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    Ducks’ Leo Carlsson expected to make NHL debut against Stars
    • October 18, 2023

    The Ducks have already faced two of the NHL’s top teams, looking respectable against the reigning Stanley Cup champs on their maiden voyage before upending one of the Eastern Conference finalists from last season in their home opener. Thursday night’s match against another 2023 conference finalist, the Dallas Stars, adds yet another layer of intrigue: the debut of the highest draft selection in Ducks history, Leo Carlsson.

    After a loss in Vegas, a victory over Carolina and three days of preparation, the Ducks will be back at it Thursday at Honda Center when they will welcome Dallas, which fell to Vegas in last year’s Western finals. Dallas also lost to Vegas in its most recent game after beating St. Louis in its opener, with both matches reaching a shootout.

    The downtime came at the right moment for the Ducks as No. 2 overall pick Carlsson returned to practice after missing their first two games with a lower body injury. He is expected to appear in his first NHL game on Thursday. He will likely center the top line alongside Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras as well as log significant power-play time. He is one of three No. 2 overall draft picks in Ducks history, the others being Bobby Ryan and Oleg Tverdovsky. Tverdovsky and Mason McTavish are the only players to be younger when they joined the Ducks than Carlsson will be Thursday.

    Carlsson’s delayed debut further lengthened the shadow of Chicago’s Connor Bedard, the ubiquitously hyped prospect who was taken just one pick before Carlsson but covered widely as if he were already light-years ahead in his development. Bedard recorded a point in each of his first three games before going scoreless against Toronto on Monday.

    “I don’t really care, to be honest,” Carlsson, a Swede, told the Associated Press. “I think I’d rather be the underdog. Well, the second pick isn’t the underdog, but I’m still not in the media and stuff like that. I feel like that’s easier, to surprise people and not let them down that way. Maybe if I was from Canada or the U.S., it would be bigger as well. But I’m comfortable.”

    The Ducks have had three full days off since topping the Hurricanes, 6-3, catapulting off a hat trick by Frank Vatrano. Vatrano and Ryan Strome have flanked McTavish thus far, and the trio has combined for nine points in two games.

    “They’ve got a little chemistry. You can see it,” Ducks coach Greg Cronin said. “I’m big into team and big into chemistry and communication. When you have lines that are comfortable with each other, you can see it on the bench, [in the way] they talk to each other.”

    Against Carolina, Jackson LaCombe’s assist on Pavel Mintyukov’s goal gave each defenseman his first NHL point. After Jamie Drysdale, who like Cam Fowler scored two points in two games from the blue line for the Ducks, missed practice time this week, it might have opened the door for a third rookie defenseman, Tristan Luneau, to make a contribution. Luneau, whom Cronin described as “a stallion” during training camp, appeared to be the most likely replacement for Drysdale since they are both right-handed shots with offensive ability.

    Cronin said that heading into the Carolina game, he was slightly concerned about the pace of the game and how his young defenders might handle it, but in the end, he “was impressed with the way our guys skated for 60 minutes.”

    Indeed there was plenty to build on in Sunday’s win, which had the crowd electrified and more going right than just the numbers on the scoreboard.

    “I kept seeing events happen on the ice – us getting pucks back on the forecheck, controlling the puck on cycles, getting scoring chances in the shot, using our defenseman on the cycles – I kept thinking ‘no matter what happens in the game, these are events that we can sink our teeth into as a staff and create some believability,’” Cronin said.

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    They’ll need plenty of belief in themselves against Dallas, which got top center Roope Hintz back against Vegas. The Stars also have do-it-all defenseman Miro Heiskanen orchestrating their attack from the back end and Arcadia native Jason Robertson pouring in goals up front. Veterans Joe Pavelski and Jamie Benn quaffed from the fountain of youth last season when the two forwards, 39 and 34 respectively, chased a point-per-game pace and finished Nos. 2 and 3 on the team in scoring behind MVP candidate Robertson.

    What separates Dallas from the rest of the West’s top teams is its goaltending. Where Vegas, Edmonton, Colorado and the Kings have all been searching for the right fit between the pipes, Dallas has never wavered in its confidence in Jake Oettinger. He finished third in the NHL in wins and his statistics this season have been even more parsimonious than last year when he finished in the top 10 in almost every major category.


    When: Thursday, 7 p.m.

    Where: Honda Center

    TV: Bally Sports SoCal

    ​ Orange County Register