Some guys have hockey in their blood from the moment they were born. I think you could safely say that about Pittsburgh Penguins amateur scout Dan McLean, as he possesses a keen eye for detail in hockey and in life that has helped propel him to a successful scouting career in the NHL.
McLean joined the Penguins scouting staff in 2017 after a 20-year association with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League (WHL). During his time with the team, he went from scouting a few games a year in Central Alberta in the mid-90s to eventually becoming Seattle’s director of scouting in 2015. He was instrumental in scouting NHLers such as Ethan Bear and Mathew Barzal and helped to build the Thunderbirds into WHL Champions and Memorial Cup finalists in 2017.
Born in Lloydminster, McLean took to hockey like a duck takes to water, spending his weekday evenings and weekends at the Civic Center and at the Archie Miller and Russ Robertson arenas. Dan’s father Bob, who worked for Alberta Power, accepted a transfer to the rival town of Vermilion, Alberta when he was 13 years old.
“It may have been only 45 minutes up the road but seemed a million miles away,” says McLean. However, it didn’t take him long to make friends as he got involved in hockey right from the get-go in Vermilion. His hockey career in the Vermilion area eventually took him to the hometown Jr. B Tigers where he was instrumental in helping them become Western Canadian Jr. B Champions in 1985.
McLean was also a member of the Dewberry Mustangs of the Sask Alta Sr. League in eastern Alberta and helped them capture two championship banners in 1988 and 1989.
From Australia to the WHL
After leaving the Vermilion area, hockey never left McLean. He eventually got into coaching Bantam AAA in Calgary, and through some contacts in the hockey world found himself living and playing hockey in Australia in 1993. A year later, McLean found himself coaching Australia’s National Jr. Hockey Team, leading the team to the 1994 Australia/Asia Championships in Beijing, China. Dan and his wife Michelle moved back home in 1995 and settled in Central Alberta. While coaching the Bantam AAA Red Deer Rebels in 1996, he was approached by current Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Darryl Plandowski, then a scout with the Thunderbirds, to help find talent in the Red Deer area. That’s when Dan’s scouting career really began.
Combining a Respect for Analytics With Good Old Intuition
It seems like in today’s NHL you’re either on the side of analytics or traditional scouting. McLean is in both camps. He has a healthy respect for analytics and has a keen eye for not only scouting talent but finding out what makes a player tick. “I like to shake a player’s hand, and make eye contact,” says McLean. “I’m as interested in a player’s background as I am in their performance on the ice. It takes a certain mentality to consistently perform at a high level, and those are the kind of players, people I’m searching for.”
The Penguins are still considered one of the best teams in the NHL, but as Crosby told 32 Thoughts the Podcast, their goal is to win now. This is the time when McLean and the Penguins’ front office’s hard work can really pay off.
A Rewarding Career That’s Just Getting Started
McLean’s scouting career in the NHL is now into its fifth season. In terms of NHL scouting careers, you could say he’s just getting started.
There are a lot of people pulling for McLean, including me. I’ve had the good fortune of knowing Dan for over 40 years and being a teammate of his in hockey and football back in the 80s. He’s one of those good guys who you just can’t help cheering for. My personal hope is that the Penguins win the Stanley Cup soon so that he can bring Lord Stanley’s Mug back to Vermilion for a day. I’m imagining the Cup out at Brad Hine’s gravel pit or around the fire at Dead Deer Road. All I know is, what a great celebration that would be.