June 7, 2023

After appearing in the first 15 games for the Anaheim Ducks this season, Max Comtois has been out of the lineup for the last three. With news only coming out that he is day-to-day with a lower-body injury almost a week after his initial disappearance from the lineup, it was fair to speculate as to whether he was back in head coach Dallas Eakins’ doghouse. After all, Comtois isn’t a stranger to this sort of discipline. Last season was a tremendous struggle for the 23-year-old winger, battling early-season injuries on top of inconsistent play. He appeared in only 52 games, often a healthy scratch down the stretch. After a team-leading 16 goals the year prior, Comtois finished the 2021-22 season with six goals and 10 assists. 

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To call Comtois’ start to the 2022-23 season a “bounce back” effort may be a stretch — four goals in 15 games isn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard, but it’s been an encouraging start. What’s less optimistic is his recent usage. After several games on the top line, he was moved to the third line on Saturday (Nov. 12) against the Chicago Blackhawks and was spotted on the fourth line in practice on Monday (Nov. 14) before being scratched altogether for Tuesday’s (Nov. 15) matchup against the Detroit Red Wings.

Comtois is a Top Line Forward Playing in a Depth Role

As the roster is currently constructed, Comtois is the best option to be Trevor Zegras’ left wing on the top line. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he has the size very few forwards on the Ducks possess, even if he isn’t a traditional bruiser. He has been most effective as a goal-scorer when he’s in front of the net battling for rebounds, and playing on a line with Zegras and Troy Terry would generate plenty of them. The coaching staff would seem to agree with this theory because he was listed on the top line in four of the last eight games prior to his benching.

Max Comtois Anaheim Ducks
Max Comtois, Anaheim Ducks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Comtois’ role on the team becomes confusing once he’s removed from one of the top two lines. As a rebuilding team, the forward lines in Anaheim are varied in terms of talent and role. In his last appearance against the Blackhawks on Saturday, he was moved down to the third line with Isac Lundestrom and Jakob Silfverberg. Lundestrom and Silfverberg don’t generate much offense and are seen as more of a shutdown line. Comtois isn’t known for his defense, making the grouping an awkward combination while failing to put him in a position to succeed. So, when he is benched for the following two games since this failed experiment, it does force the question: what is his role on the Ducks moving forward?

Looking at Comtois as a Trade Asset

If Comtois continues to be benched, his future in Anaheim only gets murkier. He’s an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning the Ducks will have most of the control on a new contract, but he can push back on the terms. General managers can be hot and cold when it comes to these negotiations, but it is worth noting Pat Verbeek let Sonny Milano go directly to free agency last offseason in part due to Milano’s arbitration eligibility. If the arbitration process is a headache for the front office, it seems unlikely they’d go through the process with a player who has spent a good portion of the last two seasons in and out of the lineup like Comtois.

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As a young winger with streaky scoring and a team-controlled contract, Comtois does shape out to be an interesting trade candidate. The Ducks are improving but are far from done, and this year’s trade deadline will have more selling to go with it. With veterans on expiring deals like John Klingberg and Dmitry Kulikov, he could be included in a larger deal. His age and cap hit will also be enticing for teams gearing up for this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well as teams that have convinced themselves that they’ll be competitive for the next decade.

Comtois Should Remain a Duck Moving Forward

Right now it seems the best path moving forward for Comtois and the Ducks is that he should be playing regularly. There’s a significant lack of depth scoring on the roster, and benching him only removes one of the more talented players on the offensive end. As the rebuild gets longer, it is becoming more clear that Eakins won’t be the head coach for the Ducks when they are finally competitive again. If this is an issue about Comtois being unable to fit into Eakins’ philosophy, it would be foolish to part ways with him if Eakins is just serving out the length of his contract.

Statistics Courtesy of HockeyDB. Lineup info courtesy of @AnaheimDucks on Twitter.

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