As per most NHL Entry Drafts, it was a weekend of excitement - mostly in the form of “why did they even bother trading up for that kid?” and “wow... that was a reach” as well as the usual “oh my god, I can’t believe he fell that far.”
From a Ducks perspective, Bob Murray precluded the days proceedings with a tiny tidbit on Anaheim's plans for the weekend. Choice quotes from the OCRegister article that contained his plan of approach included: “We need more centers,” and “If everyone (on the Ducks’ wish list) is gone, I could move back and get a bunch of other things. We believe in some people later. At nine, if any one of three guys is there we’re going with them. I need somebody to jump in there (in the Ducks’ lineup next season).”
Most in the Ducks fandom that had been following the lead up to the draft speculated that those three players in question were Trevor Zegras, Kirby Dach and Dylan Cozens - perhaps Peyton Krebs with one of those three swapped out as an alternative. I tried to argue rather uselessly that Zegras might not fit that “need somebody to jump in there” part of the quote given he is a BU commit but I was happy to be proven wrong.
The other interesting note was that David McNab, Martin Madden and co. had clearly already gotten a feeling that some of the players on their list were on nobody else's radar. This has proven to work out well for the Ducks in the past (Rickard Rakell and Josh Manson are examples), but it doesn’t make it any easier for us Ducks fans who see a player with proven results available to be taken be passed over in favour of one we know much much less about. That said, let’s break down each Ducks selection over the weekend with a view to how things look now for the Anaheim pipeline.
Round 1 - 9th Overall - Trevor Zegras, C, USNDP
As I stated earlier, I am happy to be proven wrong. It came down to Zegras or Krebs and the Ducks seemingly did not hesitate in taking the Bedford, New York native. Comparing the post-selection quotes from Murray about him with those said pre-draft, a common theme is “creativity and being unafraid to try things”. This speaks to the main strength in Zegras’ game - his unique playmaking ability, which was rated by many pundits as being second only to Jack Hughes in the entire draft. He is committed to Boston University for the next season but curiously did state in a quote to the Orange County Register. “I’m pretty well decided on BU, but it’s not set in stone.” With the recent buyout of Corey Perry it is clear that Anaheim is finally ready to move forward and join the “new NHL,” and as serviceable as Getzlaf has been in his post-prime years, it is time to find his replacement. No pressure kid, but an entire fan-base is counting on you to be that new guiding light.
Round 1 - 29th Overall - Brayden Tracey, LW, Moose Jaw Warriors
I am always going to remember this pick because with two selections left before the Ducks made their second pick of the first round, I had already started typing up the article with Raphaël Lavoie as the pick; that’s how sure I was the Ducks were going for a sniper from the Q. So although I had briefly read up on Tracey the very morning of the draft, I was more than mildly surprised by the selection given the aforementioned Lavoie was still available, as well as CHL leading goal-scorer Arthur Kaliyev.
This selection reeks of Madden. Tracey wasnt even in the CHL two seasons ago; he was sent back to midget to work on his game. You cannot ignore 1.23 points per game as a rookie, the most by a first year player in the WHL, 16th overall in the league in both points per game, and (yes I know its a junk stat) +/- with a +33.
Anaheim does need goal-scoring and they do need a compliment to Zegras; perhaps they are hoping Tracey can be that second half of a dynamic duo in the same vein that Perry was to Getzlaf. Tracey potted 36 goals last season as a rookie, two more than Dylan Cozens- and the same amount as Nolan Foote and Brett Leason. This kid didn't exactly come from nowhere; he just wasn't talked about as much as some of those other names. However, the way his development has been moving and at such an accelerated rate, this pick might be looked back on in years to come as being one of the most underrated of the 2019 draft.
Round 2 - 39th Overall - Jackson LaCombe, D
It was painfully obvious that Anaheim needed to restock the now very barren defensive prospect pool, but I would have been very happy had they taken one of the two very talented forwards on my list still available at the 39th selection. Sadly the Kings took Kaliyev with the 33rd selection and Lavoie was nabbed by the Oilers just one pick before, but Nils Hoglander was still there at 39 as was Brett Leason. I will refrain from being overly critical as Madden has proven time and again that he knows what he is doing and particularly when it comes to taking defencemen who have little to no buzz about them at the time of their drafting. He also has an eye for blue liners who are converted forwards, a strategy that doesn’t always produce results. But as we have seen with Josh Manson and Brandon Montour, if Madden is involved, it usually works out well for the Ducks.
LaCombe was ranked 36th amongst North American skaters by Central Scouting and on average was ticketed to go somewhere in the 50s range, so taking him at 39 wasn't too much of a reach in the grand scheme of things. The main concern, however, is that, as impressive as his points totals are (89 points in 54 games), he is doing that against high school competition. The Ducks are taking the risk in assuming he can continue that strong play against tougher competition at the University of Minnesota. Yes, that’s right. Another University of Minnesota Ducks draft pick...or AUMDDP for short.
LaCombe will join 2018 3rd and 4th round selections Blake McLaughlin and Jack Perbix under the tutelage of Coach Bob Motzko next year. I am sure that former Gull Stu Bickel being an Assistant Coach for the Gophers under Motzko is purely coincidence.
