Anaheim Ducks have even more firepower developing at minor league level

By Chris Phifer

John Gibson - Norfolk Admirals

Photo: Rookie goaltender John Gibson assumed the starting role in Norfolk with Anaheim relying heavily on Frederik Andersen at the NHL level (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

In what could be regarded as a development year with all the incoming young players, the Norfolk Admirals are off to a respectable 20-13-1-5 start. Norfolk stood to lose quite a few valuable players to the Anaheim Ducks this season, and with players like Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Emerson Etem, Frederik Andersen, and Patrick Maroon all spending considerable time in the NHL in 2013-14 that fear became a reality.

In their place, there have been many notable performances, starting between the pipes with John Gibson and Igor Bobkov.

Here is an update on how the Ducks' professional prospects have been performing in 2013-14:

NHL

Frederik Andersen, G, 24

Frederik Andersen entered the season on a high note, after finishing 2012-13 as a top goalie in the American Hockey League with a 2.19 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. He opened the season in Norfolk by playing in two of the first three games of the season, winning both and allowing only two goals on 70 shots (one shutout). This start coupled with an injury to Viktor Fasth resulted in Andersen being promoted to the Ducks and he took the ball and ran with it, so to speak. His first career NHL game was on October 20th, 2013 against the Dallas Stars. The Ducks fell behind early, and Andersen was brought into the game in relief after the first period. He stopped all 24 shots he faced in 40 minutes of play and his team rallied around him and came back for the win. Since that time he started in 12 more games for the Ducks, posting 10 wins and two losses over that time, all while maintaining a 1.98 goals against average and .927 save percentage. He has since been sent back to Norfolk where he has recorded one win and one loss since his return to the AHL. His emergence, coupled with Viktor Fasth's breakout in 2012-13, John Gibson's first season as a pro, and Hiller's continued excellent play in Anaheim has helped create one of the deepest and most talented goaltender pools in the NHL. It will be interesting to see how their goaltending situation plays out in the next few years.

Sami Vatanen, D, 22

Sami Vatanen is an extremely smooth skating, skilled defenseman, capable of impressive end-to-end rushes with the puck. He burst onto the hockey scene after two dominant performances in the World Junior Championships in 2010 and 2011 with Finland. He followed that up by winning the SM-Liiga Championships in 2011-12, as well as taking home the Best Defenseman award for two years running (2011, 2012). In 2012-13 he made his North American debut suiting up for the Norfolk Admirals, where his 45 points tied him for fourth, along with Torey Krug (BOS), in defenseman scoring. He also appeared in eight games with the Ducks last season, scoring two goals along the way. The 2013-14 season saw him start the season with the Anaheim Ducks, and he has appeared in 39 of the Ducks' 50 games thus far. Vatanen has not disappointed offensively this year, his 14 points (six goals, eight assists) are good for 13th in team scoring, while averaging 17:10 in ice time per game. He also spent two games with the Ducks' American League affiliate in Norfolk, scoring one goal and two assists.

Hampus Lindholm, D, 20

Expectations surrounding Hampus Lindholm were unclear entering the 2013-14 season. The former sixth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft debuted in the AHL as an 18-year-old in 2012-13, and did not look out of place, until a concussion limited him to only 44 games and caused him to miss the 2013 WJC. With that all behind him, Lindholm ended training camp and put on an impressive performance, resulting in him breaking camp with the big club. He started the season on an impressive run, posting a positive plus/minus record in each of his first five games (combined plus-nine) as well as two assists. He has been extremely solid in his own zone as his plus-25 rating currently leads the team and has him in a tie for fourth in the entire league, quite a feat for a defenseman just turning 20 years old on January 20th. He is also providing a bit of scoring punch with 17 points (five goals) through 47 games, which currently has him tied for 15th in rookie scoring (fourth amongst defensemen). He has averaged 19:21 in ice time per game (ninth amongst rookies), while never playing less than 16 minutes a game, and highlighted by a season high 22:19 on October 24th versus the Montreal Canadiens. His ability to not only bounce back from an injury filled season, but to also dominate at times like he has, will have Anaheim Ducks fans extremely excited about the future of this team.

AHL

Antoine Laganiere, C, 23

Antoine Laganiere was a much talked about prospect entering his first season of professional hockey. In 2012-13, he completed a four-year career at Yale University, and capped it off with a National Championship. He was a highly sought after free agent following the completion of the NCAA season, and Anaheim was happy to have landed the 6’4 power forward.  He has played mostly in a checking role, primarily at left wing alongside either David Steckel or Chris Wagner at center, and a host of wingers, with Zack Stortini seeing the most time on that line. With seven points in his first 37 games in the AHL, he has not been setting the league on fire in terms of production, but he is a big body that can get in quick on the forecheck and create more space for his linemates.

