This is Dave Hunter. I think we can learn a couple of things about the current Oilers by having a long look at this player. Hunter became an Oiler during the WHA days, as the team signed him to a free agent contract on June 1, 1978. Hunter was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens two weeks later but would never play for them (that transaction came a year later as the Oilers entered the NHL: Montreal and Edmonton agreed that the Oilers would take Dave Hunter and Ron Carter in June 9, 1979 NHL Reclaim Draft in exchange for a promise that Edmonton would not take Bill Nyrop, Gilles Lupien or Rod Langway off Montreal’s roster in the NHL Expansion Draft on june 13, 1979. Edmonton completed the deal by drafting Cam Connor).

Hunter entered the WHA in the fall of 1978 (he played a half dozen minor league games before getting called up) and was inserted (by Glen Sather) on a line with young phenom Wayne Gretzky and veteran powerwinger Bill Flett. The big scoring line that fall was Stan Weir at center, with Brett Callighen and Blair MacDonald as his wingers.

Sather was looking for useful players and felt Hunter could fill a role. Quoting the December 8, 1978 Hockey News:

  • The rookie left winger, an accomplished checker despite his inexperience, moved into a position beside Gretzky and Flett and made sound contributions on almost every shift. It was clear that Hunter’s two weeks in Dallas (CHL) had restored his confidence. In that regard, his first pro goal helped too. “I was beginning to think I’d never score,” he said after beating Mike Liut with a high shot. “The longer you go, the harder it seems to get.”

Hunter would score 7 goals that first pro season, and then play an important role on the Stanley teams until he was traded in November 1987 in the Coffey-Simpson deal. I started thinking about Hunter earlier this week while reading a Robin Brownlee item at Oilers Nation. Brownlee mentions talking to Bob Stauffer and getting his take on projected lines for the new season:

  • Gagner-Pääjärvi-Hemsky
  • Horcoff-Hall-Eberle
  • Brule-Penner-Cogliano

I find the lines interesting in that each one has a quality veteran (Hemsky, Horcoff, Penner) and each one has an emerging forward (Gagner, Hall, Brule). The third member of each line is the “Dave Hunter” player to my eye: good pedigree mixed with what should be useful tools away from the puck.

  • Pääjärvi: Played defense as a young player, he has all world speed. Speed can be useful on offense and defense and speed doesn’t slump.
  • Eberle: Smart player whose positioning and decision-making run counter to his age. He is certainly smart enough to handle a two-way role.
  • Cogliano: I wish he could watch tapes of Dave Hunter, because that guy knew how to forecheck and penalty kill. The Oilers have decided to use Cogliano in a more varied role beginning this season, and his recent interviews suggest added maturity. His is the weakest link to the Hunter comp, but I’m convinced that’s the role Edmonton wants him to fill.

The other item of interest in the Hunter story: confidence. These kids are coming in and look like world-beaters, but there are going to be times when things are going poorly and the confidence is in the shitter. It happens to everyone. I think Tom Renney is a good coach for this young team and one of the main areas he’ll need to work on is mindset. Its a tough thing to know when to encourage and when to kick in the ass (Hunter got plenty of ass-kickings), but the one thing that is absolutely true about the Hunter comparison is this: the Oilers are going to have some quality youngsters who should become excellent NHL players down the line.

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