An overview of the Ducks prospect pool: Defenseman, Part 1

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
The Anaheim Ducks' prospect pipeline is deep on the blue line.

The Ducks’ prospect pool was recently ranked No. 3 by NHL Network. While some of the names may be familiar to fans, others are not. Today, I’m taking a look at six of the defensemen in the Ducks’ prospect pool.

Pavel Mintyukov, 19

6-foot-1 | 194 pounds | Shoots left

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that Mintyukov is just 19 years old with how well he reads the game. While playing for Saginaw in the OHL, his play style was very bombastic, making aggressive pinches and often pulling himself out of position to get back on defense. While the point totals were high, the defensive work wasn’t as strong as Ducks brass wanted it to be.

When Mintyukov was dealt to the Ottawa 67’s midway through last season, an emphasis was placed on playing a strong two-way game. The point total dipped, naturally, but Mintyukov’s overall game improved tenfold. His OHL career was capped off by being named OHL Defenseman of the Year, the first Ducks prospect to win the award in franchise history.

July 6, 2023; Irvine, California, USA; Anaheim Ducks prospect Pavel Mintyukov skates with the puck during a drill at development camp. Mandatory Credit: Derek Lee-The Sporting Tribune

Mintyukov isn’t your typical defenseman either who just sends the puck on net from the point with every chance he gets. He is very intentional with his shots, usually looking for an open stick or a screen in front before firing a well-placed shot toward the goal.

His frame and skating allow him to keep up with opponents and get himself in positions to defend in a timely manner. The backend of the Ducks’ blue line isn’t the strongest and Mintyukov may have a chance to cement a spot in the Opening Night lineup with a strong training camp. But playing top-4 minutes in the AHL to start wouldn’t be the worst case either.

Olen Zellweger, 19

5-foot-9 | 175 pounds | Shoots left

80 points in 55 games. As a defenseman. The previous season? Just a cool 78 in 55. You’d be hard-pressed to find a CHL defenseman that’s had a better offensive performance over the past two seasons than Olen Zellweger.

After producing at over a point-per-game rate in 11 games during the 2020-21 COVID season for Everett in the WHL, Zellweger lit up the league in 2021-22. It coincided with his first taste of pro hockey at the end of the season as well, as he played in one game for the Gulls in the AHL during their Calder Cup run.

Zellweger has also had success at the international level—where he’s coming off two consecutive gold medals with Canada at the World Juniors. He was a fixture on both of those teams, playing top pair minutes in every game.

Zellweger had a strong showing during training camp for the Ducks this past September but was ultimately reassigned to the Silvertips after playing in a handful of preseason games for Anaheim. He didn’t miss a beat after a mid-season trade to Kamloops and captured his second consecutive WHL Defenseman of the Year Award. Zellweger was also named CHL Defenseman of the Year, the first Ducks prospect in franchise history to win the award.

The 19-year-old’s combination of skating and puck handling skills—along with an improving shot—mean he has the potential to be an elite offensive player. And even though he’s smaller than the average NHL defenseman, Zellweger has a strong base and has been able to use his strength well to hold off bigger opponents.

The game comes so easy to Zellweger at times that he may need to increase his focus at the NHL level, where the game speeds up a lot more, but he has more than shown that he is ready for spot duty in the NHL at the least.

Tristan Luneau, 19

6-foot-2 | 188 pounds | Shoots right

Rounding off the trio of CHL award-winning defensemen for the Ducks this past season is Luneau. Luneau was named the QMJHL Defenseman of the Year—the first Ducks prospect in franchise history to do so—after putting up 83 points in 65 games. That points total set a new franchise record for points in a season by a Gatineau Olympiques defenseman.

The offensive outburst might seem like a breakout season to the casual observer, but this is a player who was taken first overall in the 2020 QMJHL draft. His points totals have increased with every season, leading to eye-popping numbers in 2022-23.

