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Prospect Update: Jackson LaCombe
By Thomas Harrington
Anaheim’s second round pick from 2019, defenseman Jackson LaCombe, completed his college career this past season and then made his NHL debut.
LaCombe had a strong final season of college hockey, scoring nine goals and 35 points in 37 games for the University of Minnesota. He set career highs in goals and points despite playing in two less games than the year before. He finished fourth among NCAA defensemen in scoring. LaCombe was also one of the team’s alternate captains. He helped Minnesota advance in the NCAA tournament, where they lost in overtime to Quinnipiac in the championship game. LaCombe’s best game of the tournament was probably against Boston where he scored a goal and two points, helping Minnesota advance to the Frozen Four. He finished eighth in voting for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the college men’s hockey player of the year, and was named to the All-Big Second Team.
In April, LaCombe signed his entry-level contract with the Ducks and made his NHL debut on April 11th against Vancouver. He played in Anaheim’s final two regular season games, had one shot on goal, and was scoreless in both, playing about eighteen and a half minutes in each game.
I had three expectations for LaCombe last season, and he hit two of them while just missing on the third. First, after getting to 30 points as a junior, I wanted him to exceed that mark as a senior, which he did with 35 points. Second, I wanted his defensive game to continue to evolve. He was originally a forward but converted to defense before he was drafted, but his overall defensive game has come a long way since then. His defensive game has improved every season, but if he wants to have a successful NHL career it still needs some improvement. Finally, I wanted him to play in every game for Minnesota. He missed this because he missed three games with an injury, but playing in 92.5% of a team’s games is still pretty good.
When Anaheim’s season was completed, some of the Ducks’ prospects were assigned to San Diego to finish the season, but LaCombe was not one of them. While this is far from a guarantee that he starts next season in Anaheim, I do think it means that the Ducks think it’s a real possibility. Personally, I think he’ll likely play in some AHL games at some point, but that remains to be seen. There’s clearly room in Anaheim for at least a defensive prospect or two to see some significant NHL time this season, and he’ll be one of the players fighting for those spots.
I have a few expectations for LaCombe’s first professional season. First, while it wouldn’t surprise me if he plays in the AHL at some point this season, given his age and where he finished last year, he needs to play in the NHL this season. Second, to get some special teams time with the Ducks. Finally, if he does play games with the Gulls, to be one of their top defensemen when he does.
LaCombe only has one year left on his entry-level deal, and he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. Unless his play just dramatically falls off this year, he’ll be re-signed in a year. The amount of time he spends in the NHL versus the AHL will likely impact if it’s a one-way or two-way deal. If he has a truly great rookie season, the Ducks may even sign him to a long-term extension, but that would surprise me. I think LaCombe will likely get a bridge deal next summer, and this year will determine how good of a deal it is for him.
The next prospect update will be on forward Kyle Kukkonen.
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September 8th, 2023