As the Anaheim Ducks’ offseason continues and we await the 2020 NHL Playoffs, I decided to sit down and listen to what’s on the minds of Ducks fans. From the Seattle Expansion Draft to bringing Corey Perry back, there’s a whole lot to unpack in this first-ever Ducks mailbag.
We took to Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit to find out the most pressing questions. Here are some of them:
Who Will Be the Ducks’ Three Picks in the Top 36?
The Ducks have three picks in the top 40 of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, not a bad spot to be in. Their second first-round pick came by way of the Boston Bruins in the Ondrej Kase trade. About a month ago, I drafted for the Ducks in The Hockey Writers 2020 Mock Draft and selected Alexander Holtz fifth overall. Since then, the Ducks have fallen to sixth overall, thanks to Placeholder E winning first overall in the draft lottery.
Lafreniere, Byfield and Stutzle are likely to be selected in the top three, which leaves the Ducks with five options at sixth overall: Lucas Raymond, Cole Perfetti, Marco Rossi, Jamie Drysdale and Holtz could be available. They’ll be at the mercy of the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators who select fourth and fifth, respectively. Off my assumption that Raymond and Drysdale will go in those spots, I’d take Holtz at six.
With the Ducks’ second first-round selection, I took Russian defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin in the mock draft. Although I would change that decision now, I’d still like to see the Ducks take a defenseman here. Surprise, surprise, I would go back to Sweden and take one of Emil Andrae, William Wallinder, or Helge Grans. I give a slight edge to Grans for being a right-shot defenseman, which is something the Ducks’ prospect pool sorely lacks.
With the 36th overall selection, I stole Tyson Foerster in our mock. I can only hope he’s available at that spot on draft day, but it’s more likely he will sneak into the first round. Look for the Ducks to take the best player available, maybe Brendan Brisson or John-Jason Peterka. Shout out to Devin on Twitter for asking a similar question.
Is There Any Chance of Derek Grant Coming Back?
It’s not out of the question. Derek Grant always seems to find his way back to Anaheim. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018-19, and then re-signed with the Ducks. This season, he was shipped off to the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent, so it’s up to him where he’d like to play in 2020-21.
I expect the Flyers to do all they can to keep him after he posted five points in seven games before the season was suspended. They’ll have first rights to re-sign him, and he’ll have a chance to impress even more once the 2020 Playoffs begin.
With a lot of young players looking to take a step forward, the Ducks likely can’t offer Grant more than fourth-line duties with Nic Deslauriers and Carter Rowney. If the Flyers, or another team, offer him a chance to play up the lineup, it might be too good an opportunity for Grant to pass up. I give it a 50/50 chance that he returns to Anaheim.
How Will the Expansion Draft Play Out for Anaheim?
The Ducks enter the Seattle Expansion Draft in a better spot than with the Vegas draft. They’ll have no players who automatically have to be protected due to a no-movement clause (NMC), so they’ll have the freedom to make each choice for themselves. Ryan Getzlaf’s contract is expiring before the draft, so thankfully, he won’t have to be protected, and Ryan Kesler’s NMC becomes a modified no-trade clause after the 2020-21 season.
The Ducks’ exempt list includes some of their top prospects with Trevor Zegras, Brayden Tracey, Maxime Comtois, Benoit-Oliver Groulx and Lukas Dostal all safe. Management will likely decide to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. Barring a trade, you can safely pencil in Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson as the three defensemen. That leaves young prospects, Brendan Guhle and Josh Mahura exposed. If one of them takes off next season, we could see them push for one of those protection slots.
Upfront, it comes down to nine forwards vying for seven spots. Getzlaf, Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg and Rickard Rakell round out the older core that could be exposed. Danton Heinen, Max Jones, Troy Terry, Sam Steel and Isac Lundestrom are among the young players in need of protection.
It would be wise for the Ducks to hold off on an extension for Getzlaf until after the expansion draft. Leave him exposed as a pending unrestricted free agent, and even if he gets selected by Seattle, he could re-sign with Anaheim once free agency opens. Henrique, Silfverberg and Rakell should all be on the protection list, as they represent the core of the Ducks roster.
It comes down to selecting four of the five young players listed above. I would focus on their production in the 2020-21 season. Whoever doesn’t take that next step forward could be the one left exposed. Ultimately, I think the Ducks will trade their way out of this predicament, but that will have to wait for another day.
My protection list looks like this: Henrique, Silfverberg, Rakell, Steel, Jones, Lundestrom, Terry, Fowler, Lindholm, Manson, and John Gibson. Leaving Heinen, Milano, Mahura, Guhle and Getzlaf exposed.
How Will Zegras Pan Out in the NHL Alongside Veterans like Getzlaf?
I’m in the camp that believes Trevor Zegras is ready for the NHL. His skill is undeniable, and the Ducks are in a position to give him significant ice time in 2020-21. My only question is, how committed is the team to playing him at center? Honestly, this could be the only roadblock to playing in the NHL next season.
In the past, the Ducks have been keen on starting their young centers in the middle of the ice and only moving them to the wing after all else fails. Rakell played two seasons at center before finally shifting to the wing, and Lundestrom was placed in the middle from his debut in 2018-19. You can add Steel and William Karlsson to this list as well. This leads me to believe that if the Ducks think Zegras can be a center in the NHL, they’ll use him there.
However, with Getzlaf, Henrique, and Steel already occupying the top three spots, and with Lundestrom and Groulx waiting in the wings, it might be difficult to accommodate Zegras next season. Someone will have to make way, and if anyone has the skill to comfortably shift to the wing, it’s Zegras.
Putting him on the wing allows the Ducks to move Zegras into the top-six and play him with Getzlaf, Henrique and Rakell. It’s likely the best starting spot for the young American, and if they want to move him to center at a later date, that’s still an option. Much like Josh Bell said in our recent Ducks roundtable, I think Zegras will stick with the team for the 2020-21 season, and he’s got a good shot to challenge for the Calder Trophy.
Which Ducks Prospect Are You Most Excited About?
The easy answer would be to say Zegras, and I’d probably be lying if I said anyone else. However, for the sake of this article, we’ll exclude him, and I’ll go with my next favorite, which is a close battle between Groulx and Lukas Dostal, but ultimately, I have to go with the Czech goaltender based on how dominant he was in the Finnish Liiga this season. He was named the best goaltender in the league, finishing with the top win percentage of all goalies with 73.2%. His 1.78 goals-against average and .928 save percentage ranked second and third respectively.
It’s been over a year since the Ducks signed Dostal to an entry-level contract, and you have to think it’s almost time that he comes to North America and spends some time with the San Diego Gulls in the American Hockey League. Even though John Gibson holds down the crease now, it’s never a bad thing to have an extremely talented youngster waiting in the wings.
Is Max Comtois Part of the Solution?
When you look at the four young players who were supposed to take major steps forward in 2019-20, Comtois was at the top of that list. Still at least a year younger than Jones, Steel and Terry, he was producing at a 31-point pace with the Ducks. He finished with five goals and six assists in 29 games. In San Diego, he posted nine goals and 24 points in 31 games. A modern-day power forward, Comtois has a goal scorer’s touch and isn’t afraid to drive hard to the net. He’s got a similar toolset to Jones, but he’s a bit more refined in his offensive game.
He’s certainly part of the short-term solution. Whether he sticks around long term depends on if he can elevate his game to another level. He’s already in competition with Jones, Heinen and Milano for a roster spot, and soon we can add Zegras and Brayden Tracey to that list. Ultimately, it will come down to who can make a case to stick in the top-nine. Comtois has as good a shot as any of them moving forward.
What Are the Team’s Expectations for Tracey’s Development? Is It Odd He Wasn’t Shortlisted for Hockey Canada’s U20 Team?
The hope for Tracey is likely that he can be an effective middle-six contributor at the NHL level. However, it’s going to take some time for him to reach that potential. He’s a natural goal scorer at the junior level and after an impressive rookie season in the WHL in 2018-19, the Ducks took a swing on him in the first round of the draft. He was on an 89-point pace for the Moosejaw Warriors this season, eight points better than his rookie campaign, before he was traded at the deadline to the Victoria Royals.
His offensive production dipped in Victoria where he only posted seven goals and 23 points in 24 games. However, he refined other areas of his game. The 2020-21 season will be an important one for Tracey who will be expected to be a dominant force in the WHL. The offensive production will need to be there, and there has to be evidence that he’s worked on rounding out his game.
