The Rookie Face-off kicked off in Irvine at Great Parks with new Gulls Coach Kevin Dineen making his re-debut for the Ducks behind the bench.
The game saw the Rookies start slow as they felt each-other out, while the Kings struck first on a defensive breakdown in front; however the Ducks regained their composure and dominated for the rest of the tilt - eventually coming out 4-1 winners.
The physicality and hitting appeared to be on another level from what we have come to expect from prospect tournament games as it seems Dineen has already emphasized a heavier element to the overall team effort. Players were finishing checks all over the ice and even some of the smaller forwards were surprising the crowd with ferocious hits.
The forward lines and defensive pairings went as such:
Comtois - Steel - Terry
Sherwood - Lundestrom - Kopacka
Jones - Groulx - Morand
Gates - Dostie - Sideroff
Guhle - Drew
Benoit - Davidson
Hayes - Mahura
Player evaluations for those whom I managed to get some notes on are as follows:
#2 - Brendan Guhle: Had some good speed and did not have any defensive breakdowns but didn't particularly stand out either. He was largely outshone by his defensive partner Hunter Drew.
#34 - Sam Steel: Appears to have picked up where he ended the year last season in the Gulls’ postseason drive. He was making magical passes, driving play and had the Ducks fourth goal on the power-play, firing a hard and high wrist shot top corner from the left hash-marks.
#48 - Isaac Lundestrom: Looks to have bulked up a little but still has the same speed and deceptive acceleration. He appeared to gain confidence as the game went on and made several coast to coast carries - sliding through the Kings’ neutral zone coverage with ease. I am very excited to see what he can do centering the Gulls top line this season.
#49 - Max Jones: It is always good when Jones gets on the board and even better when he gets on the board early. His game-tying goal was pure Jones - winning the battle in front to get the tip on the Groulx shot in close. He was in the thick of most things and generally drove play on his line. His confidence levels were evident throughout as he attempted a between the legs shot in-close, which would have looked very nice had he pulled it off.
#50 - Benoit-Olivier Groulx: Groulx centered Jones and Morand and although the familiarity between he and Morand (both spent last year with Halifax) was evident, he was the least noticeable on the line. He didn't make any bad plays- but he didn't stand out either. He collected an assist on the Jones tally, but one more year in Junior should definitely help him round out his game.
#53 - Maxime Comtois: The Ducks didn't appear to assign a Captain or Alternates for this match, but it felt like Comtois was providing a lot of leadership despite not being one of the more experienced of those among his peers. He had the Ducks’ second goal - a nice tip in front from a Josh Mahura point shot. I have said it before but I think it comes down to he and Jones for the last (waivers-free) spot on the Ducks and competition will be fierce.
#54 - Antoine Morand: Morand grabbed my attention first with a huge hit along the boards in the opening period - which was surprising given his relative size. He then continued to impress with nifty but neat little plays including some nice moves to exit the zone on his own while it seemed like the Kings had the lanes sealed off. He had an assist on the Jones goal - largely owed to good hustle to keep the zone and distribute the puck. The fact that the Gulls lost so many veteran players this off-season is tempered by the arrival of Morand - he seems ready for pro hockey.
#55 - Brent Gates Jr: Gates played on the fourth line with Dostie and Sideroff while also seeing a good number of penalty killing minutes. He displayed good energy and a willingness to engage, but wasn't really standing out in terms of showing any game breaking speed or skilled plays. The Gulls’ roster is already looking very crowded, so at the very least he will be looking to solidify a spot on the fourth line or one on of the veteran lines much like he did last year when he first joined the Gulls as a Black Ace.
#57 - Alex Dostie: Right from his first shift you could tell Dostie has benefited immensely from the ECHL postseason run he enjoyed this past spring. His confidence levels were a stark contrast to the kind of player I saw struggle to hold down a spot with the Gulls last season. It really was a night-and-day difference. He made a nice pass out front to Terry which resulted in a high danger scoring chance and looked very good in all aspects of the game including holding his own on the penalty kill alongside Kiefer Sherwood. It is a very positive sign for the undersized forward in the final year of his entry level deal.
#59 - Jack Kopacka: Most of you might be aware of my bias here. I believe Kopacka will be looked upon to fill some of the scoring void left by various key Gull departures and once again I couldn't say a bad thing about his game. He played on a line with speedsters Isaac Lundestrom and Kiefer Sherwood but was easily able to keep pace due to something I have always heralded him for: his deceptive amount of speed for such a large frame. He had one very good play where he stripped a Kings’ defender of the puck in the offensive zone to create his own chance but could not tuck the puck behind their net-minder in close.
