Anaheim Ducks: Jamie Drysdale Faces Struggles in First NHL Season

Anaheim Ducks defenseman Jamie Drysdale (34) Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Anaheim Ducks defenseman Jamie Drysdale (34) Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

This is not the piece I expected to write when I started looking into one of the newest players on the Anaheim Ducks, Alexander Volkov. Even now, I bet you’re wondering what Volkov could possibly have to do with the young 19-year-old defenceman, Jamie Drysdale.

All I can say, in my defense, is that while I was looking into some data sets, I made some mistakes and didn’t exclude some of the players. Drysdale was one of the players that somehow made it into that data set. What I saw pipped my interest, and here we are.

With that said, I think now is a good time for you to go fetch your pitchforks, torches, and other unruly mob instruments because I am going to go against the grain and tell you that Jamie Drysdale has not, in fact, been very good. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he’s a bad player by any stretch of the imagination or that he’s busted as a prospect. It was simply that when the statistics were drawn up in the time frame that Volkov has been a Duck, Drysdale’s stood out. Not in a positive way.

Jamie Drysdale’s Struggles May Run Depper Than We Think

Admittedly, it was just one or two things that stood out, but even so, it prompted a look a little closer. Given that, since the Volkov trade (24th March 2021), the Anaheim Ducks have iced nine defensemen.

Over that time frame, on an individual basis and rated per 60 minutes of play, Drysdale ranks ninth for shots (0.79), with the next worst coming in with 2.55 per game. On a league-wide basis, only 15 players have lower shots per 60 ratings during 5-on-5 hockey, and only one of those 15 players (some swamp man called Kurtis MacDermid) has played more than 3 games.

Of course, Drysdale’s schtick prior to being drafted was more as a playmaker off the back end and not so much of a shooter, despite how his one-timers on the power play may have tantalized us in his first handful of games. Though even given that, it’s worth noting that his individual expected goals per 60 minutes of play are also in the bottom echelon of the league, ranking 216th of the 246 defensemen who have laced up a skate since the 24th of March. Only three of the players ranked lower than Drysdale have played in double-digit games.

It’s also worth noting that Drysdale’s on-ice results leave a lot to be desired as well, though these troubles can in part be shared around to his linemates. Nonetheless, a Corsi-for percentage of 33.45% is easily the worst of the Anaheim Ducks in that time frame, headlined by a whopping 73.04% Corsi-against, per 60 minutes of play.

Only five defensemen in the league have produced lesser results, and only one of those has played in more than three games. It isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all of results, but it’s noteworthy that the next worse Duck is Josh Manson at 64.68%. There is a fair bit of daylight between the two.

It may also be worth mentioning that Manson improves to a more manageable 50.48% CA/60 without Drysdale, while Drysdale himself plummets to 82.73%. Similarly, for all his vaunted ability to facilitate the offense, Drysdale once again ranks as the worst of the Anaheim Ducks blueliners with 30.5% expected goals per 60. As above, without Manson, Drysdale falls to 27.48% while Manson climbs to over 50% (53.59%). Similar numbers can be found for scoring chances (regular and high-danger) and for actual goals scored on-ice.

What is noticeable with this pairing is that alongside Manson, Drysdale has started 39.13% of his starts in the offensive zone.  These numbers shift to over 50% (53.33%) and drop to 15% for Drysdale and Manson respectively when they are separated.

It seems that the coaching staff has it in their heads that Manson is their shutdown guy and that he is also Drysdale’s partner for the time being. If Manson is tasked with those defensive matchups then Drysdale, as his partner, will follow.

So far the results are such, that it’s debatable whether this is a step in the right direction. That’s not to say that growing pains would not always be expected. Unless the rookie skater is a phenomenon like Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby, they’ll likely always struggle in patches. Yet, Drysdales struggles, at least at present, run deep.

