Ducks Top 20 Prospects, Fall 2008

By Kevin Forbes

Fighting to remain competitive at the NHL level has taken its toll on the Anaheim prospect pool, but after adding 10 new selections at the NHL Entry Draft and adding a handful of other young players over the course of the off-season, slowly the Ducks are restocking the cupboard.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (1) Bobby Ryan, RW
2. (2) Mark Mitera, D
3. (NR) Jake Gardiner, D
4. (3) Logan MacMillan, LW
5. (5) Eric Tangradi, C
6. (6) Brendan Mikkelson, D
7. (8) Matt Beleskey, LW
8. (NR) Nicolas Deschamps, C
9. (4) Jean-Philippe Levasseur, G
10. (7) Brian Salcido, D
11. (10) Ryan Carter, C
12. (NR) Eric O’Dell, C
13. (9) John deGray, D
14. (11) Drew Miller, LW
15. (16) Maxime Macenauer, C
16. (NR) Justin Schultz, D
17. (14) Geoff Platt, C
18. (18) Petteri Wirtanen, C
19. (NR) Josh Brittain, LW
20. (NR) Steven Kampfer, D

1. (1) Bobby Ryan, RW

Acquired: Drafted 2nd overall in 2005

On a team that sorely lacks scoring options behind the first unit, the sooner Bobby Ryan begins to realize his potential, the better. A power forward type, Ryan will be first in line to capture a spot in the Ducks top-six forwards and after splitting his first season between the NHL and the AHL, he needs to prove he is ready.

Technically still a rookie at the NHL level, Ryan appeared in 23 regular season games with the Ducks, scoring five goals and finishing with 10 points. In six playoff matches, he tallied another two goals. While those are respectable totals for a first -year player with minimal ice time, it is clear Anaheim will be expecting more from him in 2008-09. One area where he might have an immediate impact is on the Ducks power play, a unit that struggled last year. He scored three of his goals last year.

As his AHL stats indicate, Ryan should be able to deliver the goods if given the proper chance. In 48 games with the Portland Pirates in 2007-08, Ryan scored 21 goals and had 49 points. He finished strongly and added another eight goals and 20 points in 16 AHL playoff matches. The Ducks hope he can build on that success in 2008-09, as he’ll be asked to make an immediate impact.

2. (2) Mark Mitera, D

Acquired: Drafted 19th overall in 2006

Called a perfect student-athlete by famed Red Berenson, Mitera is due to return to the University of Michigan for his senior year in 2008-09.

Named team captain for the upcoming season, he served as the leader of an inexperienced Wolverine blue line in 2007-08, where he was the only upperclassman on defense. Despite the green defensive unit, the maize and blue was the top-ranked team in the country for most of the year and made it all the way to the Frozen Four. Mitera’s poised leadership on the back end was a big reason for the team’s success and he’ll be asked to continue to be a stabilizing influence for the team this year as well.

Not known for his offensive abilities, necessity led to Mitera playing major minutes in all situations, which led to career bests in most offensive categories in 2007-08 and led all Wolverines in scoring. With the contracts for the majority of Anaheim’s current defensive unit set to expire at the end of the 2008-09 season, Mitera could walk directly from the NCAA to the bright lights of the NHL in a year’s time.

3. (NR) Jake Gardiner, D

Acquired: Drafted 17th overall in 2008

The first of five 2008 selections to make an appearance on the Ducks Top 20, Anaheim traded down twice in the first round to select Jake Gardiner. Considered one of the top players in the renowned Minnesota high school hockey program, it’s amazing to consider that Gardiner has only played defense for a single season. Despite his position on the back end, it is clear that creating offensive opportunities isn’t far from his mind. In 25 games with Minnetonka High School, Gardiner scored 16 goals and had 43 points.

Set to start at the University of Wisconsin for the 2008-09 season, Gardiner will benefit from the extra time afforded to him via the NCAA route. Although he’s plenty skilled, there are still rough edges that need to be smoothed out. With a little patience, Anaheim could have a real gem on its hands.

