Over the last two years covering the Atlanta Thrashers organization for Hockey’s Future, I’ve had the opportunity to observe many prospects. Some of them have impressed me with a great shot, slick stickhandling or raw speed. Dan Snyder was never one of those sort of players. In fact, after watching him play in the minors for the Orlando SolarBears in February of 2000, I was unimpressed by him. Snyder did not have great speed or a great offensive touch, and his modest frame made it unlikely that he would be a good bodychecker.
They say that first impressions can be deceiving, and in Dan Snyder’s case this certainly proved true. I could see that Snyder lacked star quality offensive talent, but what I could not see was his determination to succeed despite the odds. It was this determination that had allowed him to be a better than point-per-game player in the OHL during this third and fourth seasons with the Owen Sound Platters. It was this same determination that drove him to keep fighting for his dream even though he was not one of the 241 players selected in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.
After completing his junior hockey career with Owen Sound, Snyder signed a free agent contract with Atlanta and was assigned to IHL Orlando SolarBears from 1999-2001 and the AHL Chicago Wolves from 2001-2003, when Atlanta changed affiliations. In the minors, Snyder developed into a gritty two-way forward. His aggressive hitting and forechecking led him to rack up over 100 penalty minutes in each of his three full seasons in the minors. His pesky play got under the skin of opposing players.
Snyder also continued to display decent scoring ability in the minors, averaging a point every other game. Many of his goals came in clutch situations when the pressure was on and the outcome of the game hung in the balance. This was especially evident in the playoffs, where Snyder scored at a rate higher than he did during the regular season. His solid two-way game was a big factor to Orlando’s IHL championship in 2001 and Chicago’s AHL Championship in 2002.
The 2002 AHL playoff run was the moment when Snyder really showed that he could be a valuable NHL player. He was simply a pest—harassing opposing players in his own defensive end—then quickly converting a turnover into an offensive scoring opportunity for his own club. He was everywhere on the ice, playing in key defensive situations with great grit, energy and composure. When the Wolves won the 2002 AHL Championship on home ice in Chicago, it was fitting that it was Snyder’s line that produced the Calder Cup clinching overtime winner.
I came back to Atlanta after watching the Calder Cup Finals a Dan Snyder convert. The guy I had once deemed to small and slow had won me over with his spirited and heady play. I told everyone who would listen that he was ready for the NHL and could help the Thrashers checking line immediately. Unfortunately for Snyder his ability to show his stuff was hampered by a back injury during the 2002 Thrashers training camp. When his back healed Snyder played well but was returned to the minors as part of a team shake up following a winless October.
In January, a NHL roster spot opened up with an injury to Pascal Rheaume. Snyder quickly made a positive impression by fearlessly checking opposition players who were significantly bigger than him. In one particular game he drove Eric Lindros to distraction, drawing several power play opportunities for the Thrashers. He further endeared himself to the team by taking on Ottawa’s Sami Salo after he had waylaid a Thrasher. Snyder continued his gritty play until an ankle injury ended his season. He played what would be his final game on March 24th 2003.
Snyder’s inspired play was one of many positive trends that gave hope to Atlanta Thrasher fans going into the 2003-04 NHL season. After four years of seeing him play, he had become one of my favorite Thrashers to watch because it always seemed like he made something happen out on the ice. Snyder had won a job in the NHL as a checking center. Although he missed the Thrashers 2003 NHL training camp because of torn tendon in his ankle that required surgery, Snyder was expected to resume his job centering the fourth line upon his return.
The last time I saw Dan Snyder was at the Thrashers annual Meet The Team event on September 29th. Players sit at tables throughout Philips Arena signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. As things were winding down, I walked behind the table that Snyder shared with several teammates. Seeing that he was not busy, I said to him that it was time that he got healthy. Snyder slowly turned around looked at me and I explained that I was just eager to see him back out the ice again. He just smiled and nodded appreciatively as I headed out of the arena and home. As we all know, Snyder never made it home that night. I will always cherish that last moment, the quiet confidence of determined young man who made the most of the talent God gave him and achieved his dream of playing at the highest level of his profession. Dan, you left us far too soon, but we will not forget your time with us and the joy that it gave us.