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2021 Draft Prospect Profile: Dylan Duke— Jack of All Trades, and Future Devil?

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Dylan Duke is a 200-foot workhorse with a well-rounded playing style that could fit anywhere in an offensive lineup—Would he fit in the Devils lineup?

Michael Caples/MiHockey

Who is Dylan Duke?

Dylan Duke impressed much of the hockey community in the past couple seasons, lighting it up with the USNTDP. With the U17 in ‘19-’20, he put up 29 goals and 18 assists for 47 points in 46 games. The next season with the U18 team he put up 29 goals and 20 assists for 49 points in 50 games. The kid is nothing if not consistent. In the World Juniors this past year he had 3 goals and an assist in 5 games. The 5’10”, 180lb center does not sound physically imposing, but he plays like a much bigger player, strong on his case and not willing to shy away from a battle in any area of the ice.

Duke is committed to the University of Michigan Wolverines for the upcoming season, which means he’ll have access to excellent development and gain experience playing with some extremely high talent teammates. Some may view this as a downside seeing as he may not be available for up to the next four years if he decides to finish his college experience, but for prospects lower than the first round, they will rarely be ready to come right into the NHL anyway, and free, high-quality development is never a bad thing for a young player.

Where is he ranked?

What do the experts have to say about him?

The Positives:

“Duke is willing to do all of the dirty work needed to succeed on the ice. He plays tough along the board, lays down hits, shirks off opponents as he drives the net, and will post up directly in front of the goalie to bang in rebounds. So while he may not be that sexy 30 goal-scoring forward, he still has the qualities of a top-end prospect.” -Eugene Helfrick, The Hockey Writers

“In a snapshot, he’s a very well-rounded and hardworking forward who’s primarily a winger but can play center. He kills penalties, consistently dictates play at 5 on 5, and contributes big on the power play. When watching him play this past year, I kept waiting for him to show some sort of weakness, but he never did. He’s the jack of all trades type of forward that’s highly coveted yet still sometimes undervalued in the NHL...Duke’s shot is his best tool, bar none, and he knows it. He shoots nearly 4 times a game (via InStat Hockey) and averages 2 on net. His wrist shot release is so quick and powerful, and he can pick his spots at will. His aforementioned one timer isn’t super heavy, but it’s accurate enough that it doesn’t matter.”...Elite Prospects has him listed at 5’9 and 168 pounds [note, EP now has him listed at 5’10 and 181 pounds], but he plays like he’s 6’1 and 190. He doesn’t really look 5’9 either so it could be an outdated number, but I doubt it for a top prospect playing with the NTDP. Regardless, his ability to withstand and fight through contact is impressive. He doesn’t shy away from playing the body in the corners, and would choose to push his way through a defender instead of cutting back in the other direction. He parks himself in front of the net quite a bit for a player with his offensive toolkit as well, and he can really hold his own there -Alex Taxman, Futurescope Hockey

“A quick and rambunctious goal scorer who buzzes the offensive zone from start to finish, Duke considers any opponent to be a target of opportunity. He’s one of the more physical snipers available in this draft and Duke also contributes on the penatly kill.” - Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst

“Duke is a swiss army knife forward who is strong on the puck and his feet. While not the biggest player, Duke thrives in front of the net. Whether shooting in space or banging in goals, he has a knack for the net. While his ceiling isn’t tremendous, Duke has all the makings of a rock-steady utility forward with goal-scoring upside.”-AJ Gidaro, Dobber Prospects

“Duke has a low centre of gravity and good core strength. This means that he is strong on his skates and tough to knock off the puck. He wins battles in front of the net as well as being effective on the forecheck. Duke also has good edgework and agility. He can avoid defenders both with and without the puck.” -Ben Kerr, Last Word on Sports

Sorry for the long block of text in this one but Paul did such an excellent job of capturing all the excellent aspects of Duke’s game that it was tough to pick and choose what to highlight here:

“Dylan Duke plays a versatile, hard-nosed game which will more than likely translate quite well at the next level. He’s just as reliable standing in the opposing team’s crease looking for a loose puck as he is pinching down in the defensive zone, to lend his defensemen a helping hand. Duke’s 200ft game is hard not to appreciate, considering he is an absolute workhorse all over the ice.

...

Duke’s shot is probably the thing to love the most about his offensive talent. He seems to have little issue in putting his wrist shot wherever he desires, with an above average amount of accuracy. Duke’s also not afraid to put a puck on net from pretty much anywhere in the offensive zone. He can also distance himself from the defender when needed, and often can force opponents into a penalty trying to keep him from getting on goal.

...

