Winnipeg Jets lean on Minnesota sanitation worker for their next big stars
PRIOR LAKE, Minn. - Dan Shrader weaves his garbage truck through the streets of Edina, listening to music from the 1960s and 70s.
It’s the late morning. He’s been awake since 4:45 a.m., working since 5:30 and has made more than a hundred stops by now.
At each one, he climbs out of the truck, picks up garbage cans and puts them on the truck’s dumping mechanism. There’s no automatic pickup that allows him to hide from the labor or elements.
“Whether it’s 70 or minus-70,” Shrader says, “I’m getting out at every stop and touching every can.”
As the clock approaches 11 a.m., Shrader grabs his phone from the center console. He turns off the music and dials a phone number and passcode. He gets patched into a conference call. It plays through the truck’s speakers.
On the other end of the phone: the front office of one of the NHL’s best teams and most successful scouting staffs, the Winnipeg Jets.
They want advice from the 38-year-old Prior Lake resident who is in the middle of his daily garbage route.
That may sound odd, but this is a routine that happens at least once a month.
Shrader is an amateur scout for the Jets. He’s in charge of watching the Minnesota region for prospects.
No, he’s not your typical scout. He never played in the NHL. He never played college or pro hockey. He never played organized hockey growing up, period.
He’s a full-time sanitation worker in the Twin Cities, who spends 50 hours a week driving a daily garbage route, dumping trash at the landfill and helping manage a 32-truck fleet.
He’s a husband, a father of two young boys, and because of a passion for the sport of hockey and the adrenaline rush of predicting the game’s future stars, he carves out time to scout as many as 125 games per year.
Shrader has quickly become a valued member of the Winnipeg staff, and one who assistant general manager Craig Heisinger calls “the most interesting garbage man in the world.”
How did someone with Shrader’s background land in the NHL?
How did he quickly become someone respected by so many in the hockey community from the top of the NHL to United States Hockey League general managers to heads of scouting services to high school coaches?
It’s an improbable story that starts in the stands of the 2011 NHL Draft and involves a passion, a blog, a knack for building relationships and a relentless work ethic.
A start in scouting
Shrader sat in the lower bowl of St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center by himself on a hot June night in 2011. He went to the draft as a fan.
He had been preparing for months. Shrader started a blog that season and profiled a number of players who the hometown Minnesota Wild could take with their first-round pick. His research for the blog made him curious to follow hockey prospects closer.
Shrader wasn’t always a hockey guy. He was born in Michigan during the heyday of the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys. Basketball was his first sporting interest. He moved to the Twin Cities while in elementary school and slowly became more passionate about hockey.
Although Shrader had researched a number of prospects eligible for the 2011 draft, he noticed Minnesota players -- who he had never heard of -- coming off the board. Shrader wanted to know more.
The next season, he threw himself into scouting. He began watching the Minnesota High School Elite League. He began attending more high school games. He went to college and junior games.
“That first year, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” Shrader said. “I was trying to learn as much as I could, so the next go-around, I could do it better and smarter. I learned to keep your eyes and ears open, work hard and not to say anything unless you’re absolutely sure about it. If you don’t have conviction or you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t say anything.”
Shrader kept attending games and kept blogging and tweeting. He began to build an online brand.
The website Future Considerations noticed Shrader’s reports and asked him if he could file reports for their website. He did.
A scout for the United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel, Max Giese, also noticed the reports on the blog and enjoyed Shrader’s often-humorous and sometimes self-deprecating delivery. Giese and Shrader connected, immediately became good friends and regularly communicated about prospects.
The more games that Shrader attended, the more people he met in the hockey and scouting world. It eventually delivered Shrader his first big break in 2014: a part-time scouting job for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League and another part-time gig scouting for Kyle Woodlief’s Red Line Report.
“Kyle has connections. He knows everybody,” Shrader said. “All 31 NHL teams subscribe to Red Line Report. For me, that was when I felt I had kind of hit the ‘big time.’
“By that point in 2014, I was watching everything from bantam-aged kids to potential college free agents. I watched a ton of hockey at all levels. In retrospect, that was really helpful. You could see how players progressed. You could ask yourself, ‘What did I miss in this player at that age compared to what he is at this age?’”
Landing with the Jets
The Winnipeg Jets had an opening for a Minnesota-area scout after Tavis MacMillan left that post to become an assistant coach with the University of Denver.
Giese, the old Chicago Steel scout based in Janesville, Wis., was now climbing the ladder with the Jets. The organization decided to increase Giese’s role and find a part-time scout in Minnesota.
