Prediction: With The 2nd Overall Pick, The Anaheim Ducks Will Select…

Photo: NHL

By Thomas Harrington

By now, you all know the story. For the first time in franchise history the Anaheim Ducks finished last overall and won the second overall pick in the draft lottery. The Chicago Blackhawks, who finished with the third worst record, won the first overall pick.

As in previous years, I’ve examined several mock drafts and read over scouting reports from a large variety of different hockey sources in order to predict who I think Anaheim will select in the first round. Given where Anaheim is picking this year, there were fewer players to go over as there is a pretty consistent consensus on who the top five picks will be. I am basing my predictions off of what those rankings and reports say, and also by my own instinct of who I think the Ducks would like on their team. I do it this way and not based on my own observations because I don’t get much of a chance to see these kids play. Outside of the World Junior Tournament, I don’t watch a lot of junior hockey and even less international hockey, so I go with what is being said by the people who get to watch these prospects on a daily basis. The Ducks hold eight other picks in the draft: 33rd overall, 59th overall, 60th overall, 65th overall, 85th overall, 97th overall, 129th overall, and 161st overall.

Before I get to my prediction, a bit of background on the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. The Chicago Blackhawks last won the draft lottery in 2007 and selected Patrick Kane first overall. This year, they will take Connor Bedard. It will be truly stunning if Chicago does not choose him. For the Ducks, this will be the third time in franchise history that they will pick second overall. In 1994 the Ducks selected Oleg Tverdovsky after the Florida Panthers selected Ed Jovanaski first overall. And in 2005, the Ducks selected Bobby Ryan after the Pittsburgh Penguins chose Sidney Crosby. The Columbus Blue Jackets, San Jose Sharks, and Montreal Canadiens round out the top five picks.

For over a year, there has been talk about how deep this draft is. Some have said that it’s a deep draft because of how good the top four or five players are, and that many of those prospects would have been first overall in another draft year. Others have said that it’s a deep draft because of the talent that will be available throughout the first round and into the second round. 

This will be Pat Verbeek’s second draft as GM of the Ducks, and it will be interesting to see what kind of patterns develop in year two for him. In 2022, Verbeek had a definitive theme and that was size. Every single player he chose was 6’2” or taller. In the first round, he chose Pavel Mintyukov 10th overall and Nathan Gaucher 22nd overall. Mintyukov just won the OHL Defenseman of the Year, while Gaucher won the QMJHL Top Defensive Forward award. The Ducks then picked Noah Warren and Tristan Luneau in the second round, Ben King in the fourth round, Connor Hvidston and Michael Callow in the fifth round, and Vyacheslav Buteyets in the sixth round. Luneau was named the QMJHL Defenseman of the Year.

Now, on to my prediction, and this assumes that the Ducks don’t make any trades. With Bedard gone, Anaheim will have their pick of every other available player. Despite not getting that coveted first pick, having the second pick in this draft is a great place to be. There are four players that I think the Ducks will consider: center Adam Fantilli, center Leo Carlsson, winger Matvei Michkov, and center Will Smith.

Fantilli is the consensus second best prospect in this draft by most. This past season, he became the third freshman in NCAA history to win the Hobey Baker Award as college’s best hockey player, joining Paul Kariya in 1993 and Jack Eichel in 2015. The Ducks of course chose Kariya with their first pick ever, fourth overall in 1993, and he became their first star player. Eichel was chosen second overall by Buffalo after Connor McDavid. Eichel was then traded to Vegas during the 2021-2022 season. In the playoffs this year, Eichel’s Knights and McDavid’s Oilers met in the playoffs, with Vegas coming out the victor. Vegas went on to win the Stanley Cup and Eichel was a major reason why, leading the playoffs with 20 assists and 26 points.

Fantilli scored 30 goals and 65 points in 36 games, leading the NCAA in points and tied for first in goals. He also helped lead the University of Michigan to the Frozen Four, where they lost to the Quinnipiac Bobcats, the eventual NCAA Champions. Fantilli played for Team Canada at the recent World Championships and scored a goal and three points in 10 games. He played up and down Canada’s lineup, from the top line to the 13th forward. His lone goal really showed off his skill set as he deked around a defender and then beat the goaltender cleanly.

Right now, Fantilli is likely the better prospect, but there are some who think that over time, Carlsson will become the better player. He’s played in the SHL for the past two seasons, one of the best hockey leagues in the world. He scored nine points in 13 playoff games. Among all SHL players in their draft eligible season, only Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin had more points in the postseason. Besides his offensive ability, Carlsson is also an elite two-way player. Carlsson also played at the World Championships and had a better tournament than Fantilli did. He was Team Sweden’s top center and in eight games he scored three goals and five points and had a two-goal outing against Team USA. He was the top draft eligible player in the tournament.

After Bedard, Michkov might be the most skilled player in the draft. He’s been compared to Nikita Kucherov and described as the best Russian prospect since Alexander Ovechkin. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why any team would be all over him. However, he has one glaring issue: he’s signed in the KHL through the 2025-2026 season, so whoever drafts him will have to wait at least three years for him to come to North America. There’s also not a guarantee that he’ll want to come to North America at that point. There’s also the fear that Russia won’t let him leave as the political situation for hockey players has become more difficult in recent years.

A couple of months ago, this draft was thought of as having four can’t-miss prospects. However, Smith had a dominant end to the season, including scoring 20 points in seven games at the IIHF World U18 Championship, tying Jack Hughes for the most points ever by an American at this tournament. He’s the least likely to be picked, but there’s no questioning his skill level. If the Ducks think he will continue his meteoric rise in the years to come, they’ll take him.

With the second overall pick, I predict the Anaheim Ducks will select Adam Fantilli. While Carlsson did have the superior tournament at the World Championships, he was also put in more situations to succeed than Fantilli did. Fantilli put together one of the most dominant seasons by a freshman in NCAA history, and if he can have a career similar to Kariya or Eichel, the Ducks will be very happy with him. I think Carlsson will also turn into a great player, and I will have no issues if the Ducks decide to take him instead.

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June 26th, 2023


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