ANAHEIM—Brandon McMillan still wears No. 64 on his uniform. That says a lot about the 21-year-old forward for the Ducks.
The club hasn’t yet asked him to upgrade to a lower number, a rite of passage for most players as they transition into full-time members of the NHL.
Yet, the fact that he’s even in the NHL says a lot about McMillan, who was selected in the third round of the 2008 entry draft, 85th overall.
Of the seven players Anaheim selected before him in that draft, he beat them all to the NHL, then went out and produced 11 goals and 10 assists in 60 regular-season games with the Ducks last season. He added another goal and an assist in the six-game loss to Nashville in the first round of the playoffs.
His speed, toughness and versatility made him a keeper after his call up following just 16 games in the American Hockey League. Now he's being asked to bring even more to the ice.
With the loss of second-line winger Jason Blake for three months due to a severe cut to his forearm, McMillan stepped into his position the last two games, putting the former third-line grinder in the team’s top six grouping that includes last season’s MVP, Corey Perry, a future Hall of Famer, Teemu Selanne, and three other former first-round draft picks.
McMillan had an assist in a 3-2 victory Monday night in San Jose, the fourth straight victory by the Ducks. He practiced with the second line again Thursday in preparation for Friday night’s game against the Dallas Stars at Honda Center, and coach Randy Carlyle said he’ll be looking for McMillan to continue contributing in the scoring column.
“The production has to be come,” he said. “It’s just not about playing there. It’s about producing and making a contribution to our group. When you get to play those minutes with that level of players, there’s going to be pressure applied to produce some points.”
McMillan estimated he played approximately five games with Selanne and Saku Koivu last season. He said the challenge is staying aware that the puck can come his way at any moment.
“There are little holes this big,” McMillan said, holding his hands about six inches apart. “Saku’s going to fit them through, so you’ve got to be ready for the puck and you’ve got to expect the unexpected.”
McMillan said his ability to keep up with Selanne on breakouts is also an asset to their line.
“Even last year, we’d get at least a 2-on-1 every game, just the way we were getting ahead of the play and behind their defensemen,” McMillan said.
The Ducks will need every breakaway they can muster against the Stars (5-1-0), who are off to just as strong a start as the Ducks, winning their last four games as well.