Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. As we go through the summer of 2023, each day our LWOS Prospects Writers will bring you a look at one NHL team’s top prospects or other topical article. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow Ben Kerr, Kyle Pereira and Frederik Frandson on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! You can find all the articles here as well as our extensive NHL Draft preview. Today, we look at the 2023 Anaheim Ducks Top Prospects.
For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
2023 Anaheim Ducks Top Prospects
1.) Leo Carlsson
The Anaheim Ducks were the first team to go “off the board” in this year’s draft. That came with taking Leo Carlsson over Adam Fantilli. But make no mistake about it; Carlsson is the real deal. He has strong skating ability, with elite edge work and incredible smarts to be a step ahead of the play both literally and mentally. With the puck on his stick, Carlsson can be magical. His ability to manipulate defenders into going exactly where he wants them to, in order to open up a play elsewhere, is incredible. Add to the offensive and skating skill he possesses that he is also 6’3″ and 198 pounds, with exceptional transitional skills and a solid defensive ability, what is there not to like?
Carlsson very well could be an NHL player this season. He’s already signed his entry-level contract, so the opportunity is absolutely on the table. But at the 2023 draft combine, Carlsson didn’t expect to play in the NHL right away when asked. While that may be one of those humble answers, it likely should be the route Anaheim takes. They’re not going to be a very good team this upcoming season, or so it feels. Giving Carlsson a year to get more experience and ice time, whether in Sweden or in the AHL, would likely be the better idea. But Carlsson is as good a prospect as one could wish for, and he will be a strong player one day. Of the Anaheim Ducks prospects, Carlsson tops the list.
2.) Olen Zellweger
Zellweger has been discussed a lot amongst scouts for a while. In his draft year (2021), many pundits had him as a first-round selection, and that it would be a mistake to let him slip too far. Well, slip he did, and Anaheim may have pulled off a heist because of it. While Zellweger is very undersized, or at least, what many believe to be undersized, as a defenseman (5’9″ and 175 pounds), he’s only added more value to his name with each passing season.
In 2021-22 playing in the WHL, he scored 78 points in 55 games. This past season, 80 points in 55 games. That doesn’t even include the playoffs, where he scored an additional 29 points in 14 games. Zellweger may not be the best in his own end, and size is a factor, but the value he brings moving the puck up the ice and in the offensive zone, far exceeds the negatives in his own end. Zellweger is expected to make the Ducks roster this season, and he could be an impact player right out of the gates.
3.) Pavel Mintyukov
Another defenceman for the Ducks to round out the top three, Pavel Mintyukov is another offensive dynamo. In fact, many people have Mintyukov higher on ranking lists than Zellweger (though that’s likely due to size difference). Mintyukov, who stands at 6’1″ and 192 pounds, is another strong puck-mover, who’s coming off a season where he produced 88 points in 69 OHL games. His defensive game is better than Zellweger, but the styles are eerily similar between the two.
That being said, the fact Anaheim has two dynamite puck movers on their back-end (not to mention Jamie Drysdale) is a scary thought. While those defenders may not come together and dominate this season, the future of the Ducks defence core is undeniably bright.
4.) Lukas Dostal
The Anaheim Ducks prospect pool is loaded on the defensive end in more ways than one. Lukas Dostal is one of the best goaltending prospects that hasn’t quite broken into the NHL on a full-time basis just yet. Dostal managed to play 19 games this past season with the Ducks and posted modest stats on a poor team. But his true potential lies in what he has shown in the AHL over the last three seasons. With save percentages of 0.916, 0.916, and 0.912, respectively, Dostal looks every bit the part of a future NHL starter.
The importance of his emergence is twofold as well with John Gibson‘s future with the team in question. But with some experience, and a nice-looking resume in his young career, he seems a really good bet for the Ducks to push their chips in on.
5.) Nathan Gaucher
Their first-round pick at 22nd overall in the 2022 NHL draft, the Anaheim Ducks prospect pool gets their premier match-up center. With all the flash and the flare with Mason McTavish and Trevor Zegras, plus Carlsson, Gaucher provides some more grit and sandpaper finish. He plays physical, using his 6’3″ and 207-pound frame well in all facets. His motor is high-end, but that motor is aided by high-end anticipation and IQ.
With the off-the-puck skills, including a strong defensive game, already in his arsenal, it was good to see his offensive game take a step in the right direction. He went from scoring 57 points in 66 QMJHL games in his draft year to 46 points in 44 games, eclipsing the point-per-game mark. He’s expected to play in San Diego this upcoming season in the AHL.
