In just over three weeks, all 32 NHL teams will gather in Las Vegas for the 2024 NHL Entry Draft. The Anaheim Ducks have the third pick in this year’s draft, where they will have a choice between a few high-end prospects. Despite the high pick, it’s difficult to gauge who will be available — the San Jose Sharks will presumably select Macklin Celebrini with the first-overall pick, but the Chicago Blackhawks will be on the clock next with the draft’s first real decision.

Related: Ducks 2024 NHL Draft Targets: Anton Silayev

In the coming weeks, we’ll explore players who could be available to Anaheim at third overall. Today, we’re looking at Ivan Demidov, a winger who spent most of last season in Russia’s Junior Hockey League (MHL). Behind Celebrini, Demidov is the draft’s most-exciting forward, with comparisons to other elite Russian wingers dotting his prospect profile.

The Missing Piece on Anaheim’s Top-6

As the Ducks continue to trudge through their rebuild, their most glaring weakness is a lack of scoring. Even with recent high-end draft picks spent on Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, and Leo Carlsson, the Ducks haven’t escaped the bottom 10 in goals per game in a season since their last visit to the playoffs in 2017-18. It’s not as if the team is ignoring the issue — the oldest of that group the 23-year-old Zegras, so their offensive ceiling will only rise. Additionally, they acquired Cutter Gauthier from the Philadelphia Flyers in January. While that previously-mentioned trio of forwards leans toward the playmaking side of the spectrum, Gauthier is a pure sniper.

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

Demidov’s offensive game is incredibly well-rounded for a teenager, partly because of his patience as a puck handler. He’s primarily a goal-scorer, lighting the lamp 23 times in 30 games in his most recent regular season with SKA-1946 St. Petersburg in the MHL. As a result, he garners a little extra attention when he’s in the offensive zone. His patience allows him to take those double teams in stride and find an open teammate for a scoring chance.

As a Russian forward going high in the draft, comparables to some elite talent are inevitable. Demidov will be compared to 100-point wingers Kirill Kaprizov and Nikita Kucherov, and his draft profile has plenty of references to Matvei Michkov. To his credit, Demidov has stood up to the task, as his 60 points in the MHL last season outpaced Kucherov and Michkov’s under-18 production. The Ducks haven’t had a player reach the point-per-game threshold since Ryan Getzlaf’s Hart Memorial Trophy runner-up campaign in 2013-14.

Drafting Demidov Is a Risk for Anaheim

One of Demidov’s biggest knocks has been his production outside of the MHL. He was a non-factor during a brief stint in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Russia’s top league and arguably the most competitive in the world behind the NHL. However, the KHL is not a developmental league. It’s a professional, grown-up league with the motivation to win games, not showcase teenagers about to be drafted into a North American league. Additionally, more than two years of Russians being banned from tournaments means his five points in five games during the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup represents the bulk of his international play.

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The Ducks have been one of the lowest-scoring teams of the last decade, but drafting Demidov won’t be what turns them into an elite offense. As previously mentioned, their top-six forward group is incredibly young and starting to round into form. Zegras, McTavish, Carlsson, Gauthier, and Troy Terry should be five-sixths of the unit. In theory, Demidov fits nicely on the right wing while most of the group are natural centers or left wing. However, general manager Pat Verbeek hinted at adding a top-six forward in free agency, which would likely be a multi-year roadblock for any high-end forward trying to crack the roster.

Adding another high-end prospect to this forward group is tempting, especially if they’re the next 100-point winger in the NHL. In his most recent mock draft, THW’s Logan Horn has Anaheim selecting Demidov. However, he has the Blackhawks taking defenseman Artyom Levshunov with the second pick, and he concedes the Ducks would have a hard time passing on him if he were available.

While Horn has the Ducks pivoting to a forward, building upon the defense is the safer play. Not only do they have a Jamie Drysdale-sized hole in their unit after the Gauthier trade, but defensemen are generally more coveted and take longer to develop than wingers. Drafting a defenseman in this situation would Anaheim another high-end prospect to build around and a valuable trade chip should the Ducks become competitive in the next few years.

Statistics courtesy of Elite Prospects.

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