Ducks will not rush prospects Carlsson

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- The Anaheim Ducks won't rush prospects onto an NHL roster that already has young talent in 22-year-old center Trevor Zegras, 21-year-old defenseman Jamie Drysdale and 20-year-old center Mason McTavish.

Not even center Leo Carlsson, the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.

"Patience is going to be required from everybody -- from myself, from the coaching staff and even from our fans," general manager Pat Verbeek said this week while scouting the World Junior Summer Showcase at USA Hockey Arena.

"They're good prospects. They just need time to grow, time to mature. They're so young. It's not an easy league.

"As I told some of these guys, 'Listen, skill-wise and probably thinking-wise, you can play in the NHL. But strength-wise and speed-wise, you can't, so those are the things that you've got to really get after in the summertime to make sure you're ready for the NHL.'"

The Ducks haven't qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for five straight seasons, their longest drought since they joined the NHL as an expansion team in 1993-94. They finished last in the League last season while ranking at or near the bottom in goals (31st), goals against (32nd), power play (31st) and penalty kill (31st).

Although coach Greg Cronin has said their goal is to make the playoffs this season, what they really need to do is set themselves up for sustained success over the long term. That means putting their prospects in the best places for their development.

Carlsson will be watched closely entering training camp in September.

On one hand, he was the first pick in the draft after Connor Bedard, a center widely celebrated as a generational talent whom the Chicago Blackhawks nabbed at No. 1.

Carlsson is 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, and has played against men. He had 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) in 44 games for Orebro of the Swedish Hockey League last season and five points (three goals, two assists) in eight games for Sweden at the 2023 IIHF World Championship.

On the other hand, he's 18. He could play for San Diego of the American Hockey League.

"We're going to find the right league," Verbeek said. "If the NHL's not it, we'll try San Diego. If that's not it, then he'll go back to Orebro. We're just going to wait and see."

Verbeek said the questions will be strength and speed.

If Carlsson shows he's ready, will Zegras or McTavish move to the wing?

"I don't see McTavish moving to the wing," Verbeek said. "Probably Zegras is more of a candidate to move to the wing, just because I see Leo as a centerman, a big centerman.

"I think there's a chance for him to be really good at both ends of the ice. (He's a) very smart player at both ends and has the range to be able to defend down low. I just see him as (having} the potential to be a really good two-way player."

Anaheim has a lot more coming after Carlsson.

Last season, the Ducks had the best defensive forward (Nathan Gaucher) and defensive defenseman (Tyson Hinds) in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and the defenseman of the year in the QMJHL (Tristan Luneau), Western Hockey League (Olen Zellweger) and Ontario Hockey League (Pavel Mintyukov).

Gaucher was the No. 22 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Hinds was a third-round pick (No. 76) in 2021, Luneau a second-round pick (No. 53) in 2022 and Zellweger a second-round pick (No. 34) in 2021. Mintyukov was the No. 10 pick in 2022. But again, no rush. Each player is 19.

The Ducks have three more defensemen who were second-round picks: Jackson LaCombe (No. 39 in 2019), Drew Helleson (No. 47 in 2019) and Noah Warren (No. 42 in 2022). LaCombe and Helleson each is 22. Warren is another 19-year-old.

"I'm going to be patient with the defense," Verbeek said. "It's a hard position. I want those guys to be ready."

Breaking down key players in Ducks' prospect pipeline

In the meantime, the Ducks have made changes at the NHL level, so the players already there learn good habits and the prospects enter a better environment once they arrive.

Anaheim hired Cronin on June 5 after he coached Colorado of the AHL for five seasons.

"His teams I watched in Colorado, they came to compete every single night," Verbeek said. "They played hard. They weren't easy to play against. I'm expecting him to insert those same principles, (that) style, for all our guys."

The Ducks added two key veterans in free agency July 1, signing forward Alex Killorn to a four-year contract and defenseman Radko Gudas to a three-year contract.

Killorn won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020 and 2021 and reached the Cup Final with them in 2015 and 2022. Gudas went to the Cup Final with the Florida Panthers last season.

One reason for signing them is to change the character of the team. Each plays with an edge.

"The other reason," Verbeek said, "is supporting some of our younger players and showing them what winning cultures do, what winning players do."