Luneau had a procedure during the summer of 2021 in order to deal with a non-hockey injury that had bothered him since he was a kid. The rehab process ate up his entire offseason and even affected him going into the Olympiques’ preseason. However, a two-month long pause because of COVID allowed Luneau to get back to full strength and he increased his point-per-game rate from 0.58 to 0.77.

Luneau spent a lot of time this past season quarterbacking the power play for Gatineau. He’s certainly more of a pass-first player, though his shot isn’t anything to scoff at either. The skating can still use a bit of work, especially transitioning back to defense, but it’s not clunky enough to prevent him from walking the blue line in the offensive zone with ease either. Still unsigned, the expectation is that Luneau will return to Gatineau for next season.

Tyson Hinds, 20

6-foot-3 | 180 pounds | Shoots left

For all the hubbub that the likes of Mintyukov, Zellweger and Luneau get, Hinds deserves some of that as well. Recipient of the Kevin Lowe Trophy for best defensive defenseman in the QMJHL this past season, Hinds plays a solid, two-way game.

He doesn’t put up the exorbitant numbers that his aforementioned counterparts do, but he was still able to double his points total from a year ago––his first full season with Sherbrooke after coming over in a mid-season trade from Rimouski last year. The left-handed Hinds played top pair minutes for the Phoenix this season, often on his off-hand and often alongside Minnesota Wild prospect David Špaček.

Hinds joined Zellweger alongside a handful of other Ducks prospects at the World Juniors—a goal that Ducks brass wanted him to reach following training camp—and started the tournament as the extra defenseman. But he performed well during the pre-tournament games and eventually became the stay-at-home complement to both Brandt Clarke and Kevin Korchinski.

Perhaps his best play of the tournament was when he gloved down a rebound attempt from Slovakia’s Adam Sykora to keep the game tied at three apiece, which the Canadians eventually won in overtime to advance to the semifinal.

With his length, Hinds projects as someone who can defend well and get the puck up in transition, although he does need to add some more weight to his long frame. His ability to play on the right side of defense may be necessitated this season in San Diego with the large number of left-handed shots that they have coming in.

Noah Warren, 19

6-foot-5 | 216 pounds | Shoots right

One of the biggest players in the Ducks’ prospect pipeline (yes, that even includes the goalies), Warren had a tough season from a health standpoint. He underwent foot surgery last September, which kept him out of rookie camp and training camp with Anaheim. He then injured his shoulder in March and had to undergo surgery, which he is currently rehabbing.

It’s unfortunate for Warren, who surely would have eclipsed his 24 points from last season if he’d been able to stay healthy. Offense isn’t his main forte though, as he projects as someone who can be a shutdown guy or the complement to a more offensive-minded player—much like Hinds.

Jul 8, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CANADA; Noah Warren gives an interview after being selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the 2022 NHL Draft at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

For a player of his size, Warren isn’t slow either. He has the ability to pivot well and face the opposition in transition before wiping them out with a big hit, but he does need to make sure he doesn’t become over-reliant on his size and length and continues to maintain good gap control while defending.

Warren recently signed his entry-level contract with Anaheim and will be playing for Victoriaville in the QMJHL next season after being traded by Gatineau last month.

Ian Moore, 21

6-foot-3 | 185 pounds | Shoots rights

Moore built off his strong freshman season with Harvard, posting 19 points in 34 games. He typically played on the second pair alongside Jack Bar, playing on his off-hand with both players being right-handed shots.

The size is there at 6-foot-3 and his foot speed is fairly decent as well. He doesn’t drag through the zones and he knows how to move the puck well. There’s still work to be done when it comes to gap management and defensive work in general. Moore is expected to play top pair minutes next season with Henry Thrun and Ryan Siedem both gone now. He was also named captain for the 2023-24 season alongside Zakary Karpa, meaning that he’ll have a leadership position going into his junior year.

Right-handed defenders are few and far at both the NHL and prospect level for the Ducks, especially compared to the left side. Moore has shown improvement in every season so far since coming from the USHL and even played for the United States at the 2022 World Juniors. A big junior season could see him turn pro afterward, but it’s likely that he will take the same approach as Jackson LaCombe and stay all four years.