Ducks Prospects, Pavel Mintyukov

Ducks’ Pavel Mintyukov Has Chance To Reach NHL This Season

General manager Pat Verbeek’s first draft with the Anaheim Ducks was a pivotal one for the future of the organization. Anaheim had just finished the 2021-22 season near the bottom of the Western Conference standings with 76 points. The reset button was pushed at the trade deadline that season as Verbeek shipped out several veterans, which was headlined by the trade of defensive stalwart Hampus Lindholm to Boston for a package that included a first-round pick — giving Anaheim two first-round selections in the upcoming draft.

Pavel Mintyukov Saginaw Spirit
Pavel Mintyukov, Saginaw Spirit (Natalie Shaver/OHL Images)

The young core was starting to be established with Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, Jamie Drysdale and 2021 second-round pick Olen Zellweger, but the Ducks were looking for one more potential star to add to this band of prospects. The 2022 draft wasn’t considered very strong by scouts, as there didn’t appear to be a lot of star potential in the top half of the opening round. The Ducks’ first pick — at 10th overall — was going to be essential but also somewhat of a gamble and or project. Enter Pavel Mintyukov. The 6-foot-2 Russian blueliner was expected to go somewhere in the 10 to 15 range, but Verbeek wasted no time and took the opportunity to pounce on the young defender with the Ducks’ first selection.

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The 18-year-old had just wrapped up his second season with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL, demonstrating to scouts he was one of the top offensive defensemen in the league. He tallied 17 goals and 45 assists — third among defensemen — but he struggled in his own end with a minus-17 for a team that failed to reach the playoffs.

But that didn’t seem to matter to Verbeek. He saw the potential for the blueliner to morph into the prototype, new-age defenseman that we are starting to see blossom in the NHL — big, skilled and fast. His eye-popping offensive stats were somewhat of a surprise to Anaheim as he was originally not expected to flourish in the offensive zone. The mobile, puck-moving defender has demonstrated to scouts that he has all the tools, but could he put them all together heading into his third season with the Spirit?

Mintyukov exploded offensively during the 2022-23 season with Saginaw before getting traded to the Ottawa 67’s — also of the OHL — in a blockbuster deal at the deadline (from A Big Deal: Ottawa 67’s Get Stronger Again With Trade for Spirit Defenceman Mintyukov, Ottawa Sun, Jan. 10, 2023). The 67’s were already at the top of the standings, and the crafty defender helped lead them to a 51-12-3-2 record with a league-high 107 points.

Mintyukov registered 24 goals and 64 assists between the two clubs while continuing to improve his defense game, finishing with a plus-33. Oh, and he also took home the OHL Defenseman of the Year Trophy, joining fellow Anaheim prospects Zellweger and Tristan Luneau in sweeping all three Defenseman of the Year awards in the three major Canadian Hockey Leagues. That’s the first time in NHL history that an organization has accomplished that feat.

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Mintyukov has elite hands and vision and excels at jumping into the rush in the attacking zone. He can protect the puck with his big frame, as his size and strength can overpower a defender, helping him beat the opposition off the edge. But it’s his poise with the puck and his decision-making that has Ducks management jumping up and down. His agility allows him to move well laterally, both in the offensive and defensive zones. You could even mistake him for a power forward barreling down on the wing with his (already) pro-level puck-handling skills and offensive ability. He is an excellent skater and already possesses NHL speed. I think it’s safe to say Verbeek hit a home run with his first selection as general manager.

Development Camp Impressions

I had the opportunity to attend Anaheim’s development camp this past July at Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena in the City of Irvine — about 15 miles southeast of the Honda Center. My goal was to get an up-close look at the team’s 2023 second-overall pick, Leo Carlsson, as I was very anxious to observe his skill set (from Ducks’ No. 2 Pick Leo Carlsson Showing His Stuff at Development Camp, Orange County Register, July 6, 2023).

But as the drills progressed, I couldn’t take my eyes off this 192-pound, hulking defender. Mintyukov was flat-out manhandling his fellow prospects during the half-ice wall drills, lowering his shoulder as he gained the edge to dish off no-look passes to his teammates. Then came the three-on-three scrimmages, and that’s when Ducks fans really got a glimpse of the future. He put a full-on display of his high-end skill set, beating opposing players with his speed, outmaneuvering defenders on the rush and scoring highlight-reel goals. I left that arena blown away by a kid who won’t turn 20 years old until this November.

So, what’s next for one of the organization’s top prospects? Can he crack the Ducks roster for the upcoming 2023-24 season? The safe bet is no. At 19 years old, he is still very young and could benefit by developing his game in San Diego with the Gulls — Anaheim’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. San Diego’s training staff is going to get him in the weight room right away so he can build strength as he adjusts to the next level. But I don’t think you can wager against him making the team just yet. Training camp is just around the corner, and Anaheim could have some spots to fill on the back end after giving up a league-high 39 shots per game — a record high in the salary cap era. The club also allowed a league-high 4.09 goals-against per game, and their penalty-killing percentage ranked second to last at 72.14 percent.

Final Projection for Mintyukov

After all this insight, I still think Mintyukov will end up in the AHL for the majority of the upcoming year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a late-season call-up with the club. Anaheim is still in the early stages of this rebuild, and there’s really no reason to rush him at this point. Verbeek signed gritty defender Radko Gudas during the offseason to bring some toughness to the back end, and he also recently acquired Ilya Lyubushkin from the Buffalo Sabres to help shore up the blue line with his steady play.

Robert Hagg was added for some veteran depth. Drysdale will be returning after missing a majority of the season with a shoulder injury, and some scouts think this is the year Zellweger breaks camp with the team. Cam Fowler is back as the leader of this core of defenders, with Urho Vaakanainen returning to round out the bottom pairing.

Pavel Mintyukov Anaheim Ducks
Pavel Mintyukov, Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

So, where does this leave Mintyukov? He could be an early-season victim of the numbers game. I could see him beating out Hagg for that final spot — but ultimately — I think the organization would rather give him top minutes in San Diego as he adjusts to the speed of the professional game. The young star does have the opportunity to impress management at training camp and leave a lasting impression that may make the decision difficult for Verbeek. But don’t fret, Ducks fans, this kid looks like the real thing — a special player who could be the long-term solution from the left side as well as a top-pairing defenseman for years to come. If I had to guess, I’d say you’ll be seeing him at the Honda Center sooner rather than later.

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