By Thomas Harrington
Last year, while the NHL was on pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I started reviewing every draft class that Bob Murray had drafted with Anaheim, starting with 2009 and stopping with the 2015 class. I figured five years was enough time to grade how well a draft class was doing. Overall, Murray had done a good job of drafting, but not a great one, and I gave him a B for his work from 2009 to 2015.
The 2016 NHL Draft hasn’t been a particularly strong class. Only 11 players have broken the 100 point mark, and only three of those players were picked after the first round. The 2016 NHL Draft saw Auston Matthews go first overall to Toronto. Patrick Laine and Pierre-Luc Dubois were chosen second and third, and they were involved in a trade for each other this past season. I would argue that Matthews is the only true superstar picked in this draft, though Laine, Matthew Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, and a few others are certainly stars.
After a weak 2015 draft class, Anaheim’s 2016 draft certainly has more potential, but it has yet to produce any NHL stars. The Ducks only had six picks in this draft; two of them were first round selections and two of them were fourth round selections. Anaheim chose Max Jones 24th overall, Sam Steel 30th overall, Josh Mahura 85th overall, Jack Kopacka 93rd overall, Alex Dostie 115th overall, and Tyler Soy 205th overall.
The Ducks had previously traded their second round pick in this draft to Vancouver for Kevin Bieksa, they traded their fifth round pick to Toronto in the deal that brought Korbinian Holzer to the Ducks, and they traded their sixth round pick to Florida for Brandon Pirri. Anaheim acquired the pick they used for Steel from Toronto in the Frederik Andersen deal and they acquired the pick they used on Kopacka from Edmonton in the Patrick Maroon trade.
After being drafted, Jones averaged nearly a point per game in his next two seasons in the OHL, recording 60 points in 64 games. He turned pro in the 2018-2019 season, splitting time between the AHL and NHL. He played in 30 games with the Ducks and scored two goals and five points. With the Gulls, he played in 43 games and scored 14 goals and 29 points. He followed that up by spending almost all of the 2019-2020 season in the NHL, and only playing in eight games with the Gulls. With the Ducks, he played in 59 games and scored eight goals and 12 points. This past season, he spent the entire year in the NHL, scoring seven goals and 11 points in 46 games.
After being drafted, Steel had an absolutely insane season for the Regina Pats, as he scored 50 goals and 131 points in just 66 games. Steel also recorded 30 points in 23 playoff games. He followed that up with 83 points in 54 games the following season, while also scoring nine points in seven games at the World Juniors. Steel turned pro the next season, and similar to Jones, split the year between the AHL and NHL.
With the Gulls, he scored 20 goals and 41 points in 53 games and scored six goals and 11 points in 22 NHL games. Over the past two seasons, Steel has only played in the NHL, but unfortunately, has hit a bit of a wall offensively. In the 2019-2020 season, he scored six goals and 22 points in 65 games. This past year, he scored six goals and 12 points in 42 games.
It’s fair to say that neither Jones nor Steel have become star players. However, among players drafted in the first round, Steel ranks 13th in points with 45 and Jones ranks 16th with 28. So for late first round selections, they look like pretty good picks. However, there are two players chosen in the second round who have turned into legitimate NHL stars and would have absolutely been better selections. Chicago chose Alex DeBrincat 39th overall and he’s scored 229 points in 286 games, both of which lead the second round.
In fact, DeBrincat’s 229 points rank fourth overall from this draft class. Nashville chose Samuel Girard 47th overall and he’s scored 116 points in 273 games, both second from the second round. He’s 11th overall in scoring from this draft class, and fourth among defensemen. Jones and Steel were good picks given where they were selected and who went before them. But, if the Ducks had taken DeBrincat and Girard, they’d be a much better team today.
Mahura only played in two WHL games the year he was drafted, but was healthy over his final two years in juniors. Despite being a defenseman, he still put up 69 points in 60 games in his final year in the WHL. Ever since the conclusion of his junior career, Mahura has spent time in both the AHL and NHL every single season. While he has yet to establish himself as a fulltime NHL player, he has put up some excellent numbers for the Gulls and looks ready for the NHL.
