IRVINE – A teammate’s pass was quick and on target.
The blow too.
In a nanosecond, Benoit-Olivier Groulx passed the puck past goalie Roman Durny and into the back of the net, one of the many highlights of the Ducks rookie team’s training Thursday at Great Park Ice, before their participation in the play of recruits. Tournament in Arizona.
The bus to Scottsdale left Irvine with five first-round picks on board, including Jamie Drysdale (sixth overall in 2020), Mason McTavish (third in 21) and Trevor Zegras (ninth in 19). Groulx was not among the five, having been selected in the second round (54th overall) in 2018.
Groulx, a 21-year-old center, became one of the Ducks’ top prospects after just one season with their AHL team, the San Diego Gulls, following a stellar career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was the Gulls’ third-leading scorer with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) last season.
Andrew Poturalski, 27, led San Diego with 43 points, and Chase De Leo, 25, was the Gulls’ second-leading scorer with 35 points last season.
Groulx’s playing does not present the same kind of sizzle as Zegras. Groulx and Zegras play at the same position, but different games. Zegras is a flashy playmaker who can bring fans to the edge of their seats. Groulx can also produce, but in a way that doesn’t always make the best part of the evening.
Subtle play can also be effective.
Solid two-way play is always welcome at all levels of hockey, and especially in the NHL.
âI know what they want from me,â said Groulx of his role in the upcoming tournament. âI’m one of the older guys here and they expect me to lead the way on and off the ice. I think since I’m one of the most experienced in terms of NHL camps, I’m going to help the kids.
After a slow start to the rookie season in San Diego, Groulx has regained his comfort zone. By the end of the season, he had claimed a central role, winning and winning key faceoffs late in the game in the defensive zone and defending against the opposition’s best crosses. He accepted it willingly and he excelled at it.
But the past is in the past.
Groulx has high expectations for himself this coming season, possibly even fighting for a place in the roster when training camp begins for the whole squad next Thursday at Great Park Ice. The Ducks’ first exhibition game is on September 26, and they open the regular season on October 13 against the Winnipeg Jets at the Honda Center.
âI just want to come here and show that I’ve improved a lot this summer,â said Groulx. âI had a very, very, very good offseason. Lots of power. Lots of speed. I want to show it off in the Rookie tournament. After that, in the main camp, I just want to go one day at a time. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself to roster on opening night. (But) I really want to show how much I’ve improved over the summer.
“I think good things will happen if I do this.”
Groulx impressed Gulls coach Joel Bouchard long before hitting the ice for Ducks development camp earlier this month. Bouchard, hired to replace Kevin Dineen as coach of the Gulls during the offseason, is a long-time friend of Groulx’s father, Benoit, and faced Benoit-Olivier’s teams while he was a QMJHL coach.
More recently, Bouchard coached the Montreal Canadiens in the AHL, the Laval Rocket.
âI know ‘BO’ because I tracked him down in the midget category and coached against him in the Quebec league,â said Bouchard. âIt’s always fun to see young guys growing up in hockey, seeing them at 15 and seeing them at 22 or 23. I saw ‘BO’ back then and all of a sudden you see him turn into a good pro.
“It’s always fun.”
DUCKS ROKIE FACEOFF TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Friday: against the San Jose Sharks, 5 p.m., Scottsdale, Ariz.
Sunday: vs. Colorado Avalanche, 4 p.m., Scottsdale, Ariz.
On Monday: against the Arizona Coyotes at noon, Glendale, Arizona.