Next up in DubNetwork’s NHL Drat Profile spotlight is Portland Wiinterhawks defenseman Clay Hanus. He was named a “C” prospect in the Players to Watch rankings released by NHL Central Scouting. This means that they feel he could be drafted in the fifth, sixth or seventh rounds of the 2019 NHL Draft.
Clay Hanus seemed destined to play at the University of Minnesota. The Excelsior, Minnesota native grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis and did not know much about any paths to his dream of playing NHL hockey than the one that went through the Golden Gophers hockey program.
The best laid plans and all that.
After participating in the 2016 Neely Cup and having his 2016-17 high school hockey season derailed due to a knee injury, Hanus started to contemplate the WHL path that was introduced to him by a trusted coach.
“Well I was originally committed to the University of Minnesota. I was planning on going there and playing in the USHL last year. I had a coach at a hockey school that worked with me and he was a Canadian guy. He was also a big WHL guy and he introduced me to the Dub and what it was about. Being from Minnesota, you don’t really know much about it. From what he showed me, it sounded like a great place to be,” Hanus said.
After finally deciding to take the plunge into the WHL with the Winterhawks in April of 2017, Hanus got to know another recent signee of Portland’s, albeit one with a bigger name than his. That fellow American was New York Islanders draft pick Kieffer Bellows, who signed with Portland just under two months after Hanus did.
“Me and him both worked out with Performance Athletics with Ted Johnson. He is a really high class trainer. I knew who he was before the year and I’d see him in the weight room and I would be like – oh my gosh that’s Kieffer Bellows – an NHL first rounder. I could see how hard he worked every day in the weight room. That’s what I would strive for and I want to be a first round pick.”
The uniqueness of being around a high profile NHL prospect would fade as Hanus would get to play with three other high picks in defensemen Henri Jokiharju and Dennis Cholowski and forwards Cody Glass and Bellows.
“Biggest thing I picked up from them is how hard they worked and how much more time they put in than everyone. They were also really dedicated at getting a good night’s sleep and eating right.”
Hanus also noticed the smaller things fellow defensemen Jokiharju and Cholowski did on the ice that were key to their success.
“The little things they would do like checking around when they went back to get pucks, those little passes they make. It looks easy but it’s not.”
The 5-foot-10, 170 pound defenseman may be on the more diminutive side of things but he is a fan favorite as he does not shy away from contact and pursues opponents in the corners with a dogged determination.
“I’m a smaller defenseman, but I like to play big. I like to move the puck up the ice and use my skating to get up on the rush. My hockey IQ and passing are some of my strengths. I also like to throw the puck on net a lot from the blue line and Mike (Johnston) and Kyle (Gustafson) preach that.”
Hanus spent much of the year splitting the sixth defenseman role with 2000-born fellow rookie John Ludvig. Despite not getting a lot of ice time, the 2001-born Hanus soaked up as much as he could while playing on a team that nearly won the U.S. Division title and made the second round of the playoffs.
“It was really good. Me and Johnny have a really good relationship. This year looks like we could play together a lot. It’s a lot of fun. You want to be on a good team when you are young and being on a team with four, first-round NHL draft picks and seeing those guys every day in practice and games and being them with them off the ice. It gave you a good feel as to what it is like to be a first-rounder.”
Hanus had his season end a little earlier than he would have liked though as after playing in 56 regular season games and potting six assists, he played in just one playoff game.
Ultimately he would have offseason knee surgery.
His first hockey after the surgery was suiting up at USA Hockey’s Select 17 camp. He was named to one of two all-star teams at the end of camp and just missed being named to USA Hockey’s U-18 Hlinka Gretzky Tournament team.
“I had knee surgery at the end of the year there so that was my first time playing games. It gave me a good view of where I am compared with other players my age. I had a really good camp – a goal and two assists in the all-star game. Unfortunately, I did not end up making the team, but I have to keep my head up.”
Hanus feels his knee is strong now and he is ready for his NHL Draft eligible season.
While many of those first-round picks have moved on to professional hockey and many are expecting Portland to fall short of what they were able to do last year, Hanus feels that this team should not be counted out.
“I think we are going to be a really good team that might surprise a lot of people. People might sleep on us because we are a little younger. I think we will work our butts off and prove everyone wrong.”