Seattle GM to get called up to the NHL's Hartford Whalers as an 18-year-old. Canduro played 16U hockey with Francis in Sault St. Marie. The three friends and their families remain close. 

That Cornell squad included NHL star Joe Nieuwendyk and current Cornell head coach Mike Schaefer, who is the winningest coach in school history since taking the job for the 1995-96 season. Cornell was 15-2-4 (No. 2 in the NCAA rankings) going into a weekend series with Colgate. 

Playing at Cornell reaped even more benefits for Hunter. He met his wife, Nancy, during his university. Both have Cornell degrees and their daughter, Samantha, 24, graduated from the Ivy League school too. Son Cole, 22, is a senior at Cornell who will be moving to Seattle for a full-time job in the tech industry upon graduation. The Hunters first visited Seattle this past summer when Cole was completing an internship. 

"I am just learning about Seattle," says Hunter. "We spent a week there, including a few days up in the San Juans [Islands]. The city is so scenic. We're excited about our son moving there and, of, the opportunity for me to work for such a great organization."

In his role for the team, Hunter looks at every player with what he deems to be a vital lens: He says "pro scouting is about watching the body language of players."

"I want to see how a player plays away from the puck, does he handle his responsibilities [on defense or moving into optimal offensive position]. Body language is important. If a 2-on-1 [offensive move] doesn't work out, does the player come back hard on defense. I might even watch the benches. I want to know if a player is banging his stick after that unsuccessful 2-on-1 or chirping at some teammate. You want to know if players are good teammates."

Hunter is in his seventh season as coach of the Massachusett Institute of Technology men's hockey team, which competes in the respected Northeast division of the American College Hockey Association. It's only fitting, since he works for a GM who is a pioneer in hiring hockey data analytics personnel and applying the advanced statistics to the scouting evaluations and draft decision-making. MIT happens to host a world-renowned sports analytics conference each winter. 

The evolution of advanced stats has been a "learning experience" for Hunter that he welcomes as part of vetting what scouts report about players: "Now we have cold, hard facts and figures to back it up," he says. "It is so beneficial to our scouting. Analytic and the [scout's] eye test are a perfect match. 

Hunter was in town in late January for the team's historic first-ever pro scouting meetings, which included an initial 'mock' draft. Though it promised to be and was an intense deep-dive into the talents of every player on all 31 NHL rosters, Hunter arrived in town early enough to accompany Francis, Olczyk and NHL Seattle's director of hockey strategy and research Alexandra Mandrycky to a Western Hockey League game in Everett. Hunter couldn't resist thinking like a scout even without the notebook out or player write-ups due the next morning.

"I haven't watch much amateur hockey the last few years because I have watching the pros," says Hunter. "But I admit the first thing I did is look at the age of the players and focused on the younger ones, who might be drafted [in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft]. I have to say there is noticeable skills in the WHL right now. The speed is impressive. Most of all, hockey sense is the No. 1 factor. You want players who are aware [of the puck] with good vision on the ice."

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