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Duck Tales: David McNab

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In April of 1993, while still plotting their entry into the NHL, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim announced that they had reached a contract agreement with New York Rangers scout David McNab.  It was an interesting item, especially when you consider the fact that the Rangers allowed him to interview for the position on the condition that he would continue to work the 1993 Draft for them that summer.  The Ducks were essentially saying, "we're hiring a new scout who, a few months from now after the Draft, will start working for us in some capacity."  If that's news, then this guy must be good. 

And he is.  Appropriate for his 6'6" frame, McNab's scouting career is saturated with Bunyan-sized myths.  He put 3,000 miles on a rental car in one weekend.  He once drove from Minneapolis to Boston by himself in 26 hours.  His travel on Northwest Airlines alone once tolled 1.5 million miles, and his 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass topped out at 275,000.  

That car, in particular, seemed to define McNab, who took to driving as a way to make money as a rookie scout.  His first scouting job came under his father, former NHLer and then Washington Capitals GM Max McNab, and David was determined to work for free to prove himself.  That left him with an expense account and reimbursements for mileage as his only source of income.  But he used that to his advantage, employing his father's old-fashioned approach to the job.  He drove long distances to see players, then he drove them to dinner afterwards.  In a short drive and a quick meal, he got to know the wet-behind-the-ears versions of NHL greats like Chris Chelios, Mike Richter and Mike Modano.  And they talked about everything, not just hockey.  

It was on these thankless trips to faraway rinks that McNab made friends with fellow scout Jack Ferreira, who would rise through the NHL ranks and become the Mighty Ducks' first general manager.  When Ferreira brought McNab to the Ducks in '93, he was no doubt hiring a friend, but he was also hiring an extremely talented résumé, which had the potential to climb the ranks and become Ducks general manager just as Ferreira had.

Though he was born in Vancouver, McNab actually lived in San Diego for some time while his father served as general manager of the Gulls.  He played his youth hockey in Southern California from the sixth grade until he graduated from Point Loma High School in 1973.  From there, he moved on to the University of Wisconsin, where he would serve as the backup goaltender for the 1977 championship team.  His career as a player ended at that point, but he went to work for his father as a scout for the Capitals.  To fight any appearance of nepotism, he refused a salary until his second year on the job, and when his father was fired in 1981, David left, too.  He signed on with the Hartford Whalers, and he was promoted to Director of Player Recruitment in the last two years of his seven-year stint.  He then spent four years with the Rangers and was named their Director of Player Personnel.  When he came to the Ducks in 1993, the 35 year-old McNab already had 15 years of NHL scouting experience to match one of the most respected surnames in hockey.

His impact on Anaheim was immediate.  Going into the 1994 Supplemental Draft, McNab was convinced he'd found a player from the University of Western Ontario.  This was unlikely for two reasons.  First, less than ten NHL players had emerged from the now-defunct Supplemental Draft.  And second, it was extremely rare to find NHL talent in a Canadian college.  In fact, there were only two scouting tapes available for this player, and when the Ontario coach called McNab to get them back, he claimed he'd lost them.  He even issued a gag order on the scouting staff so that none of them would tip their hand before the Draft.  And they didn't.  The Panthers picked defenseman Sean McCann first, and the Ducks claimed center Steve Rucchin second.  Rucchin would play ten years in Anaheim.  He pivoted the dominant Kariya-Selanne line, and he was a key figure in all three of the team's pre-Lockout playoff appearances.

In his brief time as Director of Player Personnel, McNab oversaw the draft boards that brought key players like Pavel Trnka, Oleg Tverdosky, Mike Lecerlc, Ruslan Salei and Matt Cullen to the Ducks, and he was soon promoted for his efforts.  When Pierre Gauthier moved on to Ottawa in 1995, the team named McNab his successor as Assistant GM.  McNab would also take over as General Manager of the team's AHL affiliate, the Baltimore Bandits.  And perhaps his greatest contribution to the Ducks was uprooting the team's minor squad from their dismal circumstances in Baltimore to a very successful setup in Ohio.  The Cincinnati Mighty Ducks teams of the late 90s and early 2000s churned out some of the best talent in recent memory.

