It was a series full of firsts as Jamie Drysdale made his NHL debut and scored his first career NHL goal. Trevor Zegras also got on the scoresheet for the first time in his short NHL career and the pair demonstrated why Ducks fans have been so eager to see them don the webbed ‘D’.
The Ducks’ first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft (sixth overall) made his NHL debut on Thursday night and it didn’t take him long to make an impact, as he scored his first career goal on a shot from the point in the second period. He is the youngest Duck in 25 years to score his first NHL goal and the second-youngest in Ducks history.
The 18-year-old displayed his smooth skating and ability to move the puck in the offensive zone and on the power play. He also started off all three periods of the first game on the ice, paired with lefty Ben Hutton. Though smaller than the average defenseman at five-foot-eleven, Drysdale was able to hold his own against some of the Coyotes’ more physical and much bigger players for the most part.
The Future Is Now
It may have felt like a long time coming, but Zegras now has an NHL goal to his name. He’s had a few chances pass him by, but there was no doubt about this one as he outwaited Adin Hill and brought the puck across the crease on his backhand before putting it up top—where mom hides the cookies.
At this point of the season, it’s quite clear that the Ducks won’t have any playoff aspirations. The most they can do is give their young players plenty of playing time, Thursday night was just the beginning. Zegras is likely to finish out the season with the big club, but it’s unclear if the Ducks will keep Drysdale around once the OHL season begins. He didn’t look out of place in his first taste of NHL action.
The pair of youngsters also got some time on the power play together and it’s not a coincidence that the Ducks’ man advantage looked just a little bit tidier when the two were out there running things together.
Gibson on the Shelf, Opportunity for Miller & Stolarz
Goaltender John Gibson was placed on injured reserve on Thursday, which means he’ll be out for at least a couple of weeks. That leaves Ryan Miller and Anthony Stolarz between the pipes and I would expect the pair to rotate quite a bit until Gibson returns.
It’s been a rough season for both the Ducks and Gibson and the results are represented quite clearly in Gibson’s numbers. Even still, the netminder has still bailed out his team on a number of occasions this season and the Ducks should be lucky to not have an even worse record than their current one.
The team didn’t cover themselves in glory by any means in their 8-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche last week and didn’t do much better at protecting Miller this series. They will need to get better at doing that for as long as Gibson is out because while Miller is still a serviceable NHL goaltender, he doesn’t quite have the athleticism that Gibson has to make those spectacular saves when the defense gets caught out.
Gibson’s injury gives Stolarz a chance to get an extended look in the NHL as he could potentially be auditioning for the backup spot next season, given Miller’s upcoming free-agent status this upcoming offseason. The 27-year-old only has 29 NHL games under his belt but he has extensive experience in the AHL.
He hasn’t played much this season due to the requirement of needing one goalie on the taxi squad and the Gulls’ large goalie rotation, but he did appear in relief for Miller in the second game of the series after Miller let in three goals on 14 shots after one period. (from ‘Goalie Anthony Stolarz leaves limbo of Ducks’ taxi squad,’ Los Angeles Daily News, 03/16/2021) Fellow goaltender Lukas Dostal is likely still a few years away from being NHL-ready, so this is a big opportunity for Stolarz.
Wild Wild West
The Ducks now embark on a road trip that will start in Minnesota against the Wild. The Wild are coming off of a brutal series against the Avalanche in which they were outscored 11-1. An injury to Matt Dumba means that they will also be without one of their top defensemen.
Their performance against the Avalanche aside, the Wild have been better than advertised this season and sit comfortably in the top-4 of the Honda West Division. They’ve been led by spectacular goaltending and the performances of players like Jordan Greenway, Mats Zuccarello and rookie Kirill Kaprizov.
The Ducks are 1-3 this season against the Wild so a couple of wins would do well to right the ship after Saturday night’s disappointing performance. The Wild will be looking to rebound from their rough showing as well so the Ducks need to be motivated right out of the gate.
Derek Lee is a contributor for The Hockey Writers covering the Anaheim Ducks. Derek has spent nearly two decades immersed in the world of sports and has been writing about sports for five years. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Sports Communication in May 2020 from UCCS in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he also spent two and a half years on staff with their on-campus student newspaper–both as a sports reporter and editor. In his free time, he enjoys playing FIFA, curating his Spotify playlists and attending concerts & sporting events