Ducks’ Injuries Create Opportunites for Steel & Carrick

After a gutsy overtime win in Calgary on Monday night, the Anaheim Ducks came up just short the following night in Edmonton, losing 6-5 to the Oilers. Injuries from the night prior necessitated lineup changes, with Sam Steel and Derek Grant drawing in for the IR-bound Max Jones and Mason McTavish. Jones and McTavish’s injury designations allowed the Ducks to also call up Sam Carrick and Sonny Milano from their AHL-affiliate San Diego Gulls.

Sam Steel Shines in Season Debut

Steel had been a healthy scratch for the first three games of the season, but McTavish’s lower-body injury gave him a chance to break back into the lineup. He wasted no time getting on the score sheet, scoring two goals while his line with Isac Lundestrom and Jakob Silfverberg posted a 55.56 Corsi for percentage (CF%).

Steel has found himself in an odd place with the Ducks. His inconsistent play at the NHL level has thrown cold water on the hype he generated during his development. He’s too talented for the AHL and he likely wouldn’t make it through waivers before sending him to San Diego. On Tuesday night, he was slotted in at left wing instead of his usual role at center. Perhaps the diminished defensive role gives him the ability to focus on a more offensive game.

Steel could reasonably play himself back into the lineup, even without multi-goal games. McTavish is a teenager and has only played in three NHL games. If he were to play fewer than 10, his entry-level contract would “slide” to the next year, effectively keeping him within the organization for another cheap year. The Ducks exercised this practice in the past with a 19-year-old Max Comtois back in 2018. The team has no motivation to rush McTavish back until he is fully healthy. If Steel continues to play well, the Ducks would feel less pressure to play McTavish and potentially save a year on his entry-level contract.

Grant’s Role Changes in Return

After clearing waivers over the weekend, Grant remained with the team in Canada. In his last game before being placed on waivers, Grant led all forwards in ice time in 5v5 and penalty-killing time. His line was the one called on to take the defensive zone faceoff that ultimately led to the Minnesota Wild scoring the game-winning goal. Head coach Dallas Eakins has heavily utilized Grant during his time with Anaheim, making the news he was placed on waivers the next day all the more surprising.

Derek Grant Anaheim Ducks
Derek Grant, Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Like Steel, Grant was asked to do less in his return. He was on the ice for a total of 12:04, the fourth-fewest among Duck forwards. He saw only three such draws Tuesday night after being on the ice for 17 defensive zone faceoffs on Friday. He was still utilized as a primary unit penalty killer, but his normally sizable defensive responsibility was limited to just that.

Carrick or Milano for Grant?

With three more games before either McTavish or Jones can be removed from IR, Eakins will have decisions to make. With both injuries happening on the first of a road back-to-back, Steel and Grant were the obvious fill-ins. After Tuesday night, Steel may have a spot secured in the lineup, but Grant’s usage was noteworthy. If he is no longer going to be used as a defensive specialist, his spot may be better served by Milano, who hasn’t seen much NHL action since arriving in Anaheim but has shown a higher offensive upside than Grant.

Carrick may not have the offensive upside that Milano has but does have the more recent NHL experience. He played 13 games during the shortened 2020-21 season. He only recorded six points but endeared himself with a hard-nosed style of play and as an aggressive forechecker. If Eakins wanted a more defense-focused fourth line, adding Carrick alongside Nicolas Deslauriers and Bo Groulx would work while keeping the aggressive style of play that is lost in the injury to Jones.

With the severity of their injuries still unknown, the Ducks may be afforded the chance to see several different players slot in for Jones and McTavish. Steel certainly deserves a second chance at making the nightly lineup. His development is an important element for the team’s rebuild, and they should be as patient with him as they will be with McTavish’s injury. Carrick’s style of play makes him a solid fill-in for Jones as a forechecking fourth liner. With tonight’s game in Winnipeg being a rematch of an opening night game that saw 14 minor penalties and a game misconduct, Carrick may draw in just to match the intensity.