By Thomas Harrington
The Ducks hold the 24th and the 30th overall picks in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
First up, my prediction for the 24th pick. Look for my prediction for the 30th pick in the next day or so. As I’ve done the last two years, I have examined several mock drafts and read over scouting reports from a large variety of different hockey sources. I am basing my predictions off of what those rankings and reports say, and also by my own instinct in terms of who I think the Ducks would like on their team. The reason I do it this way and not based on my own observations is because I don’t get much of a chance to see these kids play. Outside of the World Junior Tournament, I don’t watch a lot of junior hockey, so I go with what is being said by the people who get to watch these kids on a daily basis.
Before I get to my prediction, a bit of background on the upcoming draft. The 2016 NHL Entry Draft is headlined by three forwards: Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine, and Jesse Puljujarvi. They are expected to go 1-2-3 on Friday, with Toronto, Winnipeg, and Columbus taking them in succession. There are some rumors floating around online that say the Blue Jackets are considering trading their pick, but I highly doubt that happens. After the big three, there are a few other high end forwards who look to become very good NHL players someday, including Matthew Tkachuk, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Olli Juolevi, and Alexander Nylander.
I do think Anaheim will try and trade up at the draft (especially since they now have two first round picks), but this is being written under the assumption that Anaheim stays put. For any kinds of predictions of who the Ducks could trade with and who they might take if they do trade up, you can take a look at the recent “Trading Up At The Draft” articles I have written over the last few weeks. When the Ducks made their pick at 27 a year ago, their goal was to draft someone who they had in their top 20, and they were able to do that when they selected Jacob Larsson. With the 24th pick, it will undoubtedly be their goal again.
The Ducks have a philosophy of drafting the best player available; however, who the Ducks think the best player available is could be different than who the Rangers think is the best player available. In the first round in the last six years, the Ducks have selected Nick Ritchie, Shea Theodore, Hampus Lindholm, Rickard Rakell, Emerson Etem, Cam Fowler, and Jacob Larsson. One thing that immediately sticks out is that, of those seven players, four of them are defensemen who were drafted with a high offensive upside and excellent skating skills. The other take away from this is that the Ducks like big players who can hit and score. Another thing to keep in mind: the Ducks usually do not draft based on position, but a quick look at their current depth chart shows a lack of center and left wing depth in terms of prospects. Waiting in the wings they have Ritchie, Stefan Noesen, Nic Kerdiles, and Nick Sorenson. On defense, the Ducks have Theodore, Larsson, Marcus Pettersson, Andy Welinski, and Brandon Montour. At center their top prospects are Julius Nattinen, Kalle Kossila, and Michael Sgarbossa. The Ducks are also very thin in net with only Kevin Boyle and Garrett Metcalf in their prospect system, and I expect them to take at least one goaltender at the draft, but not until Saturday in rounds two through seven.
If it comes down to a choice between a forward and a defenseman who the Ducks consider equal, I do think they will choose the forward, given the lack of high end forward prospects the Ducks have especially compared to their defensive prospects. However, Bob Murray loves drafting defensemen, and I’m sure Anaheim will take at least one, if not more, this weekend. Right now, I’m betting he takes a forward with the 24th pick, but I would not be surprised to see him grab a defensemen with the 30th pick.
Now, on to my prediction, and this assumes that the Ducks don’t make any trades and none of the higher rated players fall to the end of the first round. If the Ducks were drafting at 10th or higher as they did two years ago, it would be easier to make my prediction. However, with a later first round pick, there is no clear picture in terms of who will be the best player available at 24th overall. There is a long list of potential players who the Ducks could be targeting, but I believe it will be one of the following players: center Tage Thompson, center Rasmus Asplund, left winger Riley Tufte, right winger Alex DeBrincat, center Brett Howden, and defenseman Dennis Cholowski. Most scouts and mock drafts have these six players going in the low to mid 20s, and I think the Ducks would be happy with any of them. While at least a couple of these players will be gone when Anaheim does make their selection, I think it’s a safe bet that at least three of them are still available when Anaheim steps up to the podium. However, if certain players rated in teens were to fall to Anaheim at 24, I do think they would take one of them. Possible candidates for that include German Rubtsov, Luke Kunin, Julien Gauthier, Max Jones, and Kieffer Bellows. If any of them are still available at 24, I do think Anaheim will take them and we can all just ignore my prediction if that happens.
Thompson is a huge center. He stands at 6’ 5” and is lethal on the power play, leading the NCAA in power play goals with 13. Overall, he scored 14 goals and 32 points in 36 games for the University of Connecticut, pretty good numbers for a freshman. He’ll take some time to mature before he gets to the NHL, but the Ducks don’t need young centers on their roster until a few years from now. He could fit into that timeline nicely. Asplund reminds me of former Anaheim prospect William Karlsson. He’s a center from Sweden who is known as a very smart player on the ice. He played 46 games in the SHL last season, the top league in Sweden and arguably one of the five best hockey leagues in the world. He’s a little small at 5’10”, but given how much the Ducks like Swedish players, he could be right up their alley. There’s an outside chance he could still be around when the Ducks pick again, so if there’s someone else they like, they may pass on him the first time in the hope that he’s still available when the Ducks pick again at 30. Tufte is another big player, standing at 6’ 5”. He reminds me a bit of Nick Ritchie, a big man who can score. While playing high school hockey in Minnesota last year, he scored 47 goals in only 25 games. He’ll take a few years to develop, but he and Ritchie could give the Ducks size and scoring on the left side for years to come.
DeBrincat is one of the best goal scorers in the draft and leads the CHL in goal scoring over the last two seasons with 102 goals, 51 scored in each. He’s small at 5’7”, but the NHL has become kinder to smaller skilled players over the years, so he could become the next Marty St. Louis or Johnny Gaudreau. The Ducks have pretty good depth at right wing in both the NHL and prospect system, but if they could get a goal scorer to eventually replace Corey Perry, that would be a great addition to the team. While he probably won’t get there, he’s probably the best pure goal scorer who will be available in the mid 20s. Similar to Asplund, he’s another player who could still be around at 30 and the Ducks could wait and see if he is still available. Howden is a two-way center who put up 25 points on the power play in 68 games last season. He’s another player who could still be available at 30, but if the Ducks really like his all-around game, I could see Anaheim taking him at 24 and not risking someone else picking him before the pick again. Cholowski is an excellent skater who makes a good outlet pass and can beat a forecheck. In other words, other than not being Swedish, he sounds like the prototypical Murray defenseman. If the Ducks weren’t so strong on defense already, I think he’d be a hard player to pass up. That being said, with another first round pick on the docket, I could see the Ducks grabbing him and taking a forward with the 30th pick.
With the 24th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, I predict that the Ducks will take Riley Tufte. His size and goal scoring ability could both be huge boons to the Ducks for years to come. A one-two combination of him and Ritchie on the Ducks’ left side could terrorize opponents. He’s at least a year or two away from being NHL ready, if not more, but when he gets there, watch out for him. All of the other players I listed look incredibly attractive, and there are decent odds that at least one of them will still be around when the Ducks pick again. There’s a chance that Tufte could be taken before the Ducks step up to the podium, but if he’s still available, he’s who I think the Ducks will take. If Tufte is gone, I think the Ducks take Tage Thompson. There are a number of good players who will be available, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Ducks take one of them.
Expect my prediction of who the Ducks will take with the 30th pick very soon, assuming that it’s not used in a deal before then.
For more on Anaheim’s draft picks and potential trading options please visit: Ducks Draft Order, Potential First Round Trades
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