Prediction: With The 3rd Overall Pick, The Anaheim Ducks Will Select…

Graphic: NHL

By Thomas Harrington

The Ducks hold one pick in the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft: 3rd overall. As in previous years, I’ve examined several mock drafts and read over scouting reports from a large variety of different hockey sources in order to predict who I think Anaheim will select in the first round. 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 and even less international hockey, so I go with what is being said by the people who get to watch these prospects on a daily basis. The Ducks hold six other picks in the draft: 34th overall, 66th overall, 98th overall, 130th overall, 148th overall, and 162nd overall.

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Before I get to my prediction, a bit of background on the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. The Buffalo Sabres hold the top in the draft, and they are expected to take defenseman Owen Power first overall. The Seattle Kraken have the second overall pick, and the NHL’s newest franchise will likely take Matthew Beniers, though that’s certainly not a guarantee.

Every year, the NHL Draft can be difficult to predict who will be picked where and what kind of careers these players will have. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this will likely be the most difficult draft ever for NHL scouts. Every developmental league was impacted in some way, and the OHL and several NCAA teams didn’t play a single game.

Also, teams have had to rely significantly more on video rather than in-person scouting. As a result, teams and scouts have not been able to evaluate talent in the manner they are used to. The teams that have been able to adapt to this difficult year will probably have the most success coming out of the draft. The good news for the Ducks is that pretty much every top prospect in the draft played in some games last year, giving them a decent idea of who they want at third overall. It will really be the players chosen in the third round and beyond who will be harder to choose for NHL scouting departments.

The Ducks say they have a philosophy of drafting the best player available, and, I do think that is true. However, if Anaheim feels they need to really upgrade a particular position, I do believe that the Ducks will draft based on positional need in their prospect pool.

So if they have a center and a defenseman ranked at a similar spot, they will take the player who helps fill in their prospect system better. This strategy has led to Anaheim taking a lot of forwards in the first round. Going back to the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Ducks have had seven first round picks and chosen six forwards. However, with Sam Steel, Isac Lundestrom, Max Jones, Max Comtois, and Troy Terry graduating to the NHL in recent years, Anaheim’s forward prospect ranks are not deep. On defense, the Ducks have a significant amount of depth, but only one star prospect with Jamie Drysdale.

Bob Murray has been the GM of the Ducks since 2009, and since 2010, he has chosen Nick Ritchie, Shea Theodore, Hampus Lindholm, Rickard Rakell, Emerson Etem, Cam Fowler, Jacob Larsson, Jones, Steel, Lundestrom, Tevor Zegras, Brayden Tracey, Drysdale, and Jacob Perreault.

A few observations about these picks. If Murray takes a defenseman, it’ll be a good skater with a good offensive upside. His forwards are a little more of a mixed group. Steel and Zegras are playmaking centers, while Rakell is a two-time 30 goal winger who was drafted as a center. Ritchie and Jones are power forwards, while Etem was more known for his speed.

Not every pick works out, but Murray has had more luck with drafting defensemen in the first round, since three of the five have become NHL regulars. Larsson hasn’t developed into the top four defenseman many had hoped for, but he’s played in almost 160 NHL games over the course of his career. It’s too soon to say what Drysdale will become, though I’m excited about his future.

At forward, Rakell was a good pick, while Etem and Ritchie ended up not panning out, though Ritchie did have his best NHL season in Boston this past year. Steel and Jones haven’t developed as much as hoped, but both have become NHL regulars. Lundestrom became an NHL regular this past season, and while he’s not a big time goal scorer, he didn’t look out of place most nights. Zegras played well in limited action with the Ducks, and should be in the NHL on a full time basis this season. It’s too soon to say what kind of player Tracey and Perreault will become, though I’m hopeful they will work out.

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Now, on to my prediction, and this assumes that the Ducks don’t make any trades. With the third overall pick, there are going to be a lot of really good players available. Power will be gone, and Beniers likely will be. If Power or Beniers are available, then I think that’s who the Ducks should select. However, assuming they are gone, prospects who will be available and I think the Ducks would be interested in winger Dylan Guenthers, defenseman Luke Hughes, defenseman Simon Edvinsson, winger William Eklund, defenseman Brandt Clarke, and center Kent Johnson. Most scouts and mock drafts have these players being selected either at third overall, or within a few picks of that position. I think any of these players would be a solid pick at third overall. I could also see Anaheim trying to trade down a spot or two, since most of these players will be available for the next few spots.

Guenthers knows how to score and averaged two points per game in a shortened WHL season with 12 goals and 12 assists in 12 games. Hughes is an elite skater, and comes from a strong hockey family, as both Jack Hughes and Quinn Hughes have become NHL regulars. Jack was the first overall pick in 2019, while Quinn was the seventh overall pick in 2018. Edvinsson has been playing in the SHL and has a massive ceiling, however, his floor is believed to be lower than some of the other available prospects, so he may be a bit of a gamble. Eklund is an elite winger who put up over half a point per game in the SHL as a teenager. Clarke is a superb playmaker but not a great skater. Johnson is a flashy player who averaged over a point per game as a freshman, something that is very difficult to do.

With the third overall pick, the Anaheim Ducks will select Dylan Guenthers. Guenthers is one of, if not the best, scoring wingers in this draft. The Ducks pick the best player available and don’t look at organizational depth. However, with many of these prospects being seen as fairly equal, taking potentially the best goal scorer in this draft and putting him next to Zegras has to be something the Ducks dream about. Given how short his season was last year, I do believe he’ll return to the WHL for at least one more season before he turns pro. If not Guenthers, then Eklund would be my second choice. He’s another elite winger, the kind that Anaheim could really use. I’ll be happy with Anaheim taking either of these two players.

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July 22nd, 2021