As for the Hockey Canada U20 snub, there aren’t too many players on that list that I can say Tracey belongs over them. I could make the argument that he deserves a look over Graeme Clarke, but it’s not a major oversight. However, a hot start to 2020-21 could earn him a spot on the team.
The Ducks Have a Logjam of Prospects Who Fit the 2nd and 3rd- Line Roles. How Do the Ducks Fix This Issue?
Shout out to TheReds2 and BroLil on Reddit who had similar questions regarding who to trade or let battle for roster spots. “Logjam” is the perfect description for the number of prospects the Ducks have that fit that second or third-line role. With Jones, Steel, Terry and Comtois seeing time in the NHL and Lundestrom, Groulx, Tracey and Morand on the way, eventually Anaheim will have to start making some hard decisions. You can’t fit them all in, especially when you’ve got to make room for Getzlaf, Henrique, Rakell and Silfverberg.
Short term, management will likely assess what they have over the next couple of seasons and keep an eye on those who can help the team into the future. Long term, they’ll end up having to trade some pieces. It’s not a bad spot to be in, having too many good young players pushing for roster spots. It will allow the Ducks to deal from a position of strength and shore up some of your weaknesses in the process. Ultimately, I think Henrique will become expendable once Steel settles in. One of the centers, Groulx or Lundestrom, will either shift to the wing or be dealt in another trade. Tracey is a few years away, so for now, Jones and Comtois are safe.
Time to finish these up with a few rapid fire questions!
Which of the Current Ducks Could Become Captain When Getzlaf Retires?
I think the candidates start and end with Manson, Silfverberg and Fowler. Manson and Silfverberg served as alternate captains in the 2019-20 season, and on occasion, so has Fowler. Ultimately, when all is said and done, the most likely candidate is Manson. However, that all hinges on whether he’s still a member of the Ducks when Getzlaf retires.
Will the Ducks Bring Perry Back on a One-Day Deal?
It’ll happen. It has to, right? We’ll have to wait until Perry is ready to retire, but à la Cam Ward last summer, and many others before him, it’s a common trend for players to return to their former NHL clubs and retire.
How Long Do You Think the Rebuild Will Take before the Window Opens Again?
Unfortunately, we don’t have the prospect pool that the Los Angeles Kings have, so the rebuild will carry on for a few more years. Adding a top-six player in this year’s draft helps, and pencil in the Ducks for at least two more top-ten selections, in 2021 and 2022, before I’m comfortable saying they have the pieces to compete again. They can’t wait too long though, as Fowler, Lindholm, Gibson and Rakell aren’t getting any younger.
What Is the Worst Trade You Think the Ducks Made in the past Few Years?
I wish there was a Forsberg for Erat trade I could latch onto here. Unfortunately, the Ducks don’t really make bad trades or great trades for that matter. They all just work out to be average. I excluded Shea Theodore at the expansion draft because it, technically, wasn’t a normal trade. Instead, I traveled back to 2015, when the Ducks traded Kyle Palmieri to the New Jersey Devils for a second and third-round pick; not ideal for a player who scored over 24 goals in each season since joining the Devils.
How Long Does Ownership Stay with Bob Murray? Are There Any Candidates in the Organization to Fill That Role?
Fortunately, I’ve already dug into this in great detail in my recent article about Martin Madden’s promotion. He’ll have two years to prove himself as the ideal candidate to take over for Murray.
If You Had to Give Unbiased Letter Grades, How Would You Grade the Ducks Defenders Heading into Next Season?
Fowler leads the pack with an A- after producing what could have been a career year in goals and points before the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lindholm gets a B for doing what he does year-in-year-out, being one of the Ducks’ most reliable two-way defenders while also eating up significant ice time. Gudbranson and Del Zotto both get a C+ for being better than I expected, but not good enough to be playing over 19 minutes a night, which they did.
Manson and Larsson get a C- and D, respectively. Both were underwhelming and were prone to errors all season. We’re rapid firing through these and I’ll probably revisit this one in more detail later on.
Thanks for reading the first Ducks’ Mailbag! This will be a recurring segment in my coverage of the team and will be posted at least once a month. I appreciate everyone who submitted a question and feel free to reach out to me on Twitter, @eddyvanjones, if I didn’t get to your question. You can also drop a comment below, and I’ll respond that way!