Duke’s defensive game is arguably one of the most NHL-ready as far as forwards are concerned, in the entire 2021 class. He demonstrates an excellent ability to back-check, and has zero issue digging deep in the corners to create defensive zone turnovers. Duke’s active stick in the corners allows him to poke-check attackers and regain control of the puck quite often. Duke’s also not afraid to take a hit in order for his teammate to pick up the puck and engage a breakout, which I’m sure many NHL scouts would appreciate. An underrated aspect of Dylan Duke’s game is his ability to effectively kill penalties. He’s quite capable of winning faceoffs, obtaining possession of the puck and ragging it to kill time. Not only can he do those tasks quite well, he often forces turnovers in the neutral zone while defending opposing team zone entries, and those usually lead to quality shorthanded chances.” -Paul Zuk, Smaht Scouting

And the Negative:

“Duke’s skating is perhaps the most notable aspect of his game that could use a little polishing. He tends to have more of an upright skating stance, but it isn’t a huge area of concern, as he possesses the agility and edgework needed to escape opponents when required. Duke also doesn’t boast an abundance of explosiveness, but once again, he has enough to get by. Duke’s stride has definitely progressed as this season’s gone on, as he has shown a much more wider stride, allowing him to generate more speed and balance.... Duke’s shot release is a tad slow, which could prove to be a drawback at the next level. As players get more talented and larger in size, Duke will need that quicker release to get the most out of his accurate wrist shot.... Another aspect of Duke’s game that he may look to improve on is his patience when it comes to shooting the puck from anywhere in the offensive zone. While it’s an awesome trait to have, some of his game film had him missing the net completely from angles that were either impossible to hit, or had a large amount of bodies along the trajectory of the shot.” Paul Zuk, Smaht Scouting

“Duke’s skating is a bit of a work in progress. He has some areas that could use improvement but with strong positioning good hockey IQ, he gets around the ice well enough. While he will never be seen as a speedster, Duke has improved this aspect of his game this season...His average top-end skating speed is going to keep him from being able to play the middle at the next level and he still needs continued improvement to even be a top-six winger.”-Ben Kerr, Last Word on Sports

Some Highlights:

Some Thoughts on Him:

Duke Dylan is almost everything you’d want from second or third round draft pick. He’s a fantastic two-way player, with an excellent work ethic in the defensive zone. He works hard, is willing to battle or take a hit to make a play, and knows how to use his stick to do his job and make life easier for his defensemen. He’s not an offensive powerhouse, but he is talented and plays his role well. He’s definitely more of a shooter than a playmaker, but all teams need a trigger man and Dylan Duke’s absolute favorite thing to do is pull the trigger. Sure, sometimes he pulls the trigger a little too often so he’s not the most efficient shooter, but that’s definitely something that will be refined when playing at higher levels like with the Wolverines, with great instruction and with teammates who are more adept at getting open and giving him plays to make instead of taking pot shots.

His speed is another drawback, but since his stride has already shown improvements in the last two seasons, I’m sure that will continue to grow into at least somewhat average speed. Instead though, he has this workhorse attitude that makes him willing to move around and chase all over the ice as needed, so while he might not be the first winner in every race, he’s willing to put the effort in to get where he needs to be, and you’re not going to catch him lagging behind plays.

As the saying goes, Jack of all trades, master of none, is better than a master of one. Dylan Duke is that jack of all trades, the Swiss Army knife as AJ Gidaro puts it, who can fill out your lineup, take shots when set up by your playmakers, support your blue line with his 200 foot game, win face-offs, kill penalties, and just generally be a positive impact throughout the whole game, even if he’s not the one lighting up the lamp every game or making fancy moves with the puck.

So, Should We Draft Him?

Dylan Duke will probably not grow up to become a first line, top offensive power. Most scouts have his ceiling at around middle 6, with comparisons to players like Brendan Gallagher or Reilly Smith. As Eugene Helfrick poetically put it, “He has the talent and toolkit to become that pain in your neck third-liner that fans are ecstatic to have on their roster, even if he is only playing 13 to 15 minutes each night.”

The best teams in the league right now all share something in common in their offensive lines— they have incredible depth. They have so much depth that the hockey community is constantly looking at their lines going wow, how is that player only on the third line?—then looking at the rest of their roster, we realize there’s nowhere better to put them because everyone is just so good. They have fourth lines that score, and do so with regularity. Their third and fourth lines are full of depth forwards, not minute munchers.

The Devils have a high talent roster, with more high talent prospects on their way through the pipeline (thank you, many years of first round picks). We do, however, have a depth problem on our hands. We need more of the players who can roll on the third or fourth line and still contribute, especially if they can add to things like our penalty kill and relieve some of our top forwards the pressure of having to constantly play in all situations. The start of solving this problem, now and for the future as we continue to rebuild this team, is to draft players like Dylan Duke.

Duke is projected to be a second round pick by most scouts (ignoring the outlier of Matthew Zator for a moment). Some predict he will go higher in the second round, but others expect him to fall potentially as low as 61st (Bob McKenzie). Personally, I think Bob has it right— teams are often still aiming for the high-risk high-reward high-ceiling players in the earlier picks of the second round, and a well-rounded, above average but not exceptional player typically falls. Duke will likely fall even more due to his slight size disadvantage, assuming no teams have learned from the Cole Caufield situation, and its generally safe to assume most teams do not learn. Thanks to the Islanders not sucking, the Devils second round pick is not until 60th. I think it is definitely a possibility—maybe 50%—that Dylan Duke will still be available at that point, and if he is, he is definitely a player I would be happy to see us pick.