Mark Hunter talks Maple Leafs future, NHL...
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Jan 17, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Mark Hunter talks Maple Leafs future, NHL challenges and Connor McDavid

Leaf director of player personnel adjusts from London Knights role to life in big leagues

Our London

Mark Hunter is a former NHL player and co-owner of the London Knights, one of the jewels of the Ontario Hockey League. Under Hunter’s guidance, the Knights won the Memorial Cup in 2005 and the OHL championship twice (2012-13). He was also general manager until this season, when he was hired by the Maple Leafs as director of player personnel. Tongues are already wagging that he’s the heir apparent to Dave Nonis as the Leafs’ next general manager. For the record, he pooh-poohs that notion. The Star sat down with Hunter to discuss a variety of topics. Here’s an edited version:

So, in your new job, what takes up most of your day?

Travelling. That takes a lot of my time. I’ll give you an example. I did Detroit and Chicago, then three hours to Dubuque (Iowa), and then drive back to Chicago and fly back to Detroit and then go home for a bit. Then I’m going to Hamilton and I’m gone for another seven days. That takes a lot of time, getting where you want to go.

You had a pretty sweet gig in the OHL, a jewel franchise in the Knights. Why leave for the Leafs?

I’ve done it (junior hockey) for 20 years. I love hockey. I wouldn’t be doing it this long (if I didn’t): playing for 12 years — I was an average player — then I coached and managed for 20 years. But I needed a different challenge. So I was approached by (Leafs president Brendan Shanahan) and Nonis. You know what? It’s the pros, and the Leafs are the jewel of the National Hockey League. It’s something as a kid . . . you see the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now to be a part of it, it’s special. . . . I need the change to get my juices going again. Let’s see what I can do you at the next level.

Is there a part of the job that has surprised you?

I like watching hockey. It’s a little different than the OHL — it’s worldwide. I have been to Europe. When you are in the OHL, you’re scouting junior A and midget games in Michigan and Ontario, which is easier to do. Now you’re watching professional teams. The kids are more developed in general, because it’s pro.

What’s the difference, for someone as competitive as an ex-athlete, between competing on the ice and competing to build a team?

I’ve been out of the game long enough. The playing bug is gone. You going to be very rational (about) what you’re doing when you’re managing and scouting. You remember as a player that you had bad games. These kids will have bad games. So you give them another look, if it’s a prospect you like.

What’s the difference between building a winner in the OHL and building one in the NHL?

Sometimes in the OHL, you can regroup on one big trade. We did that with sending Steve Mason to Kitchener. You regroup right away. But you can’t do that in the National Hockey League. You have to be very patient, and you have to develop players and draft properly. (For Mason, 19 at the time, Hunter’s Knights got 18-year-old forward Phil Varone and 18-year-old defenceman Steve Tarasuk plus picks in the second, third and fourth rounds of the 2011 OHL draft and a second-rounder in 2012.)

Do you want to be a GM one day?

It’s too early. All I’m looking at is to do my best possible job. From the amateur side, I’ve got good people to work with in Dave Morrison and Steve Kasper and Jim Hughes. We’re trying to bring the best possible prospects to the Leafs.

Being an OHL guy, what do you think of Connor McDavid?

He could play in the National Hockey League right now and get 50, 60 points, I think. That’s how good I think he is. He does things (at) such high speed it is ridiculous, and the game is so much about speed now. And he has an extra gear, which is impressive for any hockey player.

Toronto Star

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