4. (3) Logan MacMillan, LW

Acquired: Drafted 19th overall in 2007

Enduring a disastrous year after being drafted in 2007, MacMillan will be looking to rebound in 2008-09. After a concussion caused him to miss Anaheim’s training camp as well as the beginning of the QMJHL season, MacMillan incurred further bad luck at mid-season when fatigue led to him missing an additional 16 games.

He returned to the Mooseheads lineup with an increased commitment to physical play and a previously unseen extra bit of grit to his game. However, being out of the lineup for large swaths of the opening half of the season took its toll on his on-ice performance where the two-way winger failed to live up to the lofty scoring expectations, originally caused by his breakthrough second half in his draft year.

With Halifax’s other key offensive weapons such as Jakub Voracek and Ryan Hillier due to move on to the pro game, MacMillan will be under intense scrutiny to prove he can once again be the player that the Ducks drafted in the first round in 2007.

5. (5) Eric Tangradi, C

Acquired: Drafted 42nd overall in 2007

Progressing by leaps and bounds, Tangradi has quickly become one of the more promising prospects in the Anaheim system. With a keen eye, the Ducks selected this Philadelphia native after he followed his 20-point draft season with a playoff run that saw him score over a point per game.

Their gamble on Tangradi’s overall talent paid off and the burly forward responded with a 60-point effort in 2007-08 in just 56 games in his second year of OHL hockey. Although he still has room for much improvement in his game, Tangradi is still just scratching the surface of his potential.

With veteran talents like Shawn Matthias (FLA) and Matt Beleskey not due to return to the Bulls for 2008-09, Tangradi will be given an even larger opportunity in Belleville. If his sophomore year is any indication, he won’t disappoint.

6. (6) Brendan Mikkelson, D

Acquired: Drafted 31st overall in 2005

Slowly but surely, Brendan Mikkelson is showing why he was very nearly a first-round pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. After an up and down junior career that had him rebound from long-term injuries to be a crucial piece of a Memorial Cup championship in 2007, Mikkelson’s first pro season was relatively quiet, but quietly effective.

Improving on a game-by-game, and sometimes shift-by-shift basis, Mikkelson followed his solid 16-point effort in the regular season with an impressive eight points in 14 playoff games. A smooth-skating blue liner who is dependable at both ends of the ice and can play in all situations; it’s a matter of time before he follows in his father’s footsteps and makes it to the NHL. In fact, the Saskatchewan native’s play in the postseason was strong enough that some believe he could be a solid training camp away from a job in Anaheim. 

7. (8) Matt Beleskey, LW

Acquired: Drafted 112th overall in 2006

If there was such thing as a blueprint for the ideal Anaheim Duck, one might say Matt Beleskey would fit most qualifications. A gritty forward who plays solid and responsible hockey at both ends of the ice, Beleskey captained the Belleville Bulls to third place at the Memorial Cup tournament in 2008 and now makes the leap to professional hockey.

A natural leader, Beleskey has the right attitude to chase the NHL dream, committing himself to doing whatever it takes to win on the ice and working just as hard at his strength and conditioning off the ice. Though there is the expected adjustment period to learn the pro game, the only major knock against this Ontario native is his skating, which he adequately makes up for thanks to strong positioning.

A complete player, Beleskey’s multi-faceted game may be his ticket to a spot in the Anaheim sooner, rather than later. He can just as easily grind it out and throw the body on a checking line as he can fill a scoring role and set up plays offensively.

8. (NR) Nicolas Deschamps, C

Acquired: Drafted 35th overall in 2008

Like a number of Anaheim’s forward prospects, Nicolas Deschamps is known for his versatility and all-around play. In his rookie season with in Chicoutimi, he worked his way into a main role with the Sagueneens, thanks to his ability to contribute at both ends of the ice.

Indeed, his 67 points in 70 games placed him atop all rookies in the QMJHL and led to him being the first skater from the Q to be chosen in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He also won the Michel Bergeron Trophy as the QMJHL’s top offensive rookie of the year.

A great skater and blessed with the ability to make plays at full speed, Deschamps will be one of the top talents in the QMJHL in 2008-09. As he gets stronger and more experienced, he will only become more dominant.

