Ducks’ Young Forwards Battling Mounting Expectations

The Anaheim Ducks began the season with four young forwards on the roster; Max Jones, Troy Terry, Sam Steel, and Maxime Comtois. Expectations were set high as the quartet was tasked with transitioning the Ducks offense from incompetence to… well… something better than what it was under former head coach Randy Carlyle.

Expectations Soar for Young Ducks’ Forwards

Heading into the 2019-20 season, the group had only 104 NHL games and 36 points between them. Yet, the expectation was that they would jump right into the Ducks’ top-nine forward group and immediately improve what was the league’s worst offense in 2018-19.

Max Jones, Derek Ryan
Anaheim Ducks’ Max Jones moves the puck past Calgary Flames’ Derek Ryan (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

New head coach Dallas Eakins made it evident from day one that the Ducks’ young forwards would get every chance to succeed. His willingness to play the youngsters in important situations should be important to their long term development.

In the season opener, Jones and Terry flanked the second line with Adam Henrique, while Steel centered a line with Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg. Both lines played the most 5-on-5 ice time among the Ducks’ forward group. FYI, Comtois didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 11 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, he was paired with Ryan Getzlaf as soon as he was called up from the American Hockey League’s San Diego Gulls.

The sentiment from Ducks fans was that any one of these young forwards could be poised for a breakthrough year in 2019-20. In fact, I ran a poll back in June which illustrated the high expectations for this group.

Despite Comtois winning the poll, the vote was still split and many fans believed that three if not all four of the Ducks’ youngsters could reach the 25-goal plateau this season. If you recall, this is coming off a season in which no Ducks player was able to eclipse that total. Only Silfverberg passed the 20-goal mark finishing with 24 in 2018-19.

Expectations Versus Reality

We’re now 23 games into the Ducks’ season and we can start to weigh the reality of their production against the expectations at the beginning of the season.

As I’m writing this, the Ducks’ offense sits in a tie for 25th in the NHL with 2.71 goals per game. That’s a minor increase from the 2.4 goals per game they finished with at the end of 2018-19. Frankly, a lot of that increase is due to the fact that the Ducks have four players on pace to score over 25 goals this season; Getzlaf, Henrique, Rakell, and Silfverberg.

So Where Does That Leave the Kids?

Sam Steel

Steel scored his first goal of the season last Monday against the Washington Capitals. He’s now got one goal and eight assists in 19 games this season. He’s on pace to finish with 37 points. Now, it’s not likely Steel continues to score only one goal in each of his next 19 games. So, we can overlook the fact he’s only on pace for four goals.

Anaheim Ducks' Sam Steel
Anaheim Ducks’ Sam Steel celebrates with the bench (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

His shooting percentage is only 4.2%, compared to 18.2% in 22 games last season. We’d expect him to fall somewhere in the middle of that, around 11%, when all is said and done. His ice time has only seen a small increase, going from 14:58 per game last season to 15:31 in 2019-20.

Max Jones

Jones has as many points in only 19 games this season as he did in 30 games last season. It’s only five, but it seems the ‘bad luck’ he had last season has at least subsided for the most part. He’s started to heat up as well, with four of those points coming in his last six games. That’s come with a promotion into the top six for Jones, as he’s spent the last three games with either Getzlaf and Rakell, or Henrique and Silfverberg.

He’s on pace for 12 goals and eight assists for 20 points in 78 games. Unless he shoots the puck more that’s likely around where he’ll finish in goals, as he’s currently shooting around league average at 8.6%. He’s still averaging only 12:43 of ice time, so it may be hard to see any significant point production unless that increases.

Troy Terry

Terry was scratched for the Ducks’ 5-2 loss to the Capitals last Monday. However, he was slotted right back on the top line when he returned in the Ducks’ next game against the Florida Panthers. It was arguably one of his best games of the season, despite ending the night pointless.

Anaheim Ducks Troy Terry
Anaheim Ducks right wing Troy Terry (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

The term ‘pointless’ has been a trend for Terry lately, as he has failed to register one in 11 of his last 12 games. It’s been a disappointing season for the former World Junior Championship hero, with only two goals and two assists in 22 games. He’s on pace for only seven goals and seven assists for 14 points.

Maxime Comtois

Comtois’ last game for the Ducks’ this season was on Nov. 10 against the Edmonton Oilers. He’s since been assigned to the Gulls where he’s picked up four assists in four games. He was scoring at a similar pace to how he started last year, with five points in nine games in October. However, he went pointless in his next four games. He was on pace for 11 goals and 17 assists with a more than respectable shooting percentage of 13.3%. His 14:21 average time on ice was only 14 seconds less than what he was averaging last season.

Why We Shouldn’t Panic…Yet

It’s honestly way too early to say that any of these four young players should be producing any more than they currently are. Two of them are still considered rookies, while the other two have barely graduated out of that class.

Anaheim Ducks Max Jones Troy Terry
Anaheim Ducks left wing Max Jones and right wing Troy Terry celebrate. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY )

Let’s start with Terry, drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Entry draft. Taking a look at that class there isn’t a single player outside of the 3rd round, other than maybe Conor Garland and Denis Malgin, who has outpaced Terry by a wide margin. He’s only got 56 games of NHL experience and adjustment to the NHL can take a lot longer than that, especially for players who aren’t named Connor McDavid.

Despite a lack of production, Terry has managed to look impressive whilst on the ice. Jordan Samuels-Thomas referenced that in his most recent post in The Athletic NHL:

Terry has continued to push play and has consistently been on the attack. He is constantly working himself back into a position of support for his teammates and as a winger, he always seems to find the soft spot in the middle of the ice in order to be an easy outlet for his defensemen.

from ‘Don’t worry about Troy Terry’s low point production; he’s going to be just fine’, The Athletic NHL – 11/14/19

Jones and Steel were drafted 24th and 30th overall, respectively, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Only one player outside of the top 15 has significantly outpaced their totals, and that’s Alex DeBrincat. Being a first-round pick has its drawbacks, and one of them is having lofty expectations from day one. Ask Nick Ritchie.

Jones has shown that he can compete physically at the NHL level and his offensive instincts will develop over time. Steel has developed into an NHL center quicker than most who come out of the Canadian Hockey League. His ability to compete in all three zones has been impressive and he’s been more than capable in the faceoff dot, winning 52% of his draws.

Anaheim Ducks Max Comtois (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Anaheim Ducks’ Max Comtois (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Comtois is the youngest of the bunch and, perhaps because of that, has escaped much of the criticism heaped on the other three. Drafted in the second round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, he has almost as many points in the NHL as every other player drafted in that round combined. His goal scoring prowess in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has increased the expectations placed on him.

Don’t forget, to start their careers, Rakell had 4 points in his first 22 games, Corey Perry had 25 points in his first 56 games, and Silfverberg had 19 points in his first 48 games. So, there is plenty of time for this young group to turn things around and there are plenty more on their way to the NHL.

In the meantime, if you want to hear my thoughts on Ducks prospects and the current affairs of the team, check out The Forever Mighty Podcast for all the latest Ducks talk and analysis.