The Wild drafted Reid Duke 169th overall in last summer's draft. But in the 2011 WHL Bantam draft, Duke was selected 5th overall by the Lethbridge Hurricanes. First pick in that draft was Jake Virtanen (selected by the Canucks 6th last summer). Other notables are Ryan Gropp (expected to be a first round pick in 2015), Connor Bleackley(Colorado's first round pick last summer), and Brayden Point (3rd round pick by Tampa Bay). There are a few really well respected players who came out of this Bantam draft, and at the time it looked like Duke would be a player who could contribute quite a lot to a WHL team.
Unfortunately that early promise did not materialize into significant wins for his teams. After being released by the Wild to return to his junior team, Duke played one game with the Hurricanes, a 9 to 2 loss to the Calgary Hitmen. Even though Duke was a minus three and had zero goals or assists, he actually played a pretty good game. He was aggressive, taking the puck to the net at every opportunity, and he frequently looked like the most dangerous player on the ice for the Hurricanes.
But the best thing that could have happened for Reid Duke's development into maybe a future NHL player happened. He was traded one game into his 2014-15 season to the Brandon Wheat Kings. Not only did Duke get traded from a team that only won twelve games last year, but he got traded to a team with Memorial Cup aspirations. The Wheat Kings have been ranked no lower than fourth in the CHL rankings that have been published this season, a list that ranks not only the WHL teams, but compares them in relation to the OHL teams and the QMJHL teams. That doesn't necessarily mean they are playoff bound, but it does mean that Duke will be playing in competitive, meaningful games as the season progresses.
This trade gives Duke an opportunity to succeed, and it will be interesting to how he develops on a competitive squad. Can he utilize his flashy skills and succeed for a team with a winning culture? This season the Wild will truly have an opportunity to see what Duke can do.
The Scouting Report said he was a potential first rounder who fell to the sixth round because of the horrible situation in which he played last year. It is really difficult to assess a player who is one of the team's leading scorers but also on the ice for a lot of goals against. He was also well regarded as a two-way player but was still a -43 last season because of his team's overall lack of goal scoring and instability at the goaltending position. Lethbridge used six different goalies, five of whom had sub .900 save percentages, which certainly contributed to Duke's stats looking less than impressive.
Last October, before the full extent of the Hurricane's struggles became obvious, the scouts at hockeyprospect.com had Duke as an honorable mention as a possible first round selection for the 2014 NHL draft. They also said he had an aptitude for distributing the puck, but that his less skilled Lethbridge teammates struggled to send the puck back his way, which could contribute to his less than stellar offensive numbers. But he didn't always seem fully engaged in the play, which is understandable while playing on a team that was consistently terrible.
Scout Ben Kerr, for Last Word on Sports, describes Duke's complete game:
He was a solid two-way player, who showed hard work, grit and physical play in all three zones, and defensive responsibility. A good skater, with solid speed, decent acceleration and good edgework and agility. Could stand to work on core strength and balance though. Offensively he is a very good playmaker with strong vision and passing skills. His shot is underrated and he needs to use it more often.
Duke's passing and playmaking ability is already starting to show with the Wheat Kings. As he develops chemistry with his teammates, and once his coach finds the right role for him, I think he could demonstrate his playmaking abilities in an impressive fashion. He is rarely the first player back defensively but he also is frequently the deepest forward into the offensive zone. The only player forechecking naturally would have a more difficult time getting back to the defensive zone.
While some of the scouting reports say that he was strong in the face-off circle, he lost a lot in the games I watched. But what was impressive is that the instant he could tell that he had lost a draw, he jumped into the space of ice defended by his opponent to try to take the puck back. The lost draws almost seemed to be a tactical decision, as if he expected that his wingers could not help, so he wanted to get an early start on winning back the lost draw.
His Future with Brandon and with the Wild
The Wheat Kings played him at wing on the first line for his first two games, but this weekend switched him to centering the second line. In the four games he has played with the Wheat Kings, he has tallied two assists and has yet to score a goal. He still seems to be adjusting to his new team, and he doesn't look out of place next to Brandon's skilled players.
What I love most about Reid Duke's game is how exciting he looks on offense and on the forecheck. It could be that the Wild got a first or second round type player for the price of a sixth round pick. If that happens, Reid Duke was a steal. But at this point in his development, I'm just happy for him that he doesn't have to suffer through a whole season with an organization that seems to have given up on producing a winning team. He should have the opportunity to play some competitive playoff hockey and can adjust to playing with players who are closer to his skill level while giving the Wild a chance to see what kind of player that he really is.