Rebuilding the Anaheim Ducks from Home-Grown Parts

Sam Steel #34 of the Anaheim Ducks breaks out with Troy Terry #61 (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Sam Steel #34 of the Anaheim Ducks breaks out with Troy Terry #61 (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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Anaheim Ducks
Benoit-Olivier Groulx reacts after being selected 54th overall by the Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Lining Up The Spine

Starting with the center position the Ducks currently have Sam Steel, Isac Lundestrom, and Benoit-Oliver Groulx all ready to occupy a position on the Anaheim Ducks. Steel has played the last two seasons with the Ducks, which has him accumulating 33 points in 87 games (0.38 point per game pace). Given Steel’s hype as a point producer prior to entering the NHL (1.31 point per game pace in the WHL), the limited production may be considered somewhat disappointing.

Sam Steel

While the hope might be that he can develop into a similar style of pivot as Henrique, it should be noted that Henrique did have a faster start as an NHL scorer than Steel has thus far. Though it should be noted that Steel put up points in the AHL at a comparatively quicker pace (Henrique: 0.68; Steel: 0.77) in their respective first seasons. Henrique carried that over to the NHL in his first full season of NHL hockey (0.69 ppg) than Steel did (0.34 ppg).

Of course, Henrique had a poor sophomore season before settling into a becoming a regular ~40 point player. At 22-years-old (23 next season), Steel still has time to build upon his offensive game, yet time may be running out on the hope that he can be a top 6 pivot. Even in today’s NHL, the question should be asked whether a ~40 point player is the type of player a successful cup team desires as a 2C.

Thus, the Ducks will need to decide whether he is the 3C that they want to run with, in terms of roster construction. Do they foresee the 3rd line being a scoring line, an energy line, or a defensive line, as they move into the future? Does that vision marry up with the other players the Ducks have in hand?

Isac Lundestrom

Like Steel, Lundestrom has also played in parts of the past couple of seasons for a total of 6 points in 30 games (0.20 point per game pace). Never considered to be an offensive savant, prior to the draft Lundestrom was known for his steady playing style. A style that would have him top out as a defensive forward who could potentially put up a few points.

Over the past few years, Lundestrom hasn’t developed a strong offensive game, and it appears that his draft status will remain relatively true to form. It should be noted, however, that his AHL scoring rates did improve this past year under Kevin Dineen‘s tutelage.

Unfortunately, Lundestrom perhaps hasn’t been the strongest on the defensive side of the ledger either. Traditionally speaking, Lundestrom works hard, skates hard, shows a good knowledge of the game, and an ability to intercept passes and break up the play. Perhaps it would be in the player’s best interests to focus on these things and to further add strength to his body so that he can absorb contact to a greater degree.

These skills and this particular weakness may present clues into his performances to date. Despite presenting relatively strong shots-against numbers overall, which are likely a result of his skillful ability break up plays, high-danger chances have been sky high on his shifts. This may be partially due to bigger and stronger players being able to bully themselves to the front of the net.

As a result of having a weak offensive game and relatively underwhelming defensive metrics, Lundestrom’s expected goals-for percentage has been amongst the lowest of all Ducks forwards (39.23 per 60 minutes of play). For those who care about such things, his plus-minus has been below par as well.

At 20 years old, Lundestrom has some time to figure it out, however, with the expansion draft impending and with other players coming into the system, his time may be shorter than it would otherwise be.

Benoit-Oliver Groulx

Of the players who are currently in the system but not on the NHL roster, Benoit-Oliver Groulx is the last of the Anaheim Ducks notable young stable of center-ice-men. Like Steel and Lundestrom before him, there is significant hope that Groulx will be able to make a significant impact with the club. Though I do not believe the average fan is talking about him as much as they should.

Though we are yet to see him at the NHL level, his work in the QMJHL has been strong, both as a point producer and as a defensive worker. Coming in with good size, a strong work ethic, and an ability to play on both sides of special teams, this should earn him the opportunity to play in the NHL sooner than later.

With that said, assuming the Anaheim Ducks choose to test out Lundestrom and Steel this coming year, Groulx may see his ice time predominantly spent in the AHL, which may be the best landing spot for him. It would be really nice to see him generate a friendship and chemistry with the Ducks’ best prospect, Trevor Zegras.

Thus, given those three players are the next in line for the center slots, it would make sense to perhaps consider running with Groulx as an energy line forward who can take care of defense as well as being able to punch back as a point producer.

The kind of two-way player that may best make a home on the 3rd line, depending on his offensive upside. Steel muddies the water a little bit as his best home could be as an offensive-minded 3C, which could bump Groulx down to a 4th line role. In this scenario, I would not see a steady point producing defensive forward leading a pure shut down line, but an opportunity to run four lines with relatively even minutes.

Consider that there is very little difference in minutes played, between the best and the worst of the Carolina Hurricanes forwards. The Ducks (and the Hurricanes) will still want the stars to carry the load, but they would no longer have it demanded of them, as it has been in the past.