9. (4) Jean-Philippe Levasseur, G

Acquired: Drafted 197th overall in 2005

With their two NHL goaltenders both signed through until at least 2010 (2011 in the case of starter Jean-Sebastian Giguere), Anaheim can afford to take it slow with Jean-Philippe Levasseur. They did exactly that in his rookie season of professional hockey, which saw him split time between the ECHL and the AHL, playing in a total of 39 games between the two leagues.

With the Ducks moving their top minor league affiliation from Portland to Des Moines, Iowa, they will also be looking for Levasseur to step up and play a larger role in his sophomore year. A butterfly goaltender with great positioning, he can only prosper under the tutelage of Ducks goaltender consultant Francois Allaire.

10. (7) Brian Salcido, D

Acquired: Drafted 141st overall in 2005

It was always said that Brian Salcido was an offensively talented blue liner, but it is doubtful that anyone expected he was that offensively talented. In his second season of professional hockey, Salcido was one of the top scoring defensemen in the AHL, with 53 points in 71 games. This all led to an appearance in the AHL All-Star Game and a berth on the AHL’s Second All-Star Team at the end of the season. However, despite these impressive totals, he still has not had a taste of NHL hockey.

That all could change at the 2008 Anaheim training camp, where Salcido will be in competition for a regular spot in the Ducks lineup. Though he still has portions of his game that need work, notably his strength and reducing mistakes in his own zone, this California native will need to quickly make his mark, as there are other high-profile defensive prospects coming down the line soon.

11. (10) Ryan Carter, C

Acquired: Signed as a free agent, July 2006

If not for a broken wrist in the second half and some time in the minors to start the season, Carter would not be on this list at all. Make no mistake about it — Carter is without a doubt an NHL player, despite his limited experience.

Appearing in 34 NHL games for the Ducks in 2007-08 after filling in during six NHL playoff games during the Stanley Cup championship run, Carter has made a name for himself as a versatile forward who can fill in wherever needed.

Though he may not have the offensive talent to be a regular top-six contributor and his defensive game isn’t to the point yet where he can be consistently relied upon in a shut-down role, Carter’s all-around play and workman attitude will ensure he continues to be a useful player at the NHL level for years to come.

12. (NR) Eric O’Dell, C

Acquired: Drafted 39th overall in 2008

Though Anaheim had nothing to do with O’Dell’s decision to join the OHL in the second half of the 2007-08 season, it is likely that if the hard-working forward played the whole season in the league, he would not have been available when the Ducks selected him 39th overall.

Splitting the year between the Cumberland Grads of the CJHL and the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, O’Dell put up 55 points in 34 Junior A games and followed that strongly with 32 points in 26 major junior games.

After such an impressive debut, all eyes will be on O’Dell and what he can do over the course of a full season. He has almost immediately become an important cog in the Wolves offensive attack and will be asked to take on a key role for the club in 2008-09.

13. (9) John deGray, D

Acquired: Drafted 83rd overall in 2006

Having just completed his four-year junior career, you would be hard-pressed to find a more unheralded Anaheim prospect than John deGray. However, no news is good news for this tall defender; playing a shutdown role, deGray is the type of player that isn’t noticed unless he makes a mistake, so the lack of words about this Ontario native is probably a compliment.

Serving as the captain of the Brampton Battalion in 2007-08, deGray finishes his junior career with 10 goals and 54 points in 253 career OHL games. Clearly, the offensive end of the spectrum isn’t his game. He has plenty to work on as he moves forward, namely skating and playing within his game to reduce bad penalties, but NHL teams are always looking for his combination of physical play and stay-at-home ability to fill out their defensive units.

14. (11) Drew Miller, LW

Acquired: Drafted 186th overall in 2003

Splitting the 2007-08 season between the AHL and the NHL, Drew Miller is tantalizingly close to being a full-time player in Anaheim. Currently unsigned, the restricted free agent should compete for a roster spot at 2008 training camp.

In his second season of professional hockey, Miller broke out offensively in the AHL, averaging over a point per game with 36 in 31 regular season games. But he was unable to translate that scoring touch to the NHL level, scoring just five points in 26 games with the Ducks. Hampered by an ankle down the stretch and into the AHL playoffs, Miller had just eight points in 16 AHL postseason matches.

