Ducks 2019 Draft Review

Photo: AP

By Thomas Harrington

It’s time to take a look back at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and see how the Ducks did. I believe that five years is enough time to evaluate a draft class. While sometimes it will take longer than this to properly determine if a player will someday make it to the NHL or become an impact NHL player, overall, most will clearly be NHL players or not within 5 years of a draft. However, the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted players taken in this draft, making it a little harder than usual to truly know how good this class is.

I’ll first go over the players who Anaheim selected and take a look at what they’ve done in the past five years, regardless of whether they stayed with the Ducks or not. I’ll then take a look at the rest of the players taken in the same round after Anaheim’s selection to see if the Ducks should have made a different choice. If a player is taken towards the end of a round, then I’ll go 10 picks into the next round as well. If the Ducks have another pick in that round or before I get through those 10 spots, then I’ll only look at players up to that point.

Just because a team found a gem in the sixth round of the draft doesn’t mean Anaheim chose the wrong player a hundred picks earlier; it means that the entire league, including the team who eventually picked that player, missed on that player in the first five rounds of the draft. I’ll also be more critical of players chosen in the first three rounds of a draft than players chosen towards the end of a draft. If Anaheim finds an NHL player in the later rounds, that will also have a bigger impact than not finding an NHL player.

The New Jersey Devils chose Jack Hughes first overall, followed by Kaapo Kakko to the New York Rangers, and Kirby Dach to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Devils easily got the best player, as Hughes is the only player to have over 100 goals and 200 points from that draft class. Overall, he’s scored 114 goals and 281 points in 306 games. Matt Boldy is second with 171 points, Dylan Cozens is third with 166 points, Trevor Zegras is fourth with 154 points, and Cole Caufield rounds out the top five with 149 points. Caufield is second in goals with 81. Other top players to come out of the first round include Bowen Byram to Colorado fourth overall, Moritz Seider to Detroit sixth overall, and Thomas Harley to Dallas 18th overall.

Anaheim’s 2019 draft class was a strong one, and depending on how the next few years go, could go down as one of the team’s better ones. Three of the team’s first four picks have become legitimate NHL players, while the fourth still has a chance at becoming an NHL player. Of the three players to establish themselves in the NHL, one has a legitimate chance to turn into a star player.

Overall, the Ducks made seven picks in this draft, including two in the first, two in the sixth, and none in the third or seventh rounds. Anaheim chose Zegras ninth overall, Brayden Tracey 29th overall, Jackson LaCombe 39th overall, Henry Thrun 101st overall, Trevor Janicke 132nd overall, William Francis 163rd overall, and Mathew Hill 186th overall. The Ducks acquired the 29th pick from Buffalo as part of the Brandon Montour deal and the 186th pick from St. Louis in exchange for Michael Del Zotto. Anaheim traded its third round pick to New Jersey as part of the Sami Vatanen for Adam Henrique deal, and its seventh round pick to Chicago in the deal that brought Sam Carrick to the Ducks.

Trevor Zegras 9th Overall

After being drafted, Zegras spent a year at Boston University, where he scored 11 goals and 36 points in 33 games. He also played for Team USA at the World Juniors, where he recorded nine assists in five games. He turned pro the following year, playing for both the Ducks and Gulls. He once again played at the World Juniors, where he scored seven goals and 18 points in just seven games, helping lead Team USA to the gold medal and being named MVP of the tournament. The following year was his first full season in the NHL, where he scored 23 goals and 61 points in 75 games and was the Calder Trophy runner up to Seider. He followed that up with 23 goals and 65 points in 81 games.

Unfortunately, this past season didn’t go well, as he missed the start of training camp while he and the Ducks were working on a new contract, and he had multiple injuries throughout the season. He only played in 31 games and scored six goals and 15 points. Zegras was playing better towards the end of the season, finishing with eight points in his final eight games. Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come next year.

Despite the issues he had this past season, getting Zegras at ninth overall was a great pick by the Ducks. If he had been healthy and scored at just a 60 point pace, he’d be second in the draft class in points, assists, and probably fourth in goals. Even with all that time missed, his 99 assists and 154 points are both fourth in the draft class. That being said, there are two other players that I think Anaheim would have also been very happy in choosing, Boldly or Caufield. When the Ducks stepped up to the podium back in 2019, I was thinking I’d be happy as long as the Ducks took any of those three players.

