The Anaheim Ducks stink again.
It’s not entirely unexpected, although the team seems to have regressed over the last couple of weeks. Once again, Ducks fans must look to the future for excitement and potential as the team drops further down the standings. It’s never too early to speculate about the NHL Draft Lottery – it is one of the best exercises to get your mind out of the cold, depressing reality of the Ducks season. It’s always more fun to dream before the Ducks inevitably fall back in the lottery out of position to draft any of the big names. They currently have a 38.8% chance to secure a top-three pick, so let’s see who they might pick at each of the top four positions should they land there in the lottery.
Alexis Lafreniere Solves the Duck Scoring Woes at No. 1
When you think of the most successful teams of the past decade, most of them have a potent offensive duo. The combinations of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have pushed the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks to multiple Stanley Cup titles.
If the Ducks have uncharacteristic good luck in the draft lottery and secure the No. 1 spot in the draft, they have an opportunity to feature a similar dynamic duo on offense.
The Athletic‘s prospect expert Corey Pronman has named Anaheim’s 2019 first-round pick Trevor Zegras his No. 1 ranked prospect from last year’s NHL Draft in his midseason rankings (from ‘” Pronman: 2019-20 midseason NHL prospects ranking,’ The Athletic, 1/15/2020).
Zegras demonstrated his playmaking ability during the 2020 World Junior Championships, where he had nine points (all assists) in five games.
Add presumptive No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere with Zegras, and you have two players with the potential to achieve what those other dynamic duos have.
Draft experts say Lafreniere is the real deal. Bob McKenzie of TSN said of Lafreniere,
“Many scouts agree that Lafreniere doesn’t necessarily possess elite skill in any single category but is very good to great in so many of them that the total package simply can’t miss.”
Those skills include speed, shot, hockey sense, physicality, hands and many more, but the most important part about his game for the Ducks is his finishing ability. While scouts emphasized Zegras as an elite playmaker who could score when he wanted to, they describe Lafreniere’s scoring ability first and complement his playmaking ability after.
The Ducks need a scorer like we need air to breathe, and Lafreniere fits the bill. He can do it all, as he showed at the World Junior Championship.
Add him to Zegras, and that is a frightening proposition for opponents.
Quinton Byfield Towers Over the Competition
If you haven’t noticed already, I’m picking scorers. The Ducks have players with passing ability, but the rubber needs to meet the road at some point. Like Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield has a scoring touch; you pretty much have to if you are a forward that’s going near the top of the draft.
The thing that makes Byfield stand out is his size. At 6-foot-5, he’s got the ability to impose his will on the ice. Scouts point to Byfield’s shot and athletic ability as an asset on the power play from the point and the top of the faceoff circle for one-timers. Pronman said of Byfield,
“He’s got high-end skill, he can make plays and score goals, and he’s a great skater for a player his size. He has the toolkit to dominate a game. I wouldn’t call his offensive skill level as elite as a player like Lafreniere, but Byfield is a bigger, faster player who also plays center, so that will be the focus of the debate going forward.”(from ‘Pronman: 2020 NHL Draft — Ranking the top prospects’ The Athletic, 10/15/2019)
The consensus is that Byfield is a big man who plays both a small and large man’s game. He’s physical, he’s fast, he’s shifty, and he can dangle with the best of them.
Imagine Byfield on a line with Max Jones? Defensemen league-wide would be taking an extra look back over their shoulder or three in their own zone.
Tim Stutzle: Eagle to Duck
Tim Stutzle is yet another potential forward to try to solve the Ducks scoring issues. Currently playing for Mannheim Adler in Germany’s DEL, Stutzle has 23 points in 26 games as 18-year-old playing professional hockey.
Scouts say Sutzle is a fast, aggressive and energetic player who excels on the forecheck. The Ducks still aren’t great with puck possession despite this season’s improvements and have resorted back to more dump and chase rather than controlled zone entry as the seasons wore on.
Stutzle’s forechecking ability will help the Ducks if they continue to resort to dump and chase in the next few years. His skating ability creativity and vision also help him play a possession game.
While Stutzle might be the consolation prize of falling to third or fourth in the lottery, it’s not a bad prize at all.
Jamie Drysdale Solidifies Ducks Defense
The Ducks’ other significant need is for another puck-moving defenseman. While Jamie Drysdale isn’t big by NHL defensemen standards, his offensive ability from the blue line could also really help assuage the Ducks’ scoring problems, adding another weapon to Hampus Lindholm and a resurgent Cam Fowler.
Drysdale is by far the highest-ranked defenseman in early mock drafts, and he’s the right-shot defender the Ducks have been seeking for well over a year. It just makes sense that Anaheim would consider Drysdale if they aren’t in the top two slots in the draft.
With expectations shifting rapidly in Anaheim from being competitive for a playoff spot, to competing for a high lottery slot, speculating on who the Ducks might be in a position to draft helps soothe the pain of their current struggles. While the Ducks’ luck in the lottery hasn’t been good, maybe this year will be different. Perhaps one more half-season of futility is just what the franchise needs in order to find a player who will pull them out of the basement quickly.
Anthony Ciardelli grew up in Vermont and New Hampshire but now lives in Los Angeles. Though he was raised a Bruins fan, he quickly came to enjoy the hockey culture in Southern California and the rivalry between the Kings and Ducks. He covered USC Athletics while pursuing his journalism masters there. He also enjoys doing play-by-play for USC Trojan Hockey.