When the Ducks were sold in 2005, new GM Brian Burke extended offers to many of the team's legacy personnel, and McNab decided to stay, even if it meant a slight demotion.  In the post-Lockout years, one of McNab's pet projects began to receive national attention.  As the Ducks raced to the Stanley Cup, onlookers were shocked at how many members of their lineup were former NCAA undrafted free agents.  Andy McDonald, Chris Kunitz, Dustin Penner, Ryan Shannon and Ryan Carter were all signed by McNab.  And what's more, they were signed under the previous collective bargaining agreement, when the maximum contract was much higher and signing an undrafted free agent was a much bigger risk.  

People certainly signed NCAA free agents before McNab, but they rarely got it as right as he did.  There's a Bunyan-sized story of McNab rooting against Colgate and Andy McDonald in a playoff game with Michigan.  Fearing the number of NHL scouts that were in the audience, McNab hoped against hope that McDonald would fall flat on his face and keep the Ducks from a bidding war.  As it turns out, McNab had nothing to worry about.  McDonald signed with Anaheim, and he even credited his decision to McNab's efforts.  It was the the lunches, the level of attention, the fact that he could be playing in a rink in the middle of nowhere and look up into the stands and see McNab there that made him want to come to the Ducks.  McDonald has gone on to a long and steady career, while the jewel of that year's NCAA free agent class, Steven Reinprecht, has had trouble sticking in a lineup.

Perhaps what's most impressive about McNab is that his dedication to promoting young talent goes beyond the players he is trying to scout and sign.  In the early days of his career, he would use his position in Hartford to send baseball caps, media guides and handwritten letters to prospects he wanted to encourage.  And at the end of an almost 20 year NHL career, goaltender Curtis Joseph personally thanked McNab for that encouragement.  He pointed out that they had never met and McNab had no reason to give him so much attention, but without it, Joseph doubts he would have been willing to reach for his dream of being a professional hockey player.

After Brian Burke left, Bob Murray reinstalled McNab as Assistant General Manager and General Manager of the minor league squad, which put him back on the road for the Ducks GM job that Jack Ferreira started him on 17 years ago.  McNab oversaw the end of the only Iowa CHOPS season, and he semi-successfully shuffled the Ducks prospects this year without an AHL franchise.  But next season, he will be setting up the team's affiliate in Syracuse.  He's already poaching the NCAA for two-way contracts as well as AHL-only contracts and is well on his way to recreating the Cincinnati days and building the Ducks of the future (which he will hopefully GM).

Despite the promotion, McNab almost left the Ducks last year after interviewing for the General Manager position in Minnesota. If he had gotten the job, it would have meant not only the departure of Anaheim's longest tenured employee but also a veritable sea change in the franchise's management.  It was already hard to imagine what this team would look like without longtime goaltending coach François Allaire, but it's impossible to imagine a team without the infusion of McNab's young and well-developed talent.  Every successful Ducks team has been stamped with their influence.  

Whenever Bob Murray leaves-- and for whatever reason --if anyone but David McNab succeeds him, it will be the first true new era in Anaheim history. 


Footnote Articles:

More of this was constructed from memory than I would like to admit, but I would recommend Rocking the Pond by Dean Chadwin as a great resource for first year Ducks history and the story of bringing McNab aboard.  This article also utilizes some of the McNab profiles done by the LA Times below and, from memory, many of the McNab stories told by the LA Times staff.  I wish I could track them all down.

This Job Leads McNab to The Ends Of The Earth by Robyn Norwood, July 1, 1995

McNab Goes Extra Mile for Good of The Ducks by Helene Elliott, May 13, 2006