While trade rumors have swirled around Zegras throughout the season, I still think the Ducks made the right choice in choosing him. Zegras isn’t a perfect player, but he has a high degree of skill and creativity. He’s either going to be with Anaheim for a long time to come, or be used in a trade to bring a large return to the Ducks.

Brayden Tracey 29th Overall

After being drafted, Tracey spent the next year in the WHL, playing for both the Moose Jaw Warriors and Victoria Royals. He was one of the prospects severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and split the following season between the AHL and WHL. With the Gulls, he played in 12 games and was scoreless, but did put up 21 points in 22 WHL games. He became a full-time pro in the 2021-2022 season, playing mostly for the Gulls, but he did make his NHL debut and got one game with the Ducks. With the Gulls he scored 11 goals and 31 points in 55 games while going scoreless in two playoff games. Unfortunately, his numbers have dropped a little each season since then. He scored 10 goals and 28 points in the 2022-2023 season and nine goals and 25 points this past season.

Tracey is the fourth player who may have an NHL future someday. If he does become a full-time NHL player, then this would become one of Anaheim’s better drafts. As it stands, it’s unlikely that he’ll make it, but he could end up being a player who bounces back and forth between the NHL and AHL. However, as of right now, he’s firmly in the AHL player category. There were only two players chosen after Tracey in the first round, and both have done more in the NHL to this point. Both John Beecher and Ryan Johnson made their NHL debuts this past season. Beecher skated in 52 games and scored seven goals and 10 points, while Johnson played in 41 games and recorded seven assists. Expanding 10 picks into the second round makes things look even worse.

The first three picks of the second round have all seen a fair amount of NHL action, with Shane Pinto scoring 70 points in 140 games, Arthur Kaliyev scoring 71 points in 188 games, and Bobby Brink scoring 27 points in 67 games. Goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov was taken early in the second round as well, and he has 38 wins in 69 games to lead the 2019 Draft. While Tracey could still become a legitimate NHL player someday, right now he looks like a miss, especially when compared to players taken soon after him.

Jackson LaCombe 39th Overall

After being drafted, LaCombe spent four years at the University of Minnesota, working on improving his defensive game. He was originally a forward but switched to playing defense before he was drafted. He got better in every year of college hockey and made his NHL debut at the end of the 2022-2023 season, getting two games with the Ducks. LaCombe also played for Team USA at the 2021 World Junior Championships and had one assist in six games. This past season was his rookie year, and he skated in 71 games and scored two goals and 17 points. LaCombe is still rough around the edges, but he showed improvement as the year went on. His skating and offensive ability are quite high and he could become a top four NHL defenseman someday.

I think LaCombe was a solid pick at 39th overall. The problem is the highest scoring player of the second round was selected one pick after him, Nils Hoglander. He leads the second round draftees with 90 points in 221 career games. Those 90 points rank 11th overall in the entire draft class. Current Duck Brett Leason was also chosen later in the second round, but I think LaCombe has the higher potential. Leason has 37 points in his career, but he’s also played in 158 games. Overall, LaCombe was a good pick by the Ducks, but Hoglander would have been an even better one.

Henry Thrun 101st Overall

After being drafted, Thrun split time between the NCAA and the USHL. If not for the pandemic, he only would have spent time in the NCAA. The pandemic also probably delayed him turning pro by a year. He played for Team USA at the 2021 World Juniors and at the 2023 World Cup.  When he finished his college career, he informed the Ducks he would not be signing with them and was traded to San Jose. He made his NHL debut at the end of the 2022-2023 season, getting eight games with the Sharks and recording two assists. This past season was his rookie year, and he split time between the NHL and AHL. With the Sharks, he played in 51 games and scored three goals and 11 points. With the Barracuda, he played in 18 games and scored one goal and six points. Thrun was never known as a big point producer, but instead had a solid overall game and should continue to adapt to the NHL going forward.

