When the Ducks hosted the Buffalo Sabres two nights ago, they took on one of the league’s bright, young rookies – 19-year-old Jack Eichel. Chosen second overall from the 2016 NHL Draft, Eichel has been as advertised, but was held scoreless in Anahem’s 1-0 win, due in large part to the work of shutdown center Ryan Kesler.
Tonight, Kesler & Co. will draw the assignment of neutralizing Edmonton Oilers wunderkind Connor McDavid. Also 19 years of age, McDavid, the first selection of this past June’s draft, has been called “McSaviour” and “McJesus,” to name a few.
The hype is real for this generational talent, whom the Ducks saw for the first time on Feb. 16 at Rexall Place. McDavid was limited to an assist in that game, a 5-3 victory for Anaheim. Despite being held scoreless in Edmonton’s 2-1 defeat last night in LA, McDavid has 3-6—9 points in his last seven games, and has accumulated 5-11—16 points and registered three multi-point efforts in 12 games since returning from injury.
“He’s got speed, he’s got hands and he’s got vision,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “This guy is somebody to watch every night. If we’re not on top of him, and we allow him to skate, we’re going to be in trouble. The more he handles the puck, the more dangerous that team is.”
Frederik Andersen is expected to get the start in net for Anaheim, which enters tonight's game with the NHL’s top overall record (20-4-2, .808 points percentage) since Christmas. The club is also 13-1-1 in the last 15 games, 7-0-0 in its last seven games vs. the Pacific and 11-1-1 in the last 13 intra-division contests. Anaheim’s 46 goals since the All-Star break are four more than any other NHL team. Anaheim has won a season-tying six straight games (6-0-0; last: Jan. 20-Feb. 5) for the longest active win streak in the NHL.
Edmonton is expected to go with Anders Nilsson in goal tonight. Nilsson is 10-12-2 in 26 games with a 3.14 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. The 25-year-old is 1-1-0 with a 3.96 GAA and .882 SV% in his career against Anaheim.
Boudreau says he’s warned his guys not to let this be the dreaded trap game with the Kings coming to town on Sunday. Although the Oilers are on their way for another chance at the No. 1 selection in the upcoming draft, the team is loaded with offensive talent up front.
“We know we’ve been playing teams that haven’t been in the playoffs,” said Boudreau. “But now these teams are starting to play a little looser. I thought Edmonton should’ve won last night. They’ll be better tonight because they gained a little confidence from the game last night. We know sometimes losing streaks follow winning streaks.
“The minute you let up, something bad happens for a longer period of time. We’ve had a good thing going, but at the same time, we’re only two points up on San Jose and still four points behind LA. We have to keep the foot to the pedal and go after it.”
In addition to McDavid, former first-overall picks Taylor Hall (2010) and Nail Yakupov (2012) are expected to play, along with Leon Draisaitl (third overall, 2014) and Darnell Nurse (seventh overall, 2013).
“We respect their lineup and the skill they have, especially up front,” said defenseman Kevin Bieksa. “We know we have to be good defensively. More importantly, we want to keep playing good hockey and continue to build. Things are going well. You don’t want to have a setback.”