Almost-Panther Hyman focused on helping the Oilers win the Cup

“I was at a ton of development camps with them, but I never got a chance to play for the Panthers. They traded my rights

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Zach Hyman could have been wearing the other jersey in this Stanley Cup Final, folks.

Hyman was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 draft by former Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon, their 11th pick that June, but after Hyman’s fourth and final year playing for Red Berenson at U of Michigan, he and Tallon couldn’t get a contract done.

So Tallon, who thought he had hit a home run with the late-round pick after Hyman became a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award for the NCAA’s top hockey player, regretfully traded Hyman’s rights to Toronto for centre Greg McKegg, now playing for the Oilers Bakersfield team, in June, 2015.

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The backstory to all of this: then Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, who made the trade for Hyman after finding out from Tallon he had a player he couldn’t sign, was once the youngest ever NHL player agent and an adviser to the current Edmonton Oilers star, who leads the playoffs with 14 goals. He’s tied with Fernando Pisani’s run in 2006, and only five back of Jari Kurri and Reggie Leach’s NHL record 19.

But more on him not signing later. And the pursuit of the great Kurri.

The Edmonton Oilers first-line, first-unit power-play winger laughed heartily when asked about his Panthers on-ice days. OK, a day. You can’t count the development camps he was at. Those are in the summer.

Really, the day he remembers most was the day he was drafted and got a Panthers jersey with the draft in Los Angeles 14 years ago.

“I was drafted by them, so this is pretty much closed circle,” said Hyman, as he prepared for his first Stanley Cup Final against the team that gave him his first NHL jersey.

“Looking back, it was a huge moment as a young player. Once you get drafted it’s a huge milestone, because you’re thinking an NHL team recognized me as a prospect to play in the NHL,” said Hyman, who was drafted out of Junior A Hamilton.

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Zach Hyman, drafted in the fifth round by the Florida Panthers
Zach Hyman, drafted in the fifth round by the Florida Panthers, poses for a portrait during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on June 26, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Harry How /Getty Images

Most players going in the fifth round of a draft aren’t at the draft.

But Hyman was. He had heard Florida might take him, from anywhere from the second to the seventh. “That’s all I needed to hear. I said, ‘I’m going.’ My grandparents lived in Palm Springs and they came in for it. My parents were there, my brothers, my girlfriend, who’s now my wife. It was a cool moment for me. Coming out of the stands, putting on a jersey, doing all the interviews as a fifth-round pick.”

“I was at a ton of development camps with them, but I never got a chance to play for the Panthers. They traded my rights. They had a stocked prospect group when I was leaving Michigan. Before that, I wasn’t ready to sign in season two or three (of college). I took four years to develop.”

He doesn’t tear up seeing the Panthers jersey today.

“I was drafted by them but I didn’t have much of a relationship with the players. (Sasha) Barkov was around then, drafted a few years after me. He’s a phenomenal player today, big, strong, can skate. He’s underrated. If he played in Toronto or Boston, he would be talked about more. He’s a superstar,” said Hyman of the two-time Selke award winner, who will likely be checking Connor McDavid.

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Hyman plays in the large shadow of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton, but he scored a whopping 68 goals this season, including playoffs, playing on right wing with 97 and on the best power play in the league. Hyman and Sam Reinhart, the Florida forward who has 65 goals this year — 57 in regular-season, eight in the playoffs, and an unrestricted free-agent July 1 — are the breakout stars of 2023-24.

Which pains Tallon, who couldn’t sign him back then.

“Zach sent me an autographed copy of one of his (children’s) books,” said Tallon.

“Dale? Good guy. I liked him. We had self-published it some before it went to Penguin,” said Hyman, who wrote the book while still in school. “It would have been Hockey Hero.”

Zach Hyman #11 of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Goalie Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens watches for the puck around Zach Hyman #11 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Five of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on May 27, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Claus Andersen /Getty Images

Now, he’s one, but back then …

Tallon, now working as a pro scout for Vancouver, was more than willing to sign McDavid’s winger to an sweetened NHL contract in 2015 that would have burned the first year of the three-year deal coming out of college, even if he didn’t play NHL games right away. So, really just a two-year deal with the player until he became a restricted free agent.

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The holdup was getting to play right away coming out of college, like many free-agent stars who dip their toe in the NHL waters. Tallon couldn’t guarantee him that.

“We hadn’t clinched a playoff spot yet,” said Tallon. “I didn’t want to put a player into the lineup and have to pull somebody out. If we were out of the playoffs, different story,” said Tallon, who had no problems with contract framework.

“I don’t mind burning a year so the player can get a better number in the second contract,” he said. But it never came to that.

“You never know what you’re getting (with fifth-round picks). He went to Toronto and look at him. That’s the way it goes sometimes,” said Tallon.

Hyman doesn’t know how exactly the contract talks failed.

“He’s probably right,” said Hyman.

“I can’t remember all the way back but I think it’s the agent-negotiation thing, where the agent’s saying, ‘Hey we can get you a game.’ I know a lot of college free agents and part of the deal is they get a couple of games to get some NHL experience, and then you go to training camp the next year and do what you have to do,’’’ said Hyman.

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Hyman Oilers Stars Game 6
Zach Hyman (18) of the Edmonton Oilers, celebrates his first period goal against the Dallas Stars at Rogers Place in Edmonton on June 2, 2024. Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia

Teams have slept on Hyman throughout this season, but if anybody thought he was going to hit the wall after his 54 league goals, that’s far from reality. Again, the same with fellow right wing Reinhart, who keeps finding soft spots in the high slot, most often on the power play, with an overall shooting percentage close to 25 per cent.

That’s probably not sustainable. Same with Hyman’s career year, but for now …

Nobody gets into high danger areas more than Hyman. He has 34 high-danger attempts at five-on-five in the playoffs, the most of anybody. It’s 61 if you count power plays. He has 48 shots from the danger spots. And, of course, 10 of his 14 goals have come within 10 feet of the net.

“I’ve never skated fast or had a great shot. I’ve just had a knack of being around the net,” said Hyman, with the Oilers’ disturber Corey Perry saying lots of people will go there, but don’t much like staying there with the punishment coming.

“It’s the way I’ve played … early in Toronto I did, too, as a net-front, but I couldn’t score and I would go and get the puck in the corner (and start over again),” he said. “But you learn where to be to be a threat as you get older.”

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Now, he’s chasing Kurri, after catching Pisani, who couldn’t pay for a meal in Little Italy when he had his out-of-body 14 playoff goals in the spring of 2006, as Oilers got to the Cup Final against Carolina.

Has he thought of that Kurri run in 1985, the Oilers second Cup?

“No, I just care about winning. I just want to win, that’s it,” said Hyman.

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