IRVINE, Calif. -- Jackson LaCombe has transitioned from a forward into a defenseman, and the Anaheim Ducks hope the 18-year-old eventually develops into the type of two-way defenseman that's become increasingly preferred in the NHL.
LaCombe (6-foot-1, 171 pounds) switched positions two years ago while playing at Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school in Faribault, Minnesota. Chosen in the second round (No. 39) of the 2019 NHL Draft, he's still learning the minutiae of playing the other end of the ice and preparing for his freshman year at the University of Minnesota.
"Just getting more comfortable with gaps and D-zone coverage and the defensive side of the game is probably the biggest thing," LaCombe said at Ducks development camp in June. "As I play more and more, I think it'll come more and more too.
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"It helps knowing what the forwards want to do, and what their reads are. On the offensive side, kind of knowing what you want to do, and making plays and making reads, is also good. I think I'm a good puck-mover too, so that's kind of the new-era kind of guys coming through."
Ducks coach Dallas Eakins got his first look at LaCombe during camp. A former defenseman who played 120 NHL games without scoring a goal, Eakins is impressed by anyone who can successfully transition from forward to defenseman.
"If you're a defenseman, the first part of your job description is defense," Eakins said. "But if you've got the added skill set and mindset and be able to see the game and put up points offensively, and you've got both sides covered, you usually turn into a pretty impressive player."
The Ducks have Cam Fowler, one of the top two-way defensemen in the NHL, and have developed others, including Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour, who were traded in the past two years.
"There are a lot of those great players that I definitely look up to," LaCombe said. "I've got a lot of work to get up to their level and stuff, so it'll definitely be cool to, maybe one day, be up there with them."
First for LaCombe is a step up in competition at Minnesota, which has produced numerous NHL players, including Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, Arizona Coyotes forward Phil Kessel, New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy, Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo and Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler.
"There are a lot of great players there, so it'll be really fun to play with them too," LaCombe said. "I'm just looking forward to the experience."