Steven Whitney, C, 22

The Admirals entered the season with a young, inexperienced squad in 2013-14, and it was not clear where the goals were going to be coming from. Now 37 games into his rookie season, Steven Whitney has shown that he can be counted on to produce for this team. Used primarily on a secondary unit, Whitney's nine goals are good for fifth on the team, and his 18 points are tied for fifth. Line combinations have changed sporadically over the course of the season, but Whitney has spent a large amount of time playing the right flank with center Chris Wagner, and enjoyed a lot of success when Devante Smith-Pelly was filling in the left side of that unit. He has appeared in all but one of Norfolk's game this season, and is doing a great job of proving that his lack of size is not a hindrance for him.

Charles Sarault, C, 21
 
Much like Whitney, Charles Sarault entered the 2013-14 season as an undersized, offensive player looking to prove he can be relied upon to produce at the next level. He started the year hot registering four points in his first three games but like many young players, he has been inconsistent. After five points in his first five games, he went 10 games without a point and has been bounced around from line to line. He has spent quite a bit of time on a line with Max Sauve and John Kurtz, but with injuries, and the way AHL lineups can differ from one night to the next, he has also seen time playing with lots of different players, in lots of different roles, and even as a winger from time to time.

Joseph Cramarossa, RW, 21

Joseph Cramarossa entered the 2013-14 season with the Norfolk Admirals after a successful four-year career in the OHL. With many young players entering the AHL this year in Norfolk, finding a permanent role has been tough, and Cramarossa has been no exception. He possesses average size and is a capable offensive player, but he will need to prove that he can be a responsible two-way player first. He has spent time on just about every line at some point during the season, usually as a strong forechecking winger who can retrieve the puck to help give his team more offensive zone time. He has appeared in 36 games with the Admirals this season and has four points (one goal) with 36 penalty minutes.

Rickard Rakell, C, 20

Rickard Rakell came into the year with the high expectations of being a first round pick in his first season of professional hockey. Rakell had spent three seasons with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, amassing 151 points in 149 regular season games and 27 more points in 29 playoff games. Rakell can be a dependable offensive player, but his versatility and responsible two-way play are what will help him make a name for himself. Right out of the gate, he showed why he is so highly regarded and posted three goals in his first four games. Just 11 games into the season he had put up six points and was the first call-up by the Ducks, where he managed to get into the line-up for seven games (one assist), before being sent back down. Since being re-assigned, he has been nothing short of spectacular, posting a point in all but four of his next 21 games (six goals and 16 assists) bringing his season totals up to 10 goals, 18 assists, and 28 points to lead the team in each category. The top line in Norfolk has been centered by Rakell all season with a host of linemates. Since being demoted, Emerson Etem has formed an electrifying duo with Rakell, often flanked by Max Friberg or Devante Smith-Pelly.

Emerson Etem, RW, 21

Emerson Etem debuted in the NHL during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season and did not look out of place, finishing with 10 points in 38 games. He cracked the Ducks' lineup out of camp to start the 2013-14 season and his speed and creativity were on display again as he matched last year's output of 10 points in just 26 games this season. With the team playing so well however, and other players returning from injury, ice time was hard to come by and Etem was sent back down to Norfolk to further develop his game. Upon returning to the Admirals, he was put on a line with Rickard Rakell and the chemistry between the two youngsters was evident almost immediately. Etem has been as hot as anyone in the league, managing at least one point in every game he has appeared in except for three, including eight multi-point contests in the process. With Max Friberg on the left side, the line featured two speedy snipers, but when Friberg was hurt, Smith-Pelly stepped in an offered more of a power game to the line. Etem's season totals are 11 goals, 15 assists for 26 points in just 18 games, which helped earn him Player of the Month honors for the month of December.

Stefan Noesen, RW, 20

Part of the Bobby Ryan deal from this past offseason, Stefan Noesen entered the season on a high note, having been reunited with his Plymouth teammate Rickard Rakell. He saw playing time alongside Rakell and fellow rookie pro, Antoine Laganiere, but unfortunately for Noesen, that is when things took a bad turn. He sustained a concussion in just the second game of the season, and has yet to return to the Admirals’ lineup. A big body who can play physical, as well as put the puck in the back of the net, Noesen's return to the lineup will be welcomed by an Admirals team that is currently tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference in goals for.

Chris Wagner, C, 22

Being a second-year pro, Wagner probably does not feel like a veteran of the AHL yet, but with the bulk of the Admirals' lineup being so young, Wagner has been leaned upon to assume a leadership role in 2013-14. A very responsible two-way player, Wagner displayed these traits extremely well in his rookie AHL season, also finishing with 20 points in 70 games. This year he has been made an assistant captain, and often centers the second line alongside a host of wingers, most notably Steven Whitney, Devante Smith-Pelly, Antoine Laganiere, and Joseph Cramarossa. Wagner possesses good hockey sense, and a willingness to get involved physically, and it is these traits that will earn him an opportunity to play in the NHL in the future. He has 14 points in 39 games so far this season.