Once again, I would reiterate that it’s not my purpose to suggest that Drysdale is washed as a prospect. Nor was this meant to be merely clickbait. It’s far too small of a sample to suggest that he’s cooked, and he’s far too fun to watch to even consider it just yet.

What I wanted to articulate is that Drysdale is struggling and that he’s holding his current partner back. That’s not a cutting critique of a 19-year-old player and is in many ways expected. Perhaps more importantly, it asks us to look a little closer to determine maybe where things went wrong.

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Mapping out Drysdale’s numbers on a game-to-game basis, there is actually a clear turning point for Drysdale. That turning point was his fifth game. The 26th of March, versus the St Louis Blues. Man will remember that game as the one in which Drysdale was lined up by a Blues player, causing him to stutter step, miss-step, take the hit, and awkwardly slam against the boards.

It was certainly a clean hit and nothing more than a player finishing his check. Nonetheless, Drysdale did miss the next game and the only news from the Anaheim Ducks was that he had an “upper-body injury.” We can all probably guess that when a team says that, it means concussion, yet presumably we would have heard more about it if that were the case. Either way, Drysdale missed the next game.

Perhaps, I may be reading more into it than I should, given the small sample sizes one offers in a 13-game career. However, from a statistical standpoint, there is a marked difference in results prior to, and post, this incident. While it is worth noting that Drysdale was trending downwards from his ridiculously impressive first game, he was still posting positive numbers, if you consider anything above a 50% share as positive. Thus, it behooves us to consider that Drysdale hasn’t been above 50% for on-ice Corsi attempts nor expected goals since that hit.

Perhaps more indicative of the aftereffects of being hit and missing a game, is that Drysdale has been on the receiving end of physical play a lot less since that incident. The number of hits against him has been reduced significantly.

Like many things, small sample sizes need to be considered, and that alterations in the play style of the teams they faced in those time spans may determine results. Similarly, it’s plausible that Drysdale himself has become more elusive in this short time frame. Though that gives a lot of excuses and ignores the most simple answer, that Drysdale is shying away from contact more than he was prior to missing that game.

Only the player himself would likely know, but the question should be asked as to whether Drysdale is refraining himself from being put in positions to be hit. What we can say is that Drysdale has a small frame, that he did hesitate prior to that big hit that knocked him out of the game, and that he’s being hit a lot less since he returned from his injury.

The answer in part may be determined by the “why” Drysdale froze prior to the hit he received that injured him. If it was a hesitation based on the uncertainty of being hit by a big guy, or if it was an uncertainty based around being unsure of what the right play to make was in that split second. If it was the fear of being hit, then only time can help him.

A season or two of physical development would go a long way to building the young man’s confidence. It’s notoriously difficult to make physical games in the midst of a pro season, so this will be left for the offseason. Conversely, if Drysdale’s hesitation was regarding what play to make, then that will be a task for the coaching staff and a task that could be remedied in relatively short order.

In both cases, it may be an indication that Drysdale is not as ready for the NHL as the fans would want to believe. There are requirements that a professional athlete need to meet at the highest level, and they aren’t entirely “skate well.” Though, I digress.

The decrease in physical plays taken by Drysdale doesn’t necessarily articulate the magnitude of change that has been presented across the breadth of his game since the De La Rose hit. Specifically, Drysdale has presented with a negative pre-to-post change in Corsi-for percentage of ~28.7, built on the back of a decrease in Corsi-for attempts of ~33.3 per 60 minutes of play, and an increase in attempts against of ~31.3. This is largely mimicked across the board, with the percentage of on-ice scoring chances dipping from ~56.7% down to ~34.3% and expected goals per 60 minutes down from ~50.9% to ~30.7% between the pre-and post-samples.

Similar to the on-ice results, Drysdale has somewhat seen his scoring dry up, though that isn’t necessarily a concern given he started so hot. What is concerning is that he is shooting far less (~6.4 shots fewer per 60 minutes), creating fewer scoring chances (~1.2 fewer per 60 minutes), and drawing fewer penalties.