Unfortunately for him, the Ducks have Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Jacob Larsson playing left defense, one of the reasons why he has only seen sporadic time with the Ducks. With the Ducks this past season, he scored a goal and four points in 13 games, while scoring six goals and 20 points in 28 games with the Gulls.
Overall, Mahura has scored three goals and 13 points in 41 NHL games, which is tied for second in points among players drafted in the third round. The only player with more points, Adam Fox, was drafted significantly earlier. So while Mahura has yet to become a full-time player, he has been one of the most successful players taken in the third round.
After being drafted, Kopacka spent the next two years in the OHL, scoring nearly a point per game in his final year of junior hockey. In his rookie season in San Diego, he suffered a major injury and only played in 32 games. The following season, he played in both the AHL and ECHL, while struggling with consistency. Overall, he played in 69 games for the Gulls and scored 13 goals and 29 points. He was traded back in January in the deal that brought Trevor Carrick to the Gulls. Kopacka played in nine AHL games this year and recorded one assist.
13 players selected in the fourth round of 2016 have made it to the NHL, but only one, Victor Mete, has become an impact NHL player. Unfortunately, Mete was taken seven spots after Kopacka, so the Ducks missed on this one. Other players who Anaheim could have picked instead include Ross Colton, Noah Gregor, and Mikhail Maltsev. None of them have played a ton in the NHL, but they’ve all played 30 or more NHL games and have scored six goals or more in their career.
Dostie was drafted as an overage player, so he only had one year of junior eligibility left after Anaheim selected him. He played in 63 games and scored 30 goals and 71 points in the QMJHL. After turning pro, he spent his first two years splitting time between the AHL and ECHL. He’s spent the entirety of his last two years in the AHL. However, after his third professional season, his contract with Anaheim ended and he was brought back to San Diego on an AHL-only deal. He played in 20 games this past season and recorded five assists.
Given how late Dostie was taken in the fourth round, the better comparables for him were players taken in the fifth and sixth rounds. Only four players taken in the fifth round have made it to the NHL, but none of them have been impact players. From the sixth round, seven players have made it to the NHL, but only Jesper Bratt has become an impact player. However, things are so much more difficult to predict once the fifth and sixth rounds roll around. So the Ducks missed with Dostie, but I do give more leeway with these later rounds.
After being drafted, Soy played two more years in the WHL, including 92 points in 66 games in his final season, an overage season. He split the 2018-2019 season between the ECHL and University of Alberta, and then spent the entirety of the 2019-2020 season at the University of Alberta. Per eliteprospects.com, that was his last season playing hockey.
Only three players from the seventh round have appeared in the NHL, but one was taken after Soy. The Sharks chose Joachim Blichfeld 210th overall, and he has one goal in eight career games. While he hasn’t lit it up at the NHL level, Blichfeld does have 54 points in 69 AHL games. Once you get to the seventh round of the draft, finding a high-end AHL scorer is pretty good. So the Ducks missed with taking Soy because Blichfeld would have done more for San Diego, but he certainly wasn’t a big mess. The seventh round of the 2016 NHL Draft has yet to produce much NHL talent.
Overall, I’d give Anaheim a B- for this draft. It went better than the 2015 draft, but wasn’t as good as some of their better years like 2011, 2012, or even 2014. With their six picks, Anaheim chose two NHL players, one borderline NHL player, and missed on their last three picks. Steel and Jones look like decent-to-good picks, but they weren’t great picks.
If Anaheim had chosen just one of DeBrincat or Girard, this would have been one of Anaheim’s better drafts. If they had chosen both, it could have been their best. Mahura was a good pick for the third round. I’m still hoping for him to become a full time NHL player in the future, but he’s not there yet. If he does, the grade might rise to a B. Unfortunately, the Ducks missed on their final three picks of the draft, but there hasn’t been a ton of NHL talent to come out of the later rounds of this draft, so they don’t feel like huge misses.
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July 22nd, 2021