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Prospect Update: Hunter Drew
By Thomas Harrington
A sixth round pick from 2018, Hunter Drew just completed his second professional season, playing in both Slovakia and the AHL.
With the delay to the start of the hockey season in North America, Drew traveled to Slovakia to play for HC Banska Bystrica to start the season. Drew has always had a cannon of a shot, but he hadn’t been given much of a chance to use it in his first season of professional hockey. With HC Banska, Drew was given pretty much free reign.
In 20 games, he scored nine goals and 16 points, highlighted by a four goal performance in mid-November. He was leading the league in goals by a defenseman and was fourth in scoring when he left to come back to North America in December.
Drew didn’t play in every game for the Gulls, but he suited up in 33 games and scored six goals and 12 points. Drew’s 66 shots were sixth on the team. He did not play in any of the three Pacific Division playoff games for the Gulls. Despite being drafted as a defenseman and playing defense overseas to start the season, Drew actually played forward for San Diego a number of times throughout the season.
The Gulls had a crowded blueline and their forward lineup was thin at times because of players in Anaheim and the taxi squad. As a result, the Gulls needed some help at forward and Drew was called upon to fill that void several times. If he makes it to the NHL, it will be as a defenseman, but the fact that he can play both positions could be beneficial for him going forward. There was one game in mid-March where Drew started the game at forward, but after Trevor Carrick left the game in the second, Drew transitioned back to playing defense for the rest of the game.
Drew largely met my expectations for him from a year ago. First, I didn’t want Drew to play in the ECHL. After getting five games with Tulsa in the 2019-2020 season, I wanted Drew to prove that he had grown beyond that league, which he was able to do. I also wanted him to play a few more games with the Gulls, which he did, playing in four more games for San Diego. I also wanted him to increase his offensive totals, which he did by four goals and five points. The only expectation that he didn’t quite meet was he was often a healthy scratch in the 2019-2020 season as the Gulls were pushing for the playoffs. This year, he was a healthy scratch far less often, but still was not utilized during the playoff tournament.
This coming season, Drew will once again be playing for the San Diego Gulls. My expectations for him will be similar to last season. First, to play more games for the Gulls. Second, to not be scratched if the Gulls are pushing for the playoffs. Finally, and this is the one that’s a little different, I’d like to see him play a cleaner game. He hasn’t picked up a ton of penalties for the Gulls, but he recorded 111 penalty minutes in those 20 games in Slovakia. Drew has started to become a more useful and versatile player, but if he spends too much time in the box, he’ll be hurting his team more than he helps them.
In terms of his NHL future, Drew still has a ways to go before we see him in an Anaheim uniform. I don’t think the pandemic adversely affected Drew that much. In fact, given the fact that he was allowed to really show his offensive potential in Slovakia, he might end up being one of the few who benefitted from this past year. Still, he needs to clean up his overall defensive play and take fewer penalties before he has a shot at the NHL.
Drew also needs to show that he’s one of San Diego’s top defensemen, which is something that he’s not been able to do. However, he’s a right-handed shot defenseman and can also play forward, two things that can be incredibly valuable at the NHL level. If he can take a big step this coming season, he’ll have an outside shot of making his NHL debut in the 2022-2023 season.
Drew has two more years left on his entry-level deal and he’ll be a restricted free agent when it’s over. Even if he’s not an NHL player by then, if he can at least improve his overall game over the next two seasons as much as he did this past season, I do think he’ll be re-signed on a two-way deal. However, if he plateaus or takes a step back, I could see him signing an AHL only deal with the Gulls or be let go as a free agent.
The next prospect update will be on Benoit-Olivier Groulx.
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June 27th, 2021