These declines may be a natural result of opposition teams figuring him out, him being placed in very different situations on the ice, or alterations in the player’s own play. Within the Anaheim Ducks organization at present, and with the defensive systems they have in place, it’s not necessarily surprising to see a player become less effective as time goes on.

That may overestimate the importance of the coaching staff to an extent, but it’s worth considering that there are other impacting factors to Drsydale’s play than the hit that appears to be the turning point in his game.

Is Jamie Drysdale in Line for Regression?

Regardless of the causing factor, what may be somewhat frightening from a results perspective is that Drysdale is potentially in line for some regression. He is rocking a slightly high ~103.4% PDO since his missed game. Given the high volume of shots that Drysdale (and his partner) are giving up, it stands to reason that eventually the dam will burst and the opposition goals will flood in.

Despite these clear declines statistically, however, it is noticeable that Head Coach Dallas Eakins appears to like what he’s seeing and has absolutely given up on sheltering the young player, dropping his soft offensive zone starts from ~85.8% in his first few games, down to ~36.6% since he missed that game with an injury; though, as mentioned above, this may be more indicative of him being paired with Manson than any set plan the coaching staff may have regarding Drysdale’s development curve.

There are two points of interest with this development. First, that statistics are merely descriptive and do not tell the entire story. I think that most of us are impressed by Drysdale as an overall body of work, and it stands to reason that Eakins may be as well.

Second, to be frank, it’s an astoundingly lower volume of offensive zone starts for a 19-year-old offensively orientated defenseman. Astounding enough to at least question what Eakins is thinking regarding Drysdale’s development curve.

The Anaheim Ducks Need to Figure Out Their Plan with Drysdale

Taking everything into consideration, what we can conclusively state is that Dallas Eakins is giving Drysdale more minutes at even-strength now than he did in his first few games. He is also being tasking him with far greater responsibility and pushing him to commence most of his starts on the fly or in the defensive zone.

Furthermore, we can conclusively state that Drysdale’s numbers before and after his “injury” is like night and day. Drysdale has fallen away from his initial hot start and while the timing could be coincidental, and we can all die on the hill of small sample sizes, it should be at least somewhat concerning for the coaching staff giving him that extra responsibility.

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It very well could be the making of the player, or the breaking of him, depending on how the staff handles it from here. If Drysdale’s decline in play is merely the difference in defensive assignments, then it’s possible that he’ll grow into the role or that he’ll be shifted into the power play specialist position without defensive responsibility, in the future. If Drysdale’s decline in play is a result of him missing a game through injury, then further questions should be asked.

First of all, did Drysdale suffer a concussion from the De La Rose hit? If so, is that condition still affecting him? The same could be said of any physical ailment he may have received. If the decline in play is a result of the player’s mindset being altered, then perhaps tasking Drysdale with the minutes and responsibility he’s receiving presently, is not necessarily in the best interests of the player’s development curve.

These are questions we as fans simply can’t answer today with the information that we have on hand. To that end, the Anaheim Ducks gave a clear indication of their plans regarding Trevor Zegras not so long ago.

While an increase in defensive zone starts and an increase in 5-on-5 ice time indicate a direction they’re taking with Drysdale, I think it may behoove the Anaheim Ducks to indicate the direction they’d like to see their young defenseman take. If the change in on-ice performance is a result of strategic planning or a result of the hit that injured him, it would be nice for the Anaheim Ducks to allow the fans to peer in on their thinking regarding Drysdale’s present and future.

Nonetheless, the player appears to be struggling, and statistically speaking the De La Rose hit appears to be the turning point that swung Drysdale from one of the Anaheim Ducks young upcoming stars to broke down on struggle street.

Next. Ducks Give Direction Concerning Trevor Zegras. dark

All statistics can be found at and Statistics are true at the time of writing, 16/04/2021. Statistics are for 5-on-5 hockey only unless otherwise stated.