Only 10 players from the fourth round of the 2019 Draft have made it to the NHL, and Thrun ranks fourth in games played, goals, assists, and points. Two of the players with more NHL experience than him were both taken ahead of him. The only player to play more games than Thrun that was taken later in the fourth round was forward Dmitri Voronkov. He’s played in 75 games and scored 34 points. For a fourth round pick, I think Thrun was an excellent one. Voronkov may have outscored him, but he’s a forward and is expected to do so. It may take a few more years to see which of the two ends up with the better NHL career, but I think Anaheim’s scouting staff can be very happy with taking Thrun when they did.

Trevor Janicke 132nd Overall

After being drafted, Janicke spent five years at the University of Notre Dame. He was never a big time scorer for them, but did score a career high 15 goals and 24 points in 40 games in the 2021-2022 season. He did not sign a contract with Anaheim and will be a free agent this summer.

Only two players from the fifth round of this draft have made their way to the NHL: Mark Kastelic and Aku Raty. Kastelic was the first player taken in the fifth round, and he has played in 144 NHL games. Raty was taken after Janicke, but has played in only one NHL game. Once you get to the fifth round of the draft, players like Kastelic are the exception, not the rule. More often than not teams are looking for depth to eventually play with their AHL affiliates, and maybe get an NHL game every now and then. Interestingly enough, Anaheim made a trade to acquire Judd Caulfield from Pittsburgh last year. He was taken later in the fifth round than Janicke and had a solid rookie season for the Gulls. Given that it looks like Janicke won’t be helping out in San Diego, a player like Caulfield would have been a better choice.

William Francis 163rd Overall

After being drafted, Francis played in the USHL, took a year off from playing hockey in the 2020-2021 season, and has played at the University of Minnesota-Duluth for the past three years. He only played in one game this past season. Unfortunately, Francis’ career has been overshadowed by being diagnosed with leukemia twice, but thankfully recovered both times. He also had a major knee injury that caused him to miss a significant amount of time. The odds of a sixth round pick are always long to make the NHL, but what Francis has gone through has made that even more unlikely.

Only six players from the sixth round of the 2019 Draft have made their way to the NHL, and Elmer Soderblom leads the way with 21 games played. He was also taken before Francis. Of players taken after him, only Santeri Hatakka and Nikita Nesterenko have seen NHL action, and they have a combined 33 games between them. Given what Francis has gone through and how it would have been impossible to predict any of that happening to him, it feels unfair to all involved to say he was the wrong pick. All that can really be said is hopefully he can stay healthy going forward and see where life takes him.

Mathew Hill 186th Overall

After being drafted, Hill played a season in the OHL. The pandemic forced him to play in Denmark U20 the following season, and then he returned to the OHL for the 2021-2022 season. He then moved to Dalhousie University in the USports, where he has played for the past two seasons. He played in 29 games his first season with them and 30 in his second.

As the final player taken in the sixth round, we’ll need to look to the seventh round of the 2019 Draft to see if there were any better picks. Seven players from the seventh round have made it to the NHL. Juuso Parssinen leads the way with 37 points in 89 games, and Rafael Harvey-Pinard isn’t far behind with 31 points in 83 games. Dustin Wolf is the only goaltender from the seventh round to make it to the NHL, and he has 8 wins in 18 games. Any of them would have been better picks than Hill, but again, given how hard it is to predict players taken late in the draft, it’s hard to say the Ducks made a big mistake. It’s also not like they missed on any big stars, just useful depth.

Draft Grade

Overall, I’d give Anaheim a B for this draft. Zegras was a very good pick, and depending on how the next few years go, could prove to be an excellent one. Tracey looks like a miss, but LaCombe and especially Thrun in the fourth round really help make up for that. None of Anaheim’s later picks have worked out, and didn’t even end up as depth for the AHL.

There are a few things that could make Anaheim’s grade rise in the years to come. If one of the last three picks ever makes it to the AHL, then the Ducks’ grade could rise. If Tracey ever becomes a full-time NHL player, then Anaheim’s grade would definitely rise. If Zegras ever becomes a superstar player, then Anaheim’s grade would rise considerably. With seven picks, the Ducks chose three NHL players, an AHL forward, and three who didn’t work out. The 2019 NHL Entry Draft will go down as a good draft for the Ducks, and one that has the potential to be looked upon as a great one someday.

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June 23rd, 2024


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