Ducks Target High Upside on Day 2

The Anaheim Ducks had seven picks in their pocket for Day 2 of the 2021 NHL Draft. After securing another big-bodied, scoring forward in Mason McTavish on Day 1 with the third overall pick, general manager Bob Murray and co. targeted some high-upside prospects while adding depth at every position in their pipeline.

Olen Zellweger

One of the youngest players eligible to be selected in the 2021 NHL Draft, Zellweger is a left-handed defenseman who stands 5-foot-10. He is extremely active in the offensive zone and has a deceptive shot release from the point. He is also a very good skater and rated as one of the best in this draft class. Zellweger has also drawn comparisons to Sam Girard of the Colorado Avalanche.

He is capable of playing both on the left and right side when defending and tends to use an active stick while in the defensive zone. He can get sucked too far down low at times when there are puck battles in his own zone and will need to put on some weight in order to become capable at the NHL level. But Zellweger looks to be a dynamic player on both ends, and seeing him play next to Jamie Drysdale could be a sight to behold a few years from now.

Sasha Pastujov

Projected by some to be a first-round pick, Pastujov fell into the Ducks’ lap in the third round. He was a very productive player for the U.S. National Team Development Program, but concerns about his skating were the reason why he ended up getting selected as low as he was. Not only is Pastujov a prolific scorer, but he also has the passing ability to ensure he isn’t a one-dimensional threat. He’s no liability in the defensive zone either, as he has shown that he can contribute as a two-way forward.

Sasha Pastujov USTNDP
Sasha Pastujov, USTNDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Skating is something that can be improved with coaching and training, but goalscoring ability isn’t really something that can be fine-tuned without natural ability. We’ve seen in the past how far prospects have fallen in the draft due to their skating. Players like Brayden Point and Mark Stone come to mind. A former 50-goal scorer by the name of Corey Perry also had scouts concerned about his skating at the time.

Tyson Hinds

The Ducks traded up to get Hinds at 76th overall, sending a 2022 third-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens. The Ducks would not have picked until 98th overall after selecting Pastujov at No. 66, so they must have had a feeling that Hinds would not be available until the fourth round.

Hinds skates well and was a minutes eater for Rimouski Oceanic after being acquired from the Shawinigan Cataractes earlier this season. He’s not afraid to be aggressive in the offensive zone but can get caught out sometimes when he pinches too deep. This has led to odd-man rushes on several occasions.

Hinds doesn’t have a ton of upside, but he’s a dependable defender whose stature reminds me of current Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm. Hinds has a long way to go before he reaches the level of someone like Lindholm, but he has the tools to do so if he continues to develop at a positive rate.

Joshua Lopina

Lopina hasn’t been a prolific player by any means over the course of the last several seasons. But he did begin to turn heads in his first season at the University of Massachusetts Amherst this past season with 23 points in 29 games.

Lopina’s calling card, though, is his defensive ability. The UMass product was second on the team and eighth Hockey East in blocked shots (18) and won a conference-best 312 faceoffs at a 54.5 percent win rate. He also was named Pro Ambitions Hockey East Co-Rookie of the Year and was named to the Hockey East Pro Ambitions All-Rookie Team. To top it all off, he was part of the team that won the national championship.

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Lopina is already 20, which means he’s fairly older than most recently drafted prospects. He’ll likely spend a couple more years with UMass before making the transition to the pros. If he can continue to improve his offensive play, he could turn into a solid checking forward down the line.

Sean Tschigerl

Tschigerl (pronounced SHUH-gal) led the Calgary Hitmen in goals (13) during the 2020-21 WHL season. He’s another player that the Ducks targeted late in the draft who has high upside, skates well and works extremely hard. The scouting reports on him remind me a bit of current Ducks forward Max Jones, though Jones is slightly bigger and much heavier.

Tschigerl brings all the attributes that the Ducks have lacked since Perry left town–someone who isn’t afraid to go to the net and pay the price. Tschigerl also has a very “aggressive north-south style” approach to his game, as Steve Kournianos calls it. I liken it to Andrew Cogliano and how the former Duck was relentless in his forecheck.

Tschigerl has the components to turn into a very good checking forward and has shown that he has plenty of offensive upside. I’m not sure if he’ll do enough to ever be a power play guy, but he will definitely be able to contribute on the penalty kill.

Gage Alexander

The first thing that you should know about Alexander is that he’s tall. Extremely tall. I’m not even talking tall for a goaltender, but tall for even the average human being. He’s already an astounding 6-foot-7 at the age of 19–his birthday was at the beginning of this month. It’s almost terrifying to think that he could grow even more.

Given his size, it’s understandable that Alexander will have difficulty being as agile as some of his smaller counterparts. Being a goaltender is all about having consistency, and it’s been difficult for Alexander to find that to this point. He did have a 0.917 save percentage (SV%) and 2.23 goals against average (GAA) in nine games this past season, though, an improvement from his 2019-20 season, when he sported a 0.838 SV% and 4.35 GAA in seven games during his first season with the Winnipeg Ice.

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Goalies do tend to reach their prime at a much older age than forwards or defensemen, so he has plenty of time to develop. If he can get the technical aspects of goaltending down as opposed to simply relying on his size, there may be something here.

Kyle Kukkonen

Kukkonen was the Ducks’ only draft pick out of high school, though he did finish the 2020-21 season with the Minot Minotaros in the North American Hockey League (NAHL). A natural scorer during his time at Maple Grove High School in Minnesota, Kukkonen relies on his puck handling to get into areas where he can easily put the puck in the net.

He’s extremely raw and isn’t the biggest or fastest player. His defensive work also leaves a lot to be desired but going for a player who is low risk and high reward in the seventh round is the way to go. He’ll need to sharpen the other facets of his game outside of handling the puck if he wants to improve enough to make it at the pro level.

Stocking the Cupboard

A lot of credit should go to assistant general manager Martin Madden, the longtime director of amateur scouting before getting promoted last season. The Ducks knew what they wanted and took some big swings in this year’s draft. With a handful of players now graduated from the Ducks’ pipeline, these additions should fit seamlessly to replace those no longer considered prospects.

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