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Prospect Update: Hunter Drew
By Thomas Harrington
A sixth round pick from 2018, Hunter Drew just completed his third professional season and made his NHL debut at the end of the year. Drew was drafted as a defenseman but made the full time switch to forward at the start of this season.
Drew had actually played a decent amount at forward during the 2020-2021 season when the Gulls were banged up and needed bodies up front. Drew had played some forward in juniors, which is one of the reasons why he was given some games up front that season. He played well enough that they decided to move him to forward for the entire year. He did play defense a couple of times when the blueline was banged up and needed bodies, but Drew largely played wing all season. The decision was made to give him more of an opportunity since the Gulls had a number of defensemen and Drew wouldn’t always have a spot in the lineup. By switching to forward he was much more likely to get playing time, and that’s certainly what happened.
Drew played in 64 games for the Gulls and scored 17 goals and 38 points, finishing third on the team in goals and points and tied for fourth in assists with 21. He was primarily used on the team’s bottom six, but saw significantly more time in their top six towards the end of the season. When the taxi squads were reinstated, he was given more ice time and opportunities and that’s when his season really took off. In February, he played in his 100th career AHL game and had a career high four point night in March. In Anaheim, Drew played in two games in April and was scoreless, but did pick up a fighting major in his first career game. He played in both of San Diego’s playoff games, scoring a goal and two points.
Of the 10 rookies to play for Anaheim this season, Drew was far and away the biggest surprise. A year ago, I didn’t even have him among my darkhorse candidates to make his NHL debut this past season. That was primarily because I expected him to still be a defenseman for at least part of the season, but even if I knew he was going to play most of the season at forward, I didn’t see this kind of offensive explosion coming from him. I thought that other defensemen had a better chance at making their NHL debut than he did, and I didn’t think he’d be given a chance on the fourth line.
I had three sets of expectations for Drew from last year, and he more than met two of them. First, I wanted him to play in more games. Well, he played in all but four games and some of those games he missed were because he was with Anaheim. My second expectation was for him to not be scratched as the Gulls pushed for the playoffs. He was a healthy scratch a lot down the stretch in the 2020-2021 season, and that certainly didn’t happen this year as he became one of the team’s most important forwards. The third expectation is the one he missed, when I was hoping he’d have a cleaner season. His penalty minutes jumped from 29 to 134, though he did have 111 penalty minutes in 20 games in Slovakia as well. Part of that increase is from playing in more games, but part of that is just because he was in the penalty box more. He did have six fighting majors, so that accounts for 30 of his penalty minutes.
This coming season I have a few expectations for Drew. First, to play in more than two NHL games. It was a great surprise to see him in a Ducks uniform, now I want to see him do it more often. I still expect him to spend most of the season in San Diego, and when he is with the Gulls I want him to continue to score goals the way he has. Finally, I want to see his penalty minutes drop. It’s fine if he gets into the occasional fight when it’s warranted, but he’s become too valuable to San Diego’s offense to be spending over two minutes a night in the penalty box.
Drew’s NHL future has changed dramatically with his move to forward. Before, the hope was that he’d be a sixth or seventh defenseman. Now I think he could be a solid fourth line grinder who can score at a decent clip. He’s got a long way to go before that happens, but I think moving him to forward could be the best thing that happens to him in terms of his NHL career. Also, the ability to play both forward and defense could be a huge advantage for him as he fights for time in the NHL.
Drew has one more year left on his entry-level contract and he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. Assuming he comes close to replicating the success he had this past year, or even surpassing it, the Ducks will absolutely sign him to an extension. It will likely be a one- or two-year deal on a two-way contract. He’s shown that he can score at the AHL level. Now he needs to show he can do that consistently and that he can score at the NHL level too.
The next prospect update will be on Bryce Kindopp.
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August 11th, 2022