The Calgary Flames head to Mankato to pick up an undrafted college free agent for the second consecutive season after signing Connor Mackey to a contract last spring. This time, it was Minnesota State senior forward Walker Duehr inking with the Flames.
The #Flames have signed forward Walker Duehr to an entry-level contract! Details: https://t.co/kXz6e8MU0U— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) April 11, 2021
Welcome to the #CofRed @wduehr_97! pic.twitter.com/qBRypBjEvQ
Unlike Mackey, who many regarded as one of the top available free agents in college last year, Duehr was a little more off-the-radar. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. While every year sees one or two players that are consensus top free agent targets, there are a lot of differing opinions in the scouting world and it only takes one team to really like a player for that player to get signed. And the long-term success rate doesn’t really differ between the two. If anything, it’s almost better to be in the latter category, because you’re heading to an organization that really wants you, and likely has a specific role in mind.
So while I may not have listed Duehr as one of my top available in college hockey, after watching him pretty frequently over the past four seasons, my initial thought was ‘That makes a lot of sense’.
Here’s what I’ve seen out of Duehr that likely drew the interest of Calgary, and what one might expect from him as a pro going forward.
The first thing that I think most fans run to with a new signing is the stats page, where Duehr had a decent, but mostly unremarkable 10-7-17 scoring line in 28 games this season for Minnesota State, finishing sixth in team scoring on what was a very good Minnesota State team.
There are a couple things worth pointing out there. First is that Duehr finished the season incredibly hot. He was a point-per-game player over the final 11 games of the season for Minnesota State, including a goal and a beautiful assist in the national semifinals, which likely left a very good final impression on a team that was potentially interested in him coming into the season.
But more importantly, it’s worth pointing out that on a deep, experienced Minnesota State team, Duehr didn’t see any power play time this season, meaning all 17 of his points came at even strength. His 17 even strength points ranked tied for 17th nationally among undrafted free agents in college hockey, with the leaders on that list—Alex Steeves, Jordan Kawaguchi, Bobby Trivigno, and Odeen Tufto—all signing(eventually in the case of Trivigno) NHL free agents contracts this spring. So Duehr fares favorably in that regard.
And if we’re being honest, while some power play time and sexier stats may be nice, the undrafted college free agent market isn’t where you go shopping for high skill top-six NHL forwards. You’re generally going to get your best value finding good bottom-six depth forwards out of the older college group. Duehr shows potential to be really strong in that regard.
Duehr is every bit of the 6’2” 212 lbs. he is listed at, and is a terrific, powerful skater for his size.
Even if he’s not much of a scorer at the pro level, and he’s not likely to be, his ability to do things like this are extremely valuable:
In this clip, Duehr comes out of nowhere down the right wing to beat the defenseman to the puck, winning back possession for his team and generating a shot:
This is another example of Duehr’s speed taking away time and space from a defender, which forces a turnover and leads to a scoring opportunity the other way:
Because he has more of an upright skating style, I think it can be a deceptive, but Duehr is also incredibly strong on his skates. On this play, an opponent thinks he has him lined up for a big hit and it does not end like he hoped.
But more where you see his strength is his ability to work along the boards on the cycle. He’s got really light feet for being as big as he is, which makes him difficult to handle in board situations.
Here’s a good example of him on the cycle, including the ability to cover a lot of ice to get in position to win pucks:
This is a simple little play for a goal, but he displays great quickness to get to that puck, and then breaks the ankles for his defender with a quick stop to create the space to get to the front of the net for the shot.
In his best shifts, you can see him put it all together.
Here, he creates a turnover in the defensive zone, skates down the ice and sets up a nice chance, creates another turnover, and eventually banks a pass attempt into the net for a goal.
Again, you can see the speed in the neutral zone, the toughness along the boards, the quick twitch ability to change directions down low, and he gets rewarded with a goal:
Here, he shows off good responsibility, picking up his man on a potential break-out, covering the point as his team cycled the puck, and then beating his defender to the spot for a goal:
Finally, here’s another goal he scores by just being quicker to the spot than his defender and then being strong with a good stick when he gets there.
So what is the upshot for what Calgary is getting out of Duehr? He’ll need some polishing in the minors and hopefully he develops a little more consistency, but I think he’s exactly what you’d like out of a third or fourth line winger. He’s big, but brings above average athleticism and speed, and he plays the type of strong, heavy game that can be very valuable. He doesn’t make a lot of flashy skill plays, but he makes a lot of quiet plays to gain or extend possession that could lead to scoring chances, and he’s great at going strong to the net with a good stick to finish off chances. He probably won’t be the most exciting player, but could be a solid piece for the Flames.