The Anaheim Ducks came into Arizona looking to prove that they have one of the best prospect pools among the teams competing in the 2021 Rookie Faceoff Tournament. They left with a sense that that might just be true. Finishing with a record of 2-0-1 during their three games played, the Ducks leave with their heads held high, especially after playing the final game without some of their more well-known prospects.
Protect the Kids
When Trevor Zegras went down after taking a nasty slash from Colorado Avalanche prospect Matthew Boucher during the first period of the Ducks’ game on Sunday, it was clear that many anticipated the worst. Zegras did not return for the remainder of the game, but Ducks personnel and fans alike could breathe a sigh of relief once a statement was released that he was “fine” and held out the rest of the game as a precaution.
The potential of a long-term injury to Zegras or any one of the other Ducks’ prospects probably creeped into the back of the mind of Joël Bouchard—newly appointed head coach of the San Diego Gulls, the Ducks’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. The third and final game of the Rookie Faceoff Tournament saw Zegras, Jamie Drysdale, Bo-Olivier Groulx and Mason McTavish all watching from the sidelines in anticipation of a longer look at training camp, which takes place later this week.
A serious injury occurring during a prospects tournament is the last thing that the Ducks need. We’ve seen it previously several years ago when former Ducks prospect Nicolas Kerdiles suffered a serious injury after receiving a dangerous hit near the boards from then-Avalanche prospect Nikita Zadorov.
Trio of Gulls Ones to Watch
Resting the quartet of prospects meant that there was room for other players to shine. A trio of players who will likely be starting the season in the AHL with the Gulls turned some heads during the tournament. Playing on a line with Groulx during the first and second games of the tourney, Alex Limoges and Bryce Kindopp demonstrated the chemistry that the three of them had developed after spending the latter end of last season on a line together with the Gulls.
Limoges will be entering his first full pro season after joining the Gulls late last season on a professional tryout (PTO) after finishing up his collegiate career with Penn State. It’s a bit of nostalgia for the winger as he attended Ducks Development Camp back in 2017 and was rewarded this offseason with a one-year deal after adjusting to the AHL quite well (11 goals and 21 points in 23 games). He was utilized on both the power play and the penalty kill during the Rookie Faceoff Tournament and his nifty pass to rookie camp invitee Logan Nijhoff with one second remaining in the game gave the Ducks a 5-4 win over the Arizona Coyotes in their final game of the tournament.
I’ve written recently about the wicked shot that Kindopp possesses and while he wasn’t able to showcase it as much during the tournament, he did score a goal and did some important work on the penalty kill. If Groulx doesn’t make the Ducks out of training camp, I fully expect Limoges, Groulx and Kindopp to play on the same line again down in San Diego.
Last but certainly not least, Jacob Perreault put on a shooting clinic. While he did look a bit sluggish in the final game, his shooting prowess was on full display during the first two games of the tournament. Perreault’s shot has been his calling card ever since he was taken by the Ducks in the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, but this was one of the first times that fans were able to see him show off his shot while donning the Ducks jersey.
He hasn’t found a shooting angle he doesn’t like as he zipped the puck into the net from a couple of severe angles during the tourney. The Ducks have been yearning for a perennial goal scorer; don’t be surprised if Perreault joins up with the big club sooner than later.
Forwards Full of Promise
Other forwards who made an impact were the aforementioned McTavish, Sasha Pastujov, recently converted defenseman Hunter Drew and Jack Badini. Though McTavish only appeared in one of the games, it was clear that he brought a dynamism to the team that very few prospects can. He has a very strong center of balance and isn’t afraid to get into the dirty areas. While a lot has been made about how good his shot is, McTavish personally told members of the Ducks media that he feels his playmaking is underrated and that his shot is slightly overrated.
Pastujov fell in this summer’s draft due to hitches in his skating, but it’s clear that his goal-scoring touch is something that could make the teams that passed on him believe they made an oversight. Drew, who the Ducks originally drafted as a defenseman, spent the back end of last season playing as a grinding forward for the Gulls and it appears that he will be making the transition to forward full time.
He manned the net-front presence area—or as I like to refer to it as, the “Nick Ritchie spot”—on the power play during most of the tourney and during rookie camp, and wasn’t afraid to pay the price. He even showed off his shot with a well-placed snap shot into the top corner against the San Jose Sharks.
Badini began his pro career last season after his collegiate career with Harvard was cut short because of the pandemic. He split time between the Gulls and the Tulsa Oilers in the ECHL, scoring three points in a combined 37 games. It will likely take Badini some time to adjust to the pro game, but he had some flashes during the tournament. Most notably, he dropped the gloves with Boucher shortly after Zegras left the game. Badini also scored a goal during the tournament.
While a few of the Ducks prospects can now look ahead to training camp, most of them will be returning to their junior teams, collegiate teams or the Gulls. That’s not a slight to any of these players as some of them are simply not yet ready for the rigors of the NHL, but they gained valuable experience while at development camp, rookie camp and the Rookie Faceoff Tournament over the course of the last month. There’s plenty to look forward to in Anaheim and beyond.