6.) Jackson LaCombe
As if the Ducks defence could not get any better, Jackson LaCombe slides right in. LaCombe is similar to Mintyukov in some ways, with good size (6’2″ and 201 pounds) and strong offensive and puck-moving abilities. The difference between Mintyukov and LaCombe, outside of age, is consistency. After being drafted in the second round in 2019, LaCombe played four NCAA seasons with the University of Minnesota. His offensive production improved with each season, with point totals of 13, 21, 30 and 35. With a steady defensive game and an ever-improving offensive game, he could be quite the depth defender for Anaheim, who could look to eat into a bigger role over the aforementioned names.
7.) Sasha Pastujov
Going back to the forward core, Pastujov was another guy who was coveted in his draft year by some scouts and outlets but wound up falling further than expected. The Ducks ended his free fall in the 2021 draft by snagging him with the 66th overall selection. He had scored 65 points in 41 USNTDP games in his draft year as well, making his fall even more head-scratching.
But the Ducks swing looks to be another good bet, as he went on to play in the OHL, where he played 125 games over the last two seasons, scoring 75 goals and 99 assists for 174 points. Not bad production, in what many consider the best CHL league. Pastujov’s biggest concern still remains: his skating. If he can overcome that, like he has been able to in the OHL, he could be yet another gem in the Ducks system.
8.) Tristan Luneau
Tristan Luneau was widely regarded as a well-rounded defender, who leaned more offensively but certainly could hold his own well in his own end. Getting drafted in the second round (53rd overall) in 2022, Luneau had recorded 18 points in 31 games and 43 points in 63 QMJHL games before being taken by the Ducks.
Following that selection this season, his production exploded. He scored 20 goals and 63 assists for 83 points in 65 games. With the huge offensive season and still possessing a reliable defensive game, Luneau instantly becomes an intriguing name to keep an eye on next season. He’s slated to play another season in the QMJHL, which is the right thing to do for his development, but if he can take another step forward offensively, he will shoot up these rankings.
9.) Drew Helleson
Another defenceman in the Anaheim Ducks prospect pool, but this one is a bit different. They never drafted Drew Helleson, he was acquired via a trade. He’s also bigger, at 6’3″ and 194 pounds. Coming out of the draft as a second-rounder (47th overall) in 2019, he was considered more of a defensively-minded type. But that wouldn’t be the case for much longer. Similar to LaCombe, his production improved over the course of his three NCAA seasons with Boston College, scoring six, 15 and 25 points, respectively.
Last year, he played mostly in the AHL, with 65 games in San Diego, scoring five goals and 13 assists for 18 points. He also earned a small three-game stint in the NHL, where he scored a goal. With the small sample last season, Helleson could build that into a more even AHL/NHL split. With his reliable style and improving offensive game, he too could be fun to watch grow alongside of the aforementioned defenders in the Ducks system.
10.) Jacob Perreault
Jacob Perreault was taken in the first round (27th overall) in the 2020 draft. He was highly regarded as arguably the best shooter in the entire class. That’s coming off of a 70-point campaign in 57 OHL games, including 39 goals. Then, in 2020-21, due to COVID, Perreault was able to play in the AHL. There he scored 17 points in 27 games, not a bad mark. He then followed that up with 37 points in 55 AHL games. An improvement from the year prior, which earned him one game at the NHL level.
However, this past season, Perreault took a considerable step back. A large reason for that is a reported upper-body injury that hindered that dangerous shot. He would only post 19 points in 48 games. If he can recover from the injury, get his shot back to the level it was once at, he could be an NHLer at some point this season. Only time will tell, but Perreault will need a big season this year.
HM (Round 4 or Later): Rodwin Dionicio
Another defenceman in the Anaheim Ducks prospect pool. What makes Dionicio so intriguing is his production, albeit as an overager, in the OHL. He managed to produce 50 points in 50 OHL games this past season. Which includes 43 points in 33 games after joining the Windsor Spitfires via trade. Dionicio is a high-end playmaker from the back end, with some incredible highlights to show for it. However, his skating to this point is a massive hindrance on his future projection. It is what makes his defensive game a bit of an adventure at times. But if he can figure out the skating issues, then he could be another strong defender for the Ducks.
In The System
The Ducks have carved out a really strong group of young talent over the last few seasons. It’s due to seasons that have had little in the way of regular-season success. They possess the likes of Zegras, Troy Terry, McTavish, Isac Lundestrom, and Drysdale. Those are their young players who have already graduated to the NHL level. On top of the top-10 and honourable mention of Dionicio, they also possess the likes of Pavol Regenda, Nikita Nesterenko, and goalie Calle Clang (0.904 sv% in the AHL last season) as notables with NHL experience and AHL success.
That doesn’t even mention some guys like Noah Warren, Tyson Hinds, Nico Myatovic, Sam Colangelo, Coulson Pitre, Yegor Sidorov, and several others who each have varying levels of potential to be NHLers. Suffice to say, the Ducks may not be a competitive team just yet, but they have a bright future ahead of them. These Anaheim Ducks prospects could form a powerhouse.
Main Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports