Ducks Address Center, Defense Needs at Draft

2019 NHL Draft, Brayden Tracey, Ducks Prospects, Jackson Lacombe, NHL Entry Draft, Tevor Zegras

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The 2019 NHL Draft has come and gone, and the Anaheim Ducks now have the rights to seven new players that they hope will someday make the NHL. The consensus among draft experts is that general manager Bob Murray, and the Ducks had a strong performance at the draft filling their need at center with their first pick, Trevor Zegras. Their approach was more scattershot to try to fill their need on defense, selecting four blueliners with their last five picks. Now it’s time to dig into the potential of the Ducks’ new toys.

Ducks Pick Zegras at No. 9

It was hard to go wrong for any team that selected a center in the top 10 spots. In my pre-draft article, I didn’t list Zegras as one of my three options, (I had Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach or Peyton Krebs as the best options for the Ducks), but that doesn’t mean I disagree with this pick. Dach and Cozens weren’t available at No. 9, while Krebs fell to No. 17 before the Vegas Golden Knights drafted him.

Trevor Zegras of the U.S. National Development Program
Trevor Zegras was one of the most highly touted center prospects behind Jack Hughes coming into the draft. (Hickling Images)

Like many of the centers drafted in the first round, Zegras’ playmaking ability is elite, and has one of the highest ceilings in the draft class behind Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. As Cory Pronman of The Athletic said,

“Zegras will need some time to round out his game, but he’s immensely talented, a top 3-4 player in the draft on pure upside,”

(from, Grading the Anaheim Ducks’ 2019 draft class’ – The Athletic NHL – 6/22/19).

Though many think he will need to develop while playing at Boston University this season, Zegras’ goal is not to spend too much time there, as he told the media right after the Ducks drafted him.

“’I think just one hockey season,’ Zegras said without pause. ‘And I think I’m ready to go,’”

(from, ‘How Ducks draft pick Trevor Zegras makes ‘video game’ type highlights’ – The Athletic NHL – 6/22/19).

You have to love that type of confidence in a young player.

Does Zegras Have Weaknesses?

Zegras comes with a couple of weaknesses that made me favor Krebs, Dach and Cozens over him. Our draft experts say he lacks discipline between the whistles. The Ducks already have that weakness. They’ve finished among the NHL’s worst five teams in time spent shorthanded in every season since 2015-16.

That lack of discipline came under former head coach Randy Carlyle. Perhaps under Dallas Eakins, the Ducks will finally clamp down on their penalties and Zegras won’t add to the issue.

Zegras has also been criticized for not shooting enough. If and when he arrives in Anaheim, he will have teammates who can finish. Imagine Zegras on a line with Max Comtois, whose shown an ability to score at every level, including the NHL.

Welcome to Anaheim, Brayden Tracey

Before the draft, I was convinced the Ducks would take a
defenseman with their No. 29 pick.

Of the players I highlighted, the Ottawa Senators selected Lassi Thomson with the No. 19 pick, much earlier than experts had anticipated he would go. The Kings took Tobias Bjornfot at No. 22, which left 6-foot-6 Alex Vlasic who the Ducks passed on.

At No. 29, they selected Moose Jaw Warriors left wing Brayden Tracey. It sounds like Tracey is a great finisher who may someday help convert those Zegras passes into goals.

Perhaps they felt Tracey had more potential at his position, wing, than any defenseman available at that point.

Brayden Tracey Ducks Draft
Can Brayden Tracey become the scoring complement to Trevor Zegras’ play-making skills? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This season will be a significant indicator about whether the Ducks made the right decision on Tracey or not. As one of our draft experts, Ryan Pike pointed out, Tracey may have benefited from strong linemates on the Warriors.

“Another reason for confidence would be playing regularly with two strong WHL veterans: overager Tristin Langan (who had 113 points) and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Justin Almeida (who had 111 points). That’s where things get tricky with evaluating Tracey’s overall game – he was one of the most productive players of his age group, but virtually all of his assists were on Langan or Almeida goals (and his goals were mostly set up by that duo). He had just one even-strength point that was generated with neither of them on the ice.”

The hope is that Tracey flourishes this season without his
two stud linemates by his side.

Ducks Address Defensive Need with LaCombe

Murray and the Ducks decided to address their defensive need by selecting Jackson LaCombe at No. 39 in the second round. It looks like a gamble, since LaCombe, even at No. 39, comes with a lot more to prove at higher levels. With players like Vlasic and Matthew Robertson still available, who played against much tougher competition, Murray and his staff must’ve seen something they really liked in LaCombe.

The attraction likely stemmed from LaCombe’s already elite skating ability and his prodigious scoring numbers; he had 22 goals and 67 assists in 89 games his senior season for Shattuck St. Mary’s School.

So early in his development, he might have a higher ceiling than some of the more developed players.

You could point to Josh Manson as an example of a defenseman the Ducks picked who had played against weaker competition (in the BCHL) before going to college and eventually flourishing with the organization.

LaCombe is committed to play at the University of Minnesota starting next season. He has an opportunity to show that he can step up against much stronger competition, as Manson did, but remember, the Ducks picked Manson in the sixth round not the second.

Jackson Lacombe Anaheim Ducks Draft
Jackson Lacombe will gain experience at the college level next season. He’s committed to play for the University of Minnesota. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Overall, this might be the pick that Ducks fans look back on and regret, considering highly touted defensemen like Vlasic and Matthew Robertson were still available.

Late-er Round Gem?

The Ducks selected defenseman Henry Thrun, a teammate of Zegras’ with the USNTDP, in the fourth round, No. 101 overall. Though experts disagree about Thrun’s skating ability, some, like Pronman, think it might keep him from reaching the NHL:

“He’s gotten quicker since he entered the program, but his stride is not the smoothest around, and he will struggle to play at a pro pace,”

(from, Grading the Anaheim Ducks’ 2019 draft class’ – The Athletic NHL – 6/22/19).

However, Thrun’s defensive-zone skills are what gives him potential. Though smaller, puck-moving defensemen are all the rage in today’s NHL, you need reliable, stay-at-home defensemen to help mitigate the risks that puck movers take. Thrun sounds like that type of player with his anticipation in the defensive zone and his ability to make smart breakout passes.

If he can improve his skating, he’s got the potential to be
a future shutdown defenseman for the Ducks.

The One That Got Away

Vlasic, who the Ducks passed over twice at spots where it would’ve been appropriate to select him, is the one player I wish Murray had selected. His size and mobility alone give him the potential to be a dominant force on the blue line for the Chicago Blackhawks who selected him. I had visions of Colton Parayko, but maybe Murray saw Vlasic and had visions of Andrej Sustr instead.

Tantalizing Trade News

After the draft, it surfaced that the Ducks almost made a trade that would’ve made them the biggest winners of the draft.

According to Eric Stephens of The Athletic, once Krebs began to fall down the draft, the Ducks saw an opportunity and made the framework for a trade with the Dallas Stars to trade their No. 29 and No. 39 picks in exchange for the Stars’ No. 18 pick.

Peyton Krebs Golden Knights Draft
If he had fallen one more spot in the draft, Peyton Krebs would’ve been drafted by the Ducks, not the Golden Knights. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the No. 18 pick, the Ducks planned to draft Krebs. Unfortunately, their Pacific Division foe, the Golden Knights, selected him at No. 17, which negated the need for the trade, (from, ‘The Ducks went bold with Trevor Zegras, and nearly landed a second coveted prospect’ – The Athletic NHL – 6/24/19).

If Krebs had fallen one more spot and the Ducks had selected him, they could’ve had the best first round of any team. Anaheim would’ve added not one but two potential franchise centers at a position of need.

Now that the draft is over, the fun begins. The Ducks will hold their rookie camp Saturday and all seven of this year’s draftees will attend. It will be a chance to see who’s ready to come out of the gate firing and make an excellent first impression on management. Although there are a few players that I wish the Ducks had selected, they had a strong draft which should help the team get back into playoff contention in the next couple of seasons.

All stats from hockey-reference.com

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