Florida Panthers 20 under 21: #8 Dryden Hunt

High-scoring forward should feature in Springfield

The Florida Panthers signed this Western Hockey League sniper in free agency last season, and have hopes that he can continue his sniping ways at the professional level.

#8 - Dryden Hunt - Forward - Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

Highest Ranking: 9  Lowest Ranking: 9

Dryden Hunt was the Western Hockey League’s leading scorer last season, with 58 goals. He had five hat-tricks in February of 2016. He was second in the WHL in points with 116, and finished as that league’s “Player of the Year” in 2015-16. He was also never drafted in the NHL draft. LBC readers, meet Dryden Hunt.

Hunt’s story works like this: in 2011-12, he suffered a series of concussions that led to him sitting out the entire 2012-13 season (he played 2 games). Harvey Fialkov, in his interview with Hunt for the Sun-Sentinel, described that horrifying experience:

For several weeks, Hunt couldn't see much of anything, spending hours alone in his dark room to calm down throbbing headaches. Hunt took the entire 2012-13 season off to recover and he's been symptom-free ever since.

After that harrowing experience, Hunt returned to the WHL’s Regina Pats and played 62 games in 2013-14, in which he scored 21 goals and 19 assists (40 points). In 2014-15, he was traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors. He played a total of 71 games that season, and scored 33 goals and added 50 assists (83 points). Still, he was not drafted.

Which brings us to 2015-16, and his final season in Moose Jaw, as an over-age player. His league leading goals total, and his incredible scoring prowess were mostly explained away as “over-age” player against teenagers. But there is more to it than that. Enter his new coach, and NHL veteran, Tim Hunter.

Hunter promptly moved the left-hand shooting Hunt to right-wing, and things started happening:

“The one thing he's really good at is taking pucks on his backhand going up the wing or taking them off his skates and kicking it up to his stick," says Hunter. "He's really good at that and that's where a lot of players struggle, taking pucks at full speed on the backhand. It's difficult to do and he's done a terrific job at that."

Playing as a left-shot on the right side gave the 20-year-old wing ample opportunity to shoot the puck, and that is something that Hunt is well above-average at. In its interview with Coach Hunter, Hunt’s hometown newspaper, the Nelson Star (B.C.), pointed this out:

What sets Hunt apart is his shot. It's a part of his game he's spent years perfecting.Hunter pointed out Hunt's ability to conceal his shot from goaltenders."Dryden does a real good job of that," says Hunter. "He can shoot it quick. He can pull it in and disguise the release. But the one thing he does really well is he shoots it hard, whether it's going to be quick or he is pulling it in to change the angle on the shot. He's got an NHL shot for sure. Not many guys in the NHL shoot it as hard as he does, actually."

Hunt’s shot was on full display at Development Camp this summer. Put simply, it is truly something to behold. As described by coach Hunter, it is well hidden, with little wind-up, essentially a very hard and very accurate snap-shot. He can rip it in stride, or stationary, while cutting or in a straight line for the net. A goalie never knows when its coming. But that shot also opens up opportunities for teammates. As Hockey’s Future pointed out:

he has a well-rounded game and can score or create chances for teammates in myriad ways

There were multiple times at Development Camp that Hunt drove the zone and with the defense and goalie expecting the renowned shot, he slid well-timed passes to teammates in the slot or in the F3 position (trailing forward). Perhaps it was the concussions, or not, but Hunt’s on-ice vision is exceptional. This was one of the attributes noted by Dobber Prospects:

Hunt likely projects to be a middle six player in the NHL if he continues on his development path. He has an outstanding release and solid vision on the ice.

Hockey’s Future predicted a similar NHL role for Hunt:

Hunt projects as an offensively inclined second or third line winger with some scoring ability. He will likely need time at the minor pro level to round his overall game and adapt to the faster pace and higher level of play.

The big question mark will be how Hunt adapts to the pro style game, with its speed and size. That said, he played in the WHL, which is known as a big-man’s, physical league. Coming in at 6’ and 201 lbs., Hunt looked solid in stature at camp, and was able to muscle his way in and around the crease and on the boards. His skating has been a point of some concern, and that was also noteworthy at camp. He is not as quick and magical on his edges as a prospect like Jonathan Ang. Yet, he can get up and go in straight lines up and down the ice.

Hunt spurned several other offers to accept Florida’s entry-level deal. He is a British Columbia native who wanted to be a Panther. With the team’s roster likely set for 2016-17, Hunt will be given the time needed to adjust his game in Springfield. It should be interesting to see how fast he can adjust to the AHL level, as an older player one would think he may come along faster than some. Regardless, we should have a good idea of his pro potential by the end of this season, and I will admit my bias that I am rooting for him: anyone who had to sit alone in dark rooms for a year with headaches deserves success.