Heading into the 2021 NHL draft, Dylan Duke was presumed to be a second round pick with some folks thinking he might creep into the first round. A two-way player with a knack for scoring goals from the front of the net, Duke profiled as a player who could slide into a professional system soon and quickly move up.
Yet, there he was on Day Two sliding down the draft board. The Tampa Bay Lightning saw a chance to grab him and sent a 2022 fourth round pick to Montreal for the 126th pick. They used that pick to snap Duke up and add him to their prospect pool.
Why he fell that far is a question that scouts for other teams will have to answer. While there isn’t a skill that stands out as outstanding, he does seem to do everything at an above-average level. His skating may need some improvement, but that’s true for about 85% of the prospects drafted every year. At this point organizations should understand that skating can be improved by dedicated work with specialists like Barb Underhill. While Duke may never transition to Pavel Bure on the ice, he should be able to improve enough so that it’s not a factor.
He isn’t the largest individual on the ice, but that shouldn’t have resulted in him falling more than 60 picks from where he probably should have been drafted. Success by smaller players over the last five-to-six years should have rid capable general managers and scouts of the past prejudice against kids who aren’t 6’2” and 215 lbs. If they have skills that translate to the NHL just draft them.
Duke definitely seems to have those skills. He battles his way to the front of the net and is able to generate the separation needed to put himself in a scoring position. While his skating isn’t at the top of the ratings chart, he does have good balance on his blades and isn’t easily knocked off of the puck. He also can use that balance and tenacity to win pucks in the corners in both the offensive and defensive zones.
The Ohio-born center is a throwback to the Al Murray school of drafting in the sense that he is a responsible, if not flashy, forward that already shows responsibility at all ends of the ice and can plug into just about any role in the offense. Once he makes the move to the professional ranks (probably in two seasons) he’ll likely find himself on both the power play and penalty kill for the Crunch while bouncing around between center and wing on the top two lines.
Despite having all of the skills that make a solid professional player, Tampa Bay fans shouldn’t get too excited to see him in the blue and white of the Crunch or the Lightning anytime soon. He’s heading to the University of Michigan this fall to join what may be one of the greatest college teams of all time. The roster includes overall number one pick Owen Power along with top prospects Luke Hughes, Matty Berniers, and Brendan Brisson.
That’s a pretty good set of players to skate alongside and should be good for Duke’s development. He’s produced pretty much wherever he’s played, having put up solid numbers in the US National Development Program. In 2019-20 he scored 29 goals in 46 games for the Under-17 team while kicking in 18 assists. Last season he scored at a similar pace with the Under-18’s, potting 29 goals in 50 games with 20 assists. Over those two seasons he played in 58 games at the USHL level with 40 points (22 goals, 18 assists).
He’ll get a good chance to play on bigger stages throughout the season not only with Michigan, but also on the national stage with the US Under-20 team. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him playing this winter at the World Junior Championships for Team USA. He played for the US Team White in this summers World Junior Showcase and scored one goal in his five games.
Dylan Duke parks himself in front of the net and slides home the rebound for his 1st goal of the WJCSS! pic.twitter.com/Ml3gV8xCVg— Future Bolts (@LightningProsp1) July 29, 2021
Get used to highlights like that from Duke. Parked in front of the net, he makes himself a nuisance to the goaltender with a nice screen and is able to turn and find the puck before sliding it into the back of the net. Awareness and a nifty set of hands should lead to a bunch of goals from the slot for this youngster.
Here is another example. A larger player is draped all over him in front of the net, but he doesn’t lose his balance early. He spins off of the check to create a little space and then follows up on the rebound before getting knocked to the ice.
The readers were slightly higher on Duke ranking him 19th while the writers had him at 23rd. There is a good chance that both sides will have him much higher in the rankings next year after a season in Michigan. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him crack the top ten in a couple of years if his career keeps progressing along its current path.
It would be nice to see him evolve along the same lines as Anthony Cirelli and end up a 45-50 point player in the NHL. Not bad for the 126th pick in the draft.