All of that said, while watching some of the tape on LaCombe, he reminds me a lot of Scott Niedermayer. Fearless in both zone exit and entry with swift smooth strides that allow him to swing around opposing players with ease, holding onto the puck until he sees a play he is happy with or to draw the opposition closer to him before making a pass. There are plenty of knocks on his game, particularly given he is still learning the defensive side of the game, but the raw tools are there if he can continue to progress.
This could be looked back on as another smart selection. The Ducks do not need to hurry his development either. With the top three locked down for another 4-5 years, the inclusion of Guhle, and the eventual emergence of Mahura to join Larsson on the third pair once he is ready, LaCombe is a project the Ducks can afford to wait for.
Round 4 - 101st Overall - Henry Thrun, D
Not having a third round selection owing to the Sami Vatanen/Adam Henrique trade kind of stings. The Ducks used the New Jersey pick from the deal last year to select the previously mentioned Blake McLaughlin, and the Devils returned the favour this year by taking Belurussian defender Daniil Misyul with what would have been Anaheim's pick at 70th. Just as a throwback- and because I am a sadomachist like that - Nathan Legare was taken by the Penguins just four picks later. Ah, what could have been.
But I digress. The Ducks did not have a third round pick and in the fourth round they were quick to pounce on yet another USNDP product, the 6’2”, 190lb left-shooting defensemen Henry Thrun.
Thrun was ranked 39th among North American skaters by Central Scouting and projected to go in the 80s range, so getting him in the fourth round was a bit of a boon for the Ducks. Described as non-flashy but smart defensively, the Southborough MA native had 23 points in 28 games for the USNDP Juniors in the USHL and collected an assist through seven games of action with the US team at the U18s.
Pronman descibed him as “one of the smartest defensemen available in the draft” but concerns lie over his skating. The prospect specialist for the Athletic worries that his stride might not be able to match a pro-pace. What excites me most about Pronman’s depiction of Thrun, however, is both his commentary on his smarts but also his ability to move: “He’s such a poised, patient puck-mover, he picks apart defenses with his breakouts and seam passes”. When I read that I think of Hampus Lindholm.
Again like LaCombe, the Ducks can afford to wait while allowing Thrun to work on his skating and further develop. He starts that journey at Harvard this coming season under former Duck Ted Donato and alongside fellow Ducks prospect Jack Badini.
Round 5 - 132nd Overall - Trevor Janicke, C/RW
Dipping into the USHL with a later round selection once again, the Ducks went for Minnesota native Trevor Janicke with their 5th round pick.
Ranked 119th among North American skaters by Central Scouting and ticketed to go somewhere in the 5th or 6th round, this reads like a low-risk, high-reward selection.
Janicke put up 48 points in 58 games for Central Illinois in the USHL last year and will be heading to Notre Dame as a freshman in the fall. He is described as a two-way forward with a bullet of a shot and is very smart as well as a competitive player. Knocks on his game are his size and skating, which makes me immediately think of Kevin Roy, who was taken out of the USHL in the 4th round of 2012 and had scouts saying very similar things at the time.
Of course, Janicke has not put up anywhere near the numbers that Roy did in his draft year, but his story is an example of what can happen when smaller players get overlooked for their size and their perceived lack of skating ability. It should be noted that Janicke skated with the US U18s and scored two goals in seven games for the silver-medal-winning squad.
It would be a curious notion of fate that the Ducks select a player of similar stature and description as Roy in the year that he likely moves on to further his career.
Round 6 - 163rd Overall - William Francis, D
Four words to describe Francis right off the bat: This. Kid. Is. Huge.
Towering at 6’5” and weighing in at 212lbs, the Shoreview, Minnesota native was ranked 75th among North American skaters by Central Scouting. He was not projected by many scouting agencies but McKeens had him ranked 126th overall.
He had 10 points in 59 games for Cedar Rapids in the USHL and is described by Pronman as having a seemingly NHL profile, but that his hockey sense scared away a lot of scouts, adding that he has some wow-caliber flashes.
The right-shooting defenseman is slated to attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth next season. There isn't a heck of a lot more I can find on him, so I am going to go ahead and assume he is the next Jaycob Megna 2.0. The Ducks like taking defenders with size and hope that the upside develops later - I am betting that is what they are doing with Francis here.
Round 6 - 186th Overall - Mathew Hill, D
Rounding out the Ducks picks in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and marking their fourth defensemen selected, Anaheim used the 6th round pick acquired from the Blues for Michael Del Zotto to select 6’3” and 187 lb Mathew Hill of the Barrie Colts.
The left shooting defensemen was unranked by Central Scouting and had 13 points in 65 games for the Colts last season. He reads as a stay at home defender with high defensive IQ but whose puck skills are lacking.
I am not really sure what to make of this but Hunter Drew turned into a pleasant surprise, drafted under similar circumstances last season. Here is hoping the Ducks scouting department have grabbed a rare find here and not a dud.
Checking off what the Ducks needed heading into the draft and what they got:
- Future Getzlaf replacement: CHECK
- Goal scoring complement for said future Getzlaf replacement: POSSIBLE CHECK
- More defencemen for the pipeline of all shapes and sizes: YES CHECK CHECK
- No more goalies please we have lots of those: CHECK
- More goal scoring though? TBA
Overall this draft leaves me cautiously optimistic, but also concerned that some proven snipers who were available were not selected. Addressing their goal scoring issues is something the Ducks will need to pay attention to in next year’s draft.