Contact Form

    News Details

    Two Ducks draft picks and their long, winding road to the NHL
    • July 7, 2023

    IRVINE — One lasting image of the NHL draft – those heart-warming moments in the arena featuring players, their families and friends – has a celebratory launching-day vibe.

    But that isn’t a full representation of a draft with worldwide repercussions.

    Thousands of miles away from last month’s draft in Nashville, in Northern Italy, goaltender Damian Clara was watching the proceedings from his family’s garden with friends and got word that the Ducks would be selecting him in the second round. The Ducks used their third pick (No. 60) of their three selections in that round on him.

    “I told everyone to look at the screen,” Clara said.

    Later that day, defenseman and Newark-born/Swiss-raised Rodwin Dionicio was on the train returning from practice – eagerly watching the draft on his phone – and received a call from his agent. The Ducks took him in the fifth round at No. 129 overall.

    “I was really excited on the train,” Dionicio said, adding. “I couldn’t yell or be too excited.”

    Life moves extra fast when you are an NHL draft choice. One day, Clara and Dionicio were newly minted draft picks getting the word in Europe and less than a week later they were in Southern California for the first time, taking part in the Ducks’ development camp, which wrapped up Friday. They had the full-fledged American experience, hanging out in Huntington Beach on the Fourth of July and playing beach volleyball.

    Presumably, the 6-foot-6 Clara was a top volleyball draft pick that day.

    “I can play at the net,” he said, smiling. “I can block and slam it over, not the most skilled guy.”

    Naturally, the laser-like focus lands on the first-round draft picks at development camps around the league – for instance, No. 1 Connor Bedard in Chicago, No. 3 Adam Fantilli in Columbus and, of course, No. 2 Leo Carlsson of the Ducks.

    But Clara and Dionicio are intriguing stories in their own right.

    Dionicio moved with his family from New Jersey to Switzerland before he was six months old. He speaks four languages and “a bit” of French and grew up in the same town of Herisau as veteran NHLer Timo Meier of the New Jersey Devils.

    “I worked out and skated with him,” Dionicio said. “It was pretty cool to take that in and learn from him and do whatever he does to get better at it. So it’s pretty cool to have the option.”

    Another former NHL player made an important impression on Dionicio. This past season, Dionicio was traded in a multi-player deal in January from the OHL Niagara IceDogs to the Windsor Spitfires, which was then coached by Marc Savard, who played 807 NHL games upon wrapping up his career with the Boston Bruins in 2010-11.

    Savard, who also played three-plus seasons in Calgary, was recently named an assistant coach with the Flames. Dionicio learned a lot from Savard in a short period of time.

    “I thought he was a players’ coach,” Dionicio said. “He did his role really well. I was a fan of it. As soon as I joined the team, it was like home right away. It was pretty cool being coached by him. He knows what he does. He likes to try stuff and does some things other guys wouldn’t do.

    “He was one of the best coaches I’ve ever had in my career.”

    There is no shortage of talented young defensemen in the Ducks’ prospect pool. The goalie pipeline, however, could use a few more prospects, which is why the Clara selection was important.

    Clara is the first Italian-born goaltender to be drafted in the NHL, and the last time the Ducks selected a goalie in the second round was when they took John Gibson at No. 39 in 2011. In fact, they’ve picked a goaltender in the second round only three times – the other occasion was Ilya Bryzgalov in 2000 (No. 44 overall).

    Good company, indeed.

    “It’s a huge step, and I hope I can inspire some kids at home to dream a little bit bigger maybe,” Clara said. “I’m grateful I have this opportunity to step up. And the Olympics are just around the corner, a huge goal of mine to represent my county.”

    Milan-Cortina will host the 2026 Winter Olympics and the Italian federation made a big splash by hiring Mike Keenan to coach its men’s hockey team. Not only has Keenan coached 1,386 games in the NHL, topped with a Stanley Cup championship in 1994 with the New York Rangers, he has vast international experience.

    Keenan isn’t given to flattery for the sake of flattery. So it means something when he said that he thinks Clara will “definitely” play in the NHL some day.

    “He’s a really great kid and exceptional athlete and very, very bright,” Keenan said in an interview with the Orange County Register on Thursday. “I’m really pleased he was drafted in the second round. I think he was a little surprised, but he probably earned it.

    “He played in a couple of World Championships (Division 1, Group A, in Nottingham, UK) – he didn’t lose a game. That was important for his confidence. He handles himself exceptionally well.

    “He’s just a sponge and couldn’t get enough instruction.”

    Other NHL teams were checking in with Keenan about Clara leading up to the draft in Nashville.

    “In fact, I had calls after he was drafted, saying they were disappointed they didn’t get him,” Keenan said.

    The Italian national team will have a mini-camp at the end of July. There was interest in Clara from many CHL (Canadian Hockey League) junior teams, but Clara is committed to play on a loan to Brynäs IF in the HockeyAllsvenskan, which is Sweden’s No. 2 tier, and scheduled to be in tandem with former NHLer Anders Lindback.

    Related Articles

    Anaheim Ducks |

    Alexander: Ducks’ No. 2 pick Leo Carlsson showing his stuff at development camp

    Anaheim Ducks |

    NHL free agency: Ducks add forward Alex Killorn, defenseman Radko Gudas

    Anaheim Ducks |

    NHL free agency: Ducks move on from Max Comtois, Kevin Shattenkirk

    Anaheim Ducks |

    NHL draft: Ducks select Nico Myatovic to open 2nd round

    Anaheim Ducks |

    NHL draft: Ducks select Leo Carlsson with No. 2 overall pick

    ​ Orange County Register