Max Friberg, LW, 21

Max Friberg is a speedy, hard-working winger with a very accurate shot, which he is never afraid of using. Coming to North America full-time in 2013-14 was a choice that the Ducks were extremely pleased with, after having auditioned him with the Admirals for the final six games of the 2012-13 season (one goal). The start of the Admirals season saw lines being changed nearly every game, due to injuries and players being called up and sent back down, and Friberg definitely saw his fair share of linemates during the first 10 games. As the season has progressed, the lineup has been more consistent and it has allowed some good chemistry to be formed between certain players. He started the year a little slow, with one goal and one assist in his first seven games, but quickly started to find his rhythm registering 20 points in his next 30 games. Things really started to heat up when he was put on a line with fellow Swede Rickard Rakell and Emerson Etem, although he was out of the lineup for a game in early January and was replaced by Devante Smith-Pelly on that unit.

Jesse Blacker, D, 22

Jesse Blacker was acquired in the deal that sent Peter Holland to the Maple Leafs. Blacker is a two-way defenseman with good offensive instincts. He joins the Admirals after playing two full season with Maple Leafs' affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, during which he registered 27 points in 119 regular season games. Prior to joining the Marlies, Blacker spent four seasons in the OHL split between the Windsor Spitfires and the Owen Sound Attack, appearing in two Memorial Cup tournaments and winning the title in 2009 with Windsor. He joined an Admirals team that was having trouble producing offense from the back end and immediately stepped in and lightened the load for his teammates. Since joining the Admirals, he has managed four goals and 13 assists in just 20 games and has looked very good on a pairing with veteran Nolan Yonkman. At 6'1 and 190 pounds, his size is not an issue and with continued improvements in defensive zone coverage, Blacker could earn himself a call-up to the NHL in the future.

Mat Clark, D, 23

Mat Clark entered the season with the Norfolk Admirals as a bit of an elder statesman on the blue line, having appeared in 214 AHL regular season games, despite only being 23 years old. Standing 6'3 and 212 pounds, Clark possesses good size and is at his best when he is playing physical and protecting his own zone. Clark started the year on what could be considered the team's top defensive unit alongside the offensive minded Kevin Gagne, but an injury has limited him to just 23 games and two assists. Clark seems to have hit a bit of a wall in his development, as he has seen his point production dip every year since joining the AHL, and after appearing in two games with the Ducks in 2011-12, he has since been passed on the depth chart by younger defensemen such as Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm. Still Clark's size and defensive play set him apart from some of the other young defensemen in the system, and with players like Sheldon Souray, Francois Beauchemin, and Bryan Allen getting older, he remains on the radar as a potential shutdown defender in the future.

Kevin Gagne, D, 21

Kevin Gagne returned to Norfolk in 2013-14 for his first season of professional hockey after having signed with the Ducks as a free agent and finishing the season with the Admirals in 2012-13 (five games with one assist). Gagne is as undersized as they come at 5'8 and 176 lbs, but his speed, abilities with the puck, and hockey sense are what have people excited about his potential. He spent five seasons in the QMJHL with the Saint John Sea Dogs, before finishing with the Rimouski Oceanic in 2012-13. He was a big part of the Sea Dogs' team that won back-to-back QMJHL Championships and the Memorial Cup in 2011. Last year Gagne received the Emile Bouchard Trophy as top defenseman in the QMJHL after putting up a whopping 71 points in 62 games split between Saint John and Rimouski. He started the year registering five points in his first six games, and he is one of only three Admirals player to have appeared in all 39 games thus far. He regularly lines up beside the more defensive minded Mat Clark to form a very formidable two-way pairing, but with Clark out of the lineup, Alex Grant has assumed the spot beside Gagne on the blue line.

Stefan Warg, D, 23

Stefan Warg is very large man along the blue line at 6'3 and 220 pounds, and after three seasons in Sweden's second league, the Allsvenskan, he decided to return to North America to try his hand with the Norfolk Admirals. Finding a permanent spot on the Admirals' blue line was not an easy thing to do at the start of the season, and Warg found himself suiting up for a few games with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL as well. With three points in just two ECHL games, Warg was brought back to Norfolk where he finally got some regular shifts. Often pairing up alongside veterans Nolan Yonkman and Ryan Parent, Warg has helped provide a stabilizing force on the back end for the Admirals and has managed to get in the lineup for 20 games, including the last 13 straight games. He will need to continue to show that he can physically handle the opposition in the North American style of play, and be a responsible two-way defender to help earn his place amongst the deep pool of blueliners in Anaheim's system.

