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Anaheim Ducks Should Use 3rd Pick in 2024 NHL Draft on Defenseman – Hockey Writers –

After the status quo draft lottery, the Anaheim Ducks will have the third overall pick in the 2024 NHL Draft. This is the sixth year in a row that the Ducks have been ranked in the top ten, and the third of the last four to be ranked in the top five.

Related: Ducks Awarded 3rd Pick in 2024 NHL Draft Lottery

With top-level talent at every position group, the Ducks will have plenty of options on the clock. Although they can improve in almost every area, they should focus on defensive options, especially on the right side. This year's draft class is loaded with defensive talent, with potentially eight blueliners slated to go in the upper half of the first round.

Wings and Centers Won't Move the Needle

With one player on the wing receiving top-five consideration, the Chicago Blackhawks could make Anaheim's job easier by selecting Ivan Demidov second overall and removing the option entirely. While the wing has been Anaheim's weakest team over the past few seasons, there are better ways to deal with it than the triple pick this year. They've already made some serious investments at the top of the roster, so depth is a big need at the position. Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry, and Cutter Gauthier should be three of the top six in the long run, while Alex Killorn, Frank Vatrano, and Ryan Strome are paid as top six players.

Ivan Demidov, SKA Saint Petersburg (Photo by Maksim Konstantinov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Next season will be important for Anaheim's developing players. Sam Colangelo, Sasha Pastujov, Nikita Nesterenko, and Pavol Regenda should have a chance to see NHL minutes. Additionally, general manager Pat Verbeek has indicated that he wants to improve the six-man roster, which will be filled with staid, penalty-killing veterans instead of shifty rookies.

After the number one pick in Macklin Celebrini, there are two centers with different tools at the top of the draft. Cayden Lindstrom, a 6-foot-3 power forward, could form a punishing one-two punch behind 6-foot-4 top line center Leo Carlsson. Berkly Catton is a perfect 200-meter player, but he doesn't have the elite talent that puts him over any other prospect, and his 5-foot-11 frame raises concerns about his performance as an NHL center.

Similar to the wing players, Anaheim's centers are running back and deep in several terms. Carlsson and Mason McTavish appear to have the top two spots locked down, so Zegras, the first center drafted during the rebuild, will be forced to hold on to the wing to keep a spot in the top six. With depth in the lineup, first-round pick Nathan Gaucher should crack the NHL roster soon. Adding another center doesn't immediately improve the program, nor does it add any length to their competitive window.

Loaded Defensive Class of 2024

If there's one thing the Ducks have excelled at during the rebuild, it's been scouting, organizing, and developing defensemen. Pavel Mintyukov, Olen Zellweger, Tristan Luneau, Noah Warren, and Tyson Hinds are all 20 years old or younger, and Jackson LaCombe as a 23-year-old government recruit. This doesn't even include Anaheim's most well-documented defenseman during the rebuild, Jamie Drysdale, who was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Gauthier for big money.

The collapse of the Ducks in the late 2010s serves as the latest reminder that it is important to maintain a strong defensive pipeline. While these prospects have a future in the NHL, it remains to be seen if he ends up with the Ducks. Drysdale was a prominent part of Anaheim's future until he was gone. With the exception of LaCombe, all five contracts expire in 2027, at which point the Ducks will have to work out new deals for Carlsson and arbitration-eligible Zegras. Money will fly, but it seems unlikely that every player can be signed, even if free agency has limits to control costs.

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Apart from keeping the cupboard full, the strong side of the player should be looked at. Drysdale, by far, was their most experienced food prospect before he was traded. Luneau, Warren, and Drew Helleson are the best right-handed shooting prospects in Anaheim, while the left side is a clear improvement with Zellweger, Mintyukov, and Hinds. There are philosophical arguments to be made about the human need to play on their strong side, but the Ducks seem to be sticking to it – Verbeek, in his exit interview, acknowledged the talent gap between right and left-handed shooters and announced that he wanted another righty.

In addition to signing a veteran, I believe the Ducks are preparing to draft a right-handed shooting guard. A mock early draft has Michigan State's Artyom Levshunov as Anaheim's third overall pick. As an Eastern European coming to North America in his pre-draft years, his approach is similar to that of Mintyukov, which can be used as a blueprint for Levshunov's transition to the professional level.

While Levshunov is the most common pick, Carter Yakemchuk and Zayne Parekh are getting top ten consideration and I think the Ducks could turn heads by selecting one of them. Canadian Hockey League scouts in Anaheim have been amazing at finding defensive talent lately, and all three leagues have named the Ducks prospect as their 2023 defenseman of the year. If something is written down, it's a good sign that their scouts see something worth reaching for.

As part of our offseason story, we'll do a few drafts on these defensemen as the June 28 draft approaches and the final order is established.

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