#61 - Troy Terry: What can you say? Terry probably shouldn't have played in this tournament, but it was great to see him back. He appears more willing to shoot the puck more as he had five shots on the night, second only to Sherwood’s eight. He was also used as a distributor on the point for the first Power Play unit - noted by our own Jake Rudolph - to generate opportunities in the same way that Getzlaf has moving along the half wall to find seams. The best example of which was his dish to Sam Steel for the Ducks fourth goal.
#64 - Kiefer Sherwood: The happiest story from last season could turn into the most unfair story for this season. Sherwood proved once again that he is leaps and bounds ahead of most of his peers for speed, positioning and awareness, but unfortunately it’s a numbers game in Anaheim and given the talent the Ducks have on the wing (right now Sherwood has Jones and Comtois ahead of him for a spot on the team) it is probably likely he ends up with the Gulls until a spot opens up due to injury or trade. It’s another reason why we all lament the Deslauriers deal. He had a goal on a partial breakaway setup by Isaac Lundestrom and was all over the ice causing turnovers, helping out defensively or laying the body where he could. He set the tone for another very strong case to make the Ducks out of camp but like I said - the numbers are sadly not in his favor. It should be noted he has just ten more NHL games to play before he must clear waivers so perhaps it would be best he sticks with the Gulls until a permanent spot is created with the Ducks.
#72 - Drew Hunter: I tweeted that Gulls fans were going to love Drew Hunter and immediately received feedback that they already did. The hulking right-shot defender selected in the 6th round of 2018 is as advertised - big and mean. If he wasn't defending a two on one with perfect poise and precision he was sending opposing players flying with thundering body checks. In fact the more I think about it, the more he reminds me of a raw Francois Beauchemin - which would make a lot of sense given he played in the Q and Beauchemin has been reported to have been doing some scouting for the Ducks in the CHL affiliated league prior to his official hiring as assistant player development manager. He could turn out to be a great later round steal.
#74 Zach Hayes: Hayes was an ATO and didn't particularly stand out. He and fellow try-out Davidson were caught on the ice together (possibly during a bad change) on the opening Kings goal. Other than that I didn't notice much else to comment on.
#75 Dawson Davidson: I had noted that of all the ATOs and PTOs I thought Davidson probably had the best shot to get a contract and he didn't disappoint. He didn't look out of place on a pairing with Benoit. He looked a lot more capable than his fellow tryout Zach Hayes.
#76 Josh Mahura: My main concerns with Mahura’s game last season was his lack of physical play and issues in front of his own net. He seems to have bulked up a heck of a lot over the summer as he had no trouble pasting various sizeable Kings forwards against the boards or causing turnovers using brute strength and gap control. He had two assists on the night - including the one primary assist on Comtois tip in front. He seems ready to step up this season and be the top pairing defender and Power Play quarterback the Gulls now need.
#80 Deven Sideroff: It was a pleasant sight to see Sideroff out there after such a lengthy absence. He had one really good play where he almost followed up the game-tying Jones goal with a go-ahead marker when he streaked in on his own partial breakaway, but could not elevate over the goaltender’s pads in close. His experience was also evident - he was never out of place and always made the right play, but again- apart from his partial breakaway he didn't display much in terms of game-breaking skill. He and Gates saw time as the second penalty killing unit and looked good doing so but he also took a bad tripping penalty in the second period. I have hopes for him this season, but right now Dostie is looking to have moved far ahead of him in development.
#86 Simon Benoit: Benoit picked up right where he left off last season. There is nothing you can fault about his game. He and Mahura were the only Ducks defenders to be on ice for multiple goals for - indicating their importance for driving play. He of-course made his physical presence felt also - laying the body at every opportunity including two patented #BenoitSmash hits. It is a very refreshing sign that the second-year-pro is ready to fill a need for the Gulls after the departure of so many key pieces on the blue line.
#1 Lukas Dostal: I think what I noticed most about the young Czech goaltender is what most pundits had already written about him in his pre-draft profile. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with pure speed and athleticism. It was a bit of a Yin and Yang observation when I saw him make his first several saves. When he went down in the butterfly my first thought was “holy hell there is a lot of space upstairs” but that was quickly followed by “how does he move that fast?”. The best goal-tending prospect the Ducks currently have was only beaten by a defensive breakdown in-front that he made the initial save on but could not corral the rebound as he was moving the other way. He made several difficult reactionary stops on tips and his glove was stellar through traffic, he was also remarkably calm under pressure. The future his very bright between the pipes if he continues to develop and build out his upper body.
#3: Kiefer Sherwood
#2: Sam Steel
#1: Lukas Dostal