The Future is… When?
Given the Ducks are tanking now, it’s easy to assume that they’re looking towards the future for their time in the sun again. This is where everything becomes murky. After all prediction models are largely only effective out to a two-year window. Anything could happen. The Ducks could draft a generational talent, key players could become injured, and the list goes on.
However, what we do know is that the Ducks currently have a small cohort of older players like Ryan Getzlaf and Adam Henrique, who despite still being ok players are no longer the driving force of a successful NHL team. In two years, it’s debatable whether they will still be on the Ducks roster and if they are, there is no surprise that Father Time remains undefeated. Will they still be effective players? The answer is, unfortunately, unlikely.
Players who flirt in the middle, like John Gibson, are pure guess work. Particularly for Gibson specifically, given he’s been below average as an NHL netminder these past three years, has a history of soft tissue injury which could flare at any moment, and will be hitting his early 30’s as an adult. Will he bounce back? Will he be effective enough to carry the Ducks deep in the playoffs? The answer is unknown, but the surrounding risks are as visible with Gibson as they were with Manson and Lindholm.
Of the younger cohort, the future is mixed. Current rostered players are a mix of hopeful greatness and uncertain optimism. Trevor Zegras carries the hopes and dreams of the franchise on his shoulders. In two seasons time, he’ll only be entering his prime scoring years, and given his trajectory as a player in his two NHL season’s thus far, he’ll likely be a star attraction in the league from an entertainment perspective and within the top 30 or so players, if not higher. Jamie Drysdale similarly hold’s a lot of hype and hope in equal measure. Depending on who you speak with, in his years to date, he’s shown everything and more. To others, he’s been disappointing and confusing. It’s certainly hopeful that in two season’s Drysdale will be approaching consistently good play, although given the general trajectory of defensive players, two-to-four years might be a more realistic outlook. Troy Terry is the other young player with hope riding on his shoulders. A healthy scratch for much of the previous four seasons, he’s burst onto the scene this year scoring one of every four shots. The hope is that he can both maintain that scoring pace, but if he doesn’t, that he’ll continue to contribute meaningfully to the roster. At this stage, that future is uncertain as there is little precedence for it, although underlying statistics suggest he’ll be a reasonable middle-6 forward if his shooting percentages and overall scoring declines. It is worth noting that in two years, he’ll be 26 and exiting his prime scoring years. In four years, he’ll presumably be in the same boat as Rickard Rakell now. That is to say, effective, yet no longer a driving force on the team.
The Ducks have further players in the younger demographic including Max Comtois, Isac Lundestrom Max Jones, and even Sam Steel, who could all conceivably be around in two-to-four years’ time, and each will be somewhere around their scoring primes. Steel is possibly the least likely of that group to be a useful scorer given he’s 24-years-old now and will be exiting his prime scoring years in the two-year time frame. Ditto for Jones. Comtois and Lundestrom, who could be hitting their strides in a meaningful way. And Lundestrom’s offensive upside is questionable as is Comtois a big question mark given the drop off from last season to this current one.
Within the junior, college, and feeder (AHL) systems, the Ducks have numerous prospects, including some of which were acquired recently. It could be presumed that the forwards sitting round 20-years of age, like Brayden Tracey and Jacob Perreault won’t likely be at the peak of their powers for another three-to-four years, even should they graduate to the NHL sooner. It may be slightly longer for defensive players like Henry Thrun and the recently acquired Drew Helleson, although one hopes that they too, hit their strides around 24 years of age.
What all of this suggests is that the Ducks may start their upward climb in the standings in another two years, but likely won’t be in the mix as genuine playoff performers for another three or four seasons. Certainly, some players may surprise and really come on strong, however, it’s worth considering that next season will be the first season of pro hockey for players like Thrun and Helleson. Giving them two-years to become bona fide top-4 defensemen is siding on the optimistic side, no matter how good they may eventually become.
It should also be noted that any draft picks, selected have anywhere from a four-to-six-year window, unless they are of course generational talents, before they can be included as effective parts of a team. High draft selections like Zegras can certainly come into the team early and contribute, however, that is the exception and not the norm.
Given the Ducks have traded away talent, it’s likely the Ducks will be drafting in the top-10 for a couple more seasons, even given the young talent they have. That top-10 talent could jump in early, and if they do, would likely fit the time frame of two-to-four years provided. The later picks, including 1st rounders at the end of the first round, such as the recently acquired Boston Bruins selection, and those coming in the second round and later, should not be expected to contribute to the team in a meaningful way for at least four seasons. Even then, unless the team drafts a fantastic player who exceeds their draft position, the odds are that they won’t be acquiring a top-6 goal scorer or top-pairing defenseman in those draft slots.
With that said, what we can surmise is that the current Ducks management group is eyeing the next two years as purely development seasons, and as part of the tanking and rebuilding process. I would envision that they begin looking to genuinely improve in two seasons time and be hoping to be a genuine play-off fancy in fours seasons. From there, they likely have a four-year window to succeed or fail based on their merits.