Ducks’ Prospect Will Francis Ready for NCAA Development

We’ve been releasing Anaheim Ducks prospect updates since the start of the season, and one player we’ve routinely checked up on is Ducks’ 2019 sixth-round pick, Will Francis.

Francis is playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League. The Ducks have been going to the USHL well several times in the last three NHL Entry Drafts. Finding the likes of; Jack Badini, Blake McLaughlin, Roman Durny, Trevor Janicke, Henry Thrun and Trevor Zegras.

We had a chance to catch up with Will over the weekend and chat about his season with Cedar Rapids, moving to the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) and how his recovery from a season-ending knee injury has been going. Here’s what he had to say…

One-on-One with Ducks’ prospect Will Francis

EJ: First of all, I know we had talked prior to the interview about this. How was the move up to UMD and is this sort of just to get a head start for next year to help with that transition of moving from the USHL to NCAA?

Yeah, I’m settled in now. Just started school this week. I’ve got a good class schedule and I’m excited to be up here. Unfortunately, my season was cut short due to injury. I think there’s no better time to adjust to the culture up here, and only have to worry about school for the first semester. I think it’s going to be good.

EJ: You’re set to go to back-to-back national champions UMD, what does it mean to grow up in the area and then get the chance to play for a team like that?

I think it’s awesome. Obviously the targets on your back, and you just kinda have to prove to everybody why it’s on your back. You just have to work your hardest every day to achieve the end goal of making it to the Frozen Four and winning that National Championship.

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs Frozen Four 2018
Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs pose with the NCAA championship trophy celebrating the 2-1 win over Notre Dame in the 2018 Frozen Four college hockey national championship game at Xcel Energy Center. (Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports)

EJ: When you go to UMD, where do you hope to grow the most as a player during your time there?

I just hope to grow into that consistent two-way defenseman who can shut guys down in the D-zone and also chip in on the offensive end.

EJ: What was more nerve-wracking: the NHL Draft or day one of Ducks Development Camp?

I think for me it was going down to development camp. You’re just surrounded by all these tremendous players, coaches and staff. They’re there to help your game and help you develop as well. Just to be on the same ice as some of those guys is a little nerve-wracking, but once you get out there you settle down and just start playing.

EJ: Overall, how do you feel your season had been going in Cedar Rapids? And does it seem like a weight is off your shoulders now that your draft year is behind you?

Yeah in certain ways for sure. I just think my game was trending in the right direction of becoming an impact player in that league and kind of dominating in a way to set me up for success at the next level. As a team, we were having a great year and it’s a tight group of guys there and I was just improving my game all over the ice.

EJ: Let’s talk about your season in Cedar Rapids this year. You got off to a good start with four points in 10 games. Was there any different approach you took going into this year? Or was it just more familiarity now being your second season in the league?

I think going down there for a second time I was just more comfortable and obviously knew what to expect. This was kind of the first full year of me being solely invested into hockey. Before that, I was playing multiple sports in high school, and going into my first year in Cedar Rapids I was still practicing football and then also hockey too. Just being all into hockey and kind of training that way the entire summer. I think I came into camp in really good shape and it was just an unfortunate event to have an injury that ended the season.

Will Francis Cedar Rapids Roughriders
Will Francis of the Cedar Rapids Roughriders (Rick Boots/CR RoughRiders)

EJ: One thing I noticed is your shot totals were way up this year. Was that coincidental or was that something you made an effort to do more of this season?

I think being my second year I have more trust in my coach, Mark Carlson, and he kind of let me play more of an offensive role – one I was more used to playing in high school before my first year in Cedar Rapids. Just being on the power play and shooting the puck anytime I can five on five, just finding lanes, I think definitely improves my game there. Just being in a more offensive role helped that.

EJ: Last year you found yourself playing a few games at forward. Have you found yourself in that position at all this season?

Yeah, I did. We were on a six on four or six on five and I ended up being the net-front guy. So I did find myself upfront again. But, I think anyway I can help and contribute to the team and help the team win is something I pride myself with.

EJ: Unfortunately the season was cut short this year. You suffered a torn meniscus in your knee that required surgery. How’s the recovery process gone so far?

It’s a five to six month recovery time. Right now it’s going good. At first, obviously it’s tough. You can’t really do much for the first four to six weeks, I couldn’t put much weight on it. Now I’m in week nine and I’m fully able to walk again, still just a little bit of limping, but everyday just kind of gets better which is a big thing. It’s just a long recovery, but as long as every day is getting better and you’re gaining strength that’s all you can hope for. 

EJ: What’s your mindset like, you know, having a great start to the season and then all of a sudden you’re moving up to UMD and starting classes? It’s gotta be tough.

Yeah for sure. I think it definitely challenges you physically and mentally. Not being able to work out and also when you’re in a routine all the time and something changes just like that. It’s obviously just going to be right in your face and challenge you and it’s been a quick turn of events for sure. But in the long run, I think this might be a positive thing. Just with building my body up while I’m injured, not playing this year, but still being able to train my upper body and setting myself up for the future.

Will Francis Cedar Rapids Roughriders
Will Francis of the Cedar Rapids Roughriders (Rick Boots/CR RoughRiders)

EJ: Was there ever a chance that this could change your plans for next season and return to Cedar Rapids instead of heading to UMD?

I’m really not too sure, to be honest with you. I think as of now, since I’m enrolled at UMD, I’ll be up here next Fall as well and start playing for the Bulldogs.

EJ: You’ll join several Ducks prospects currently playing in the NCAA including Blake McLaughlin, Jack Perbix, and Jackson LaCombe who play at the University of Minnesota. What do you think makes the NCAA such a great next step to develop your game?

I think the NCAA does a great job. You’re only playing on the weekends so you have Monday through Thursday basically to, you know, if you need to gain strength in the weight room, if you need to work on something on the ice you have that freedom. I think it also allows you to have more time to develop compared to Major Junior, where your last year playing is 20 and then you have to go to pro hockey. Then you see these guys come out of college at 22 or 23 and they jump right into the NHL and they’re impact players, whether they are forwards, defensemen or even goalies. I think the NCAA just gives you more time to develop and allows you to reach your peak, maybe if you’re a late bloomer, and allows you to have a solid career. 

Jackson Lacombe Anaheim Ducks Draft
Jackson Lacombe, Anaheim Ducks, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

EJ: Are you gonna take it easy on those guys or is it fair game?

It’s definitely fair game. I’m friends with those guys off the ice, but I think they can say the same thing that when it comes to on the ice and we’re wearing different colored jerseys that it’s definitely a rivalry and there’s not going to be any limits. 

EJ: Do you have a plan on how long you want to stay at UMD and any timeline on when you want to make the transition to the AHL or NHL?

I really don’t. I think for me it’ll be a time that I feel ready. I also think for me I’m going to have to be an impact player at the NCAA level before I’m ready to make that jump to pro hockey. So, whenever that time comes I think I’ll be ready.

We appreciate Will Francis taking the time to sit down and chat with us. Stay tuned for a new prospect update coming this week! Check out our team’s latest article on the Ducks dreams for the 2020 Draft!

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 Anaheim Ducks talk and analysis.