John Gibson, G, 20

No player entered the season with more hype or expectations than John Gibson. After a successful two year career with the Kitchener Rangers, U-17 gold medal, U-18 gold medal, and a World Junior Championship gold medal (Tournament MVP and Top Goalie), it was time for John Gibson to show fans at the AHL level why he was regarded as the goaltender of the future. There was an extremely crowded crease in Norfolk to start the season with Gibson, Frederik Andersen, and Igor Bobkov all looking for significant playing time, and the Ducks were faced with a decision on how to spread out the starts amongst the three netminders. Andersen and Gibson alternated the first few starts of the season, while Bobkov was sent the ECHL to get more action, but an injury at the NHL level saw Andersen earn a call-up to the big club. At this point, Gibson was thrust into the starting role and flourished, helping the team steal a few tight games, and also keeping them in games that otherwise could have got out of hand. His modest 11-9-4 record does not tell the whole story when it comes to Gibson's play, for the first part of the season he ranked near the top in every statistical category for goalies, and still boasts a respectable 2.58 goals against average and .915 save percentage. The future is extremely bright for John Gibson and the Anaheim Ducks.

Igor Bobkov, G, 23

Igor Bobkov entered the season with a lot of uncertainty surrounding him. With such a deep goaltending pool and only so many starts to go around, where and when Bobkov would manage to get into the lineup was a bit of an unknown. With Andersen and Gibson sticking with the Admirals, Bobkov was sent to the ECHL in an effort to increase his amount of action. With the Utah Grizzlies Bobkov saw 10 games of action and managed a 3-4-1-2 record, 2.17 goals against average, and .919 save percentage. With Andersen spending the majority of his time with the Ducks, Bobkov was brought back to Norfolk to help the ease the load on John Gibson.  Since rejoining the Admirals, Bobkov has been fantastic between the pipes for his team. He has appeared in eight games (once in relief of Gibson) and has a 5-2-1 record with an impressive 2.45 goals against average and .919 save percentage. At 6'6 and 230 pounds, Bobkov is an intimidating site when he is in his goal, and with a World Junior Championship in 2011 on his resume, he has proven he has what it takes to play in big games. His continued development could cause even more depth and uncertainty to an already deep group of talented goalies.

ECHL

Andrew O'Brien, D, 21

The 2013-14 season, and his life as professional hockey player, has not started quite the way Andrew O'Brien likely envisioned, but injuries happen and the road to the NHL is a long, arduous process. O'Brien joins the pro ranks after three successful seasons in QMJHL with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. He possesses size at 6’3 and 200 pounds and displays a willingness to play physical. His injury sidelined him for the early part of the season, and upon his return he was sent down to Utah of the ECHL to get him more ice time, as Norfolk has had a crowded blue line much of the season. Appearing in eight games for the Grizzlies, O'Brien has yet to record a point and owns a minus-three rating with 16 penalty minutes.

Who is Hot:

Nicolas Kerdiles, LW, University of Wisconsin
Acquired: 2nd round, 36th overall in 2012

Nicolas Kerdiles got off to another good start with the University of Wisconsin in 2013-14, posting 17 points in the first 14 games of the season and earning himself a spot on the United States' WJC squad. With the Badgers, Kerdiles has been their go-to offensive player, and has assumed a leadership role along the way. At this year's World Junior Championships, Kerdiles was primarily used on the top unit with fellow NCAA stars Dan O'Regan (SJS) and Riley Barber (WAS). He displays solid puck control, and is very good at retrieving pucks that have been dumped into the offensive zone, and he is also a great passer and has a quick release that he uses to fool goaltenders. His 17 points in 15 games with Wisconsin are good for fourth in team scoring, despite missing five games, and he led the USA's WJC team with seven points in just five games. The Ducks believe they have a future star in Kerdiles, and it is only a matter of time before the rest of the hockey world understands why.

Nick Sorensen, RW, Quebec Remparts
Acquired: 2nd round, 45th overall in 2013

Nick Sorensen entered 2013-14 with one goal in mind, stay healthy as long as possible. Despite missing a few games here and there over the early part of the season, he managed to elude any lengthy injuries and his numbers have increased. Through 23 games with Quebec, he registered 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points, good for fourth in team scoring despite being out of the line-up for 22 games. In December, he made his second appearance for Sweden at the World Junior Championships, and the fact that it was in his home country made it a surreal experience for the young forward. With a star-studded lineup, Sorensen assumed duties on a third line alongside fellow NHL draftee Andre Burakowsky (WAS) and Lucas Wallmark. They formed an enviable unit with size, skill, and responsible play. Despite losing in overtime in the gold medal game, Sorensen had a very solid tournament and his six points (two goals) tied him for sixth in team scoring.