Who will the Anaheim Ducks draft at third overall? A look at Artyom Levshunov

The Belarusian defenceman has undeniable offensive upside, but do the Ducks need more offensive talent on their back end?
Anaheim Ducks, Artyom Levshunov
Anaheim Ducks, Artyom Levshunov / Michael Miller/ISI Photos/GettyImages

There are many excellent prospects that the Anaheim Ducks will get their choice of drafting on June 28th. In the last draft prospect article, we looked at Ivan Demidov, an electric offensive forward. Today the player we will be looking at is Artyom Levshunov, a big two-way defenceman held by many as the best blueliner in the draft. 

Artyom Levshunov just finished his season with the Michigan State Spartans. This year as a freshman, he put up 35 points in 38 games (9 goals + 26 assists). His stellar play earned him the Big 10 Rookie of the Year Award and the Big 10 Defenceman of the Year Award.

This is only Levshunov’s second year playing in North America, but he has adjusted his game excellently to be a consensus top-ten pick in the upcoming draft. Only a few prospect rankings have him outside the top five and he sits as high as number two in some rankings. Let's examine his strengths, weaknesses, and fit with the Anaheim Ducks.

Artyom Levshunov Strengths

The strengths of Levshunov's game are offence, skating, and size. Those combined abilities make for a very intriguing player who is difficult to play against. In addition to his skills, he has a right-shot which is highly sought after among defensemen in today's game.

In the offensive zone, when the puck is on his stick, Levshunov is a threat for passing and shooting. With 26 assists, it is clear he knows how to make good plays that result in his teammates finding the back of the net. He continually has his head up and always anticipates where he will pass the puck when he receives it.

Regarding his shot, Levshunov is always ready to put the puck on net. The Belarusian defender ranked fourth in shots on net among defencemen in the Big 10 (82 shots). Many of his assists this year are due to his high shot volume, which generated rebounds and deflections for goals. His 9 goals this year comprised mostly point shots and some empty netters. However, on several occasions, Levshunov showed that he could beat goalies cleanly with accurate shots while he was skating. His offensive abilities earned him powerplay minutes where he quarterbacked the Michigan State powerplay, a great skill to have that teams look for.

Levshunov's skating upside starts with his ability to turn defence into offence. After making a stop or collecting the puck in his own zone he is quick to make good breakout passes and then join the rush himself. Logan Horn from The Hockey Writers comments that Levshunov can often decide to carry the puck himself and get zone entries all by himself.

The ability for a defenceman to use their legs to join or start rushes is an excellent trait. When defences are trying to stop rushes they need to account for Levshunov coming in as an extra attacker. Levshunov also likes to use his skating ability at the point to create new passing lanes or to keep the defence on their heels by skating down the wall. For a defender who is 6’ 2’’ and 209 lbs his skating is excellent.

When it comes to translatability to the NHL, Levshunov has the tools to continue growing and make the jump in a couple of years. NHL writer Mike Morreale gives Levshunov the NHL comparison of Alex Pietrangelo. A strong defender who can make great passes and support offensively when the chances present themselves.

"He’s a heady passer and shot shaper but mostly impacts games offensively with how eager and loose he plays as a carrier and activator who confidently leads exits and entries and loves to hop off the line (including deep into the O-zone) and join the rush whenever he can with his skating. "

Scott Wheeler (The Athletic)

Artyom Levshunov Weaknesses

The weaknesses in Levshunov’s game are primarily his decision-making on both sides of the puck. Levshunov’s offensive preferences can cause him to rush passes or force plays that are not there. In the NHL Draft Pros scouting report, he highlights several moments this year where Levshunov’s passing attempts resulted in turnovers and goals against. If the blueliner can settle down a bit more when he has the puck and make the smart play, it will eliminate those turnovers.

When Levshunov does not have the puck, his ability to make the best decision still needs some work. In Frederick Frandsen’s scouting report from Last Word On Sports, he specifically points out that Levshunov’s choices of when to pinch have been especially poor. His attempts to hold the line have been detrimental to his team at times this year as he ends up giving the opposition odd-man rushes and prime scoring chances.

These decision-making problems can be solved, but Levshunov has to be willing to adapt his game to be more reliable on the defensive side of things. When Levshunov knows the right play he can defend great, it is when he has to make decisions on who and when to defend that he gets into trouble. With the right coach, Levshunov should be able to grow and become more stable off the puck. 

"He can take too many risks and his reads and positioning can be off and ultimately costing him on the defensive side of the puck. However, with his size, mobility and offensive upside, there are going to be teams lining up for a player that can be active and impactful in the offensive zone."

Peter Baracchini (The Hockey Writers)

Artyom Levshunov's Fit With The Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks are loaded on the back end with young talent. Pavel Mintyukov, Olen Zellweger, Jackson Lacombe, and Tristen Luneau all have high potential to be contributors to the team for a long time. Because there are only six roster spots for defencemen it seems that adding another high-end prospect would only clog up the path for all these players.

Additionally, while each player brings a different facet of their game to the team, the style of all these young defencemen is offensive-minded. Levshunov is no different, he loves to be a part of scoring and wants to generate offence. Although his talent is undeniable, the Ducks must consider how his game will fit in with the team. The reason a team should draft Levshunov is for his offensive upside. While he has shown that he is more than a one-trick offensive pony, I am not yet convinced that he is the best player available for the Ducks to take.

Despite my doubts, I will point out the benefit of adding Levshunov. He is a high-calibre hockey player, more talent is a good thing whether or not the Ducks have similar player profiles. An excellent thing about Levshunov is that he has a righthanded shot. Having players on their correct sides when playing defence is important. Breakouts in your zone and keep-ins at the point all become easier when defencemen are playing on their natural side.

Currently, on the Ducks, there are no long-term right-shot defencemen. With Jamie Drysdale being traded to Philidelphia, Radko Gudas and Tristen Luneau are the only defencemen who naturally play the right side. If the Ducks select Levshunov, it could add solidification to the right side of their defensive core for a very long time. Drew Helleson and Noah Warren are other right-shot defencemen in the prospect system, but they are more of an unknown if they can make the NHL. Levshunov has a higher ceiling than those other prospects and is closer to making the jump to the show.

The Anaheim Ducks prospect pool is one of the best in the league, so they have the luxury of drafting who they see as the best player available. While I have my doubts that the Ducks need another offensive defenceman on the team, he is still a high-calibre prospect who many see as the best prospect available at third overall. Adding him to the Ducks would be a benefit, but how much of a benefit would have to be seen.