Giese knew right away that he wanted Shrader. Others in the organization had become familiar with Shrader and were intrigued by the idea. They did some homework and background checks on him.
Winnipeg doesn’t just hire anyone to scout. The Jets, as much or more than anyone in the NHL, rely on their scouts for success. Winnipeg’s harsh winter climate is not conducive to signing big-name free agents. They have to build their teams through the draft.
The Jets reached the Western Conference Final a year ago. They played some playoff games without a single free-agent acquisition in the lineup.
The Jets were well aware that Shrader had a nontraditional background and that he never played organized hockey growing up. They didn’t care.
“Just because you didn’t play doesn’t mean you don’t know the game,” said Heisinger, the assistant general manager and director of hockey operations. “I think you’d really be handicapping yourself if you didn’t look outside the realm of ex-players. There are a lot of ex-players you would never hire. There are guys who never played who you would hire.
“That’s not something we focus on, whether you did or didn’t play. We focus on whether you have a good eye.”
A unique approach
Shrader has a reputation for his unique approach to scouting, his work ethic and the way he builds relationships.
Andy Johnson, the assistant general manager of the United States Hockey League’s Sioux City Musketeers, noticed Shrader’s keen sense for players when they met six years ago.
“He’s really made me think about how I view the game,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t have a cookie-cutter approach. He has an interesting perspective on players. He makes you open your mind a little bit. I think he’s super sharp and he’s challenged me to be better.”
Giese said Shrader’s work ethic is relentless. The Jets never have to push to get him to see more players or more games. They never have to prod him to follow up on someone. He just does it. He’s already filed more than 250 player reports this season.
Shrader also is very straightforward in his approach.
“He doesn’t ride the fence at all,” Giese said. “He’s very concise. He knows who he likes and who he doesn’t. I used to think he was too black-and-white. But now that I’ve been working with him for a few years, and I’ve seen his track record when he doesn’t want to draft a guy, his batting average is incredibly high.”
But Giese thinks what sets Shrader apart is his ability to build relationships. Shrader makes phone calls, sends out emails and replies to text messages whenever he has a couple of free minutes during the day.
“He interviews players,” Giese said. “He takes them out for coffee. He talks to people around the kids. If they’re injured, Dan knows about it. If they’re making a college commitment, Dan knows about it. By the time the draft comes around, we know everything we need to know about the players.”
That was the case when Winnipeg selected Minnesota Duluth defenseman Dylan Samberg in the second round in 2017.
Still working sanitation
The garbage route is still there.
Shrader still drives his truck five days a week for Suburban Waste Services -- a company that has grown from two garbage trucks to 32 since he was hired.
He still joins Winnipeg Jets scouting calls during the middle of his daily route. He mutes the line and waits until it's his turn to give a rundown on prospects in his region.
It has made for some interesting moments.
Once, Shrader caused a backup at the landfill, because when he got to the front of the line to dump the trash, it happened to be his turn to speak about prospects, so he couldn’t get out of his truck to release the back.
Shrader is so unassuming and avoids attention so much that there are people in the Jets organization who are just learning that he has a second job as a sanitation worker.
At this year’s draft in Dallas -- yes, seven years removed from attending as a fan, Shrader returned to the NHL Draft to help a team make picks -- Pascal Vincent, the head coach of Winnipeg’s top minor league team, asked Shrader: “So, you’re our full-time guy in Minnesota?”
Shrader said: “I’m part time. I drive a garbage truck. I work 50 hours a week there.”
Vincent stopped in his tracks. “Are you kidding me?”
Shrader answered: “It’s what I do full time. I go find players in my spare time.”
Vincent was so taken aback that he pulled Giese aside the next day and told him how inspirational it is to see how hard Shrader works every day for his family, how he has time for his wife, Jenna, and sons, Hudson (3) and Bowen (1) and how he still goes and finds players for the organization when he’s free.
Shrader credits his wife for being “incredibly understanding.” She sometimes even attends games with him.
Shrader isn’t the only part-time scout for Winnipeg. The Jets also have one in Michigan and one in Boston. But Shrader’s full-time job is the most unique, even though it rarely comes up among those in the organization.
“If he goes to our meetings for a week in Florida,” Heisinger said, “we wonder who is doing the sanitation pickup in the Minneapolis area.”
Had Shrader never connected with Winnipeg, he says he’s still be scouting. It’s his passion. It's just a big bonus that he gets to do it for the Jets.
“There’s one of about 350 jobs like it in the world,” Shrader said. “I’m absolutely privileged to do what I do. I like doing it. There’s a thrill in finding a player you like. There’s the thrill of the chase.”