Though there continue to be questions about his game, such as his offensive impact at the NHL level and his strength and hardiness to stand up to physical pressure, Miller is versatile enough that he should be a sound bottom-six forward soon.

15. (16) Maxime Macenauer, C

Acquired: Drafted 63rd overall in 2007

Going from a being a virtual unknown when the Ducks selected him in 2007 to being one of their more intriguing prospects, Maxime Macenauer is a player who bears watching. After missing all but 14 games in his draft year, Anaheim’s third-round selection of the Quebec native had league officials scrambling to find his name for the draft board in Columbus.

A healthy 2007-08 season answered many questions about the versatile forward as Macenauer was a key reason for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies finishing the regular season as the top team in the QMJHL and enjoying a long playoff run. Though not primarily an offensive talent, Macenauer posted 60 points in 67 regular season games and another 16 in 17 playoff matchups. With a number of veteran Rouyn-Noranda players moving on for the 2008-09 season, Macenauer will be asked to fill a larger role with the squad.

16. (NR) Justin Schultz, D

Acquired: Drafted 43rd overall in 2008

Playing for the Westside Warriors during the 2007-08 season, Schultz is the first player ever drafted out of the BCHL by the Anaheim Ducks. Committed to attend the University of Wisconsin for the 2009-10 season, Schultz will join fellow 2008 Ducks pick Gardiner there.

An offensively talented blue liner, Schultz pairs great skating ability with solid decision-making and in just a single season he already stood out as one of the top defensemen in the BCHL, being named Defenseman of the Year for the Interior Conference. In 57 games, he marked 40 points and he looks set to do even more damage in the 2008-09 season.
 

17. (14) Geoff Platt, C

Acquired: Trade with Columbus, November 2007

After bouncing through two different organizations at both the NHL and the AHL level, Geoff Platt has decided to move over to Europe. A restricted free agent with the Ducks, he signed a contract with Ilves Tampere of the SM-Liiga in Finland for the 2008-09 season.

It is little wonder that Platt chose this course of action, after his three seasons in the AHL, where he tallied 179 points in 194 games, have earned him barely a sniff at the NHL level. Between his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Anaheim Ducks, Platt has seen time in 46 NHL games, registering four goals and 14 points.

Whether it is his lack of size and strength, his difficulty in consistently scoring like he can in the minors when called to the NHL or some other flaw in his game, Platt was unable to make enough of an impact at the NHL level to stick around. He now tries his luck in Europe.

18. (18) Petteri Wirtanen, C

Acquired: Drafted 172nd overall in 2006

With most of his fellow 2006 draft picks just entering the pro hockey scene, Petteri Wirtanen is sitting on two full seasons of AHL experience and already has seen time in the NHL, including scoring his first NHL goal. Drafted at the age of 20 and signing a professional contract immediately afterwards, this Finnish pivot is already a step ahead of most from the 2006 draft, despite not being picked until the sixth round.

Primarily used in a defensive role, Wirtanen finished seventh on the Pirates with 37 points in 78 games. He was a key piece of the Pirates penalty kill, which ranked 15th in the league and will look to serve a similar role with the new affiliate in Iowa. Considered by some to be the heir apparent for Samuel Pahlsson on Anaheim’s famed shutdown line, Wirtanen still has some work to do before he can live up to that lofty billing.

19. (NR) Josh Brittain, LW

Acquired: Drafted 71st overall in 2008

Another 2008 draft pick pushing his way onto the list, Josh Brittain fits perfectly with the Ducks philosophy of truculence and belligerence. A hard-working player, Brittain saw time both on defense and up front prior to joining the Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL. Solidifying himself as a left winger, Brittain doesn’t back down from any challenge, and has the size to impose his will on the ice.

After an impressive 2007-08 season that saw him score 36 of his 51 points in the second half and finishing with 28 goals, Brittain’s next challenge will be to try to change the fortunes of the Frontenacs, who found themselves on the outside of the playoff hunt at season’s end. Should he be able to build on his strong second half, the Ducks could have quite the prospect in the making.

20. (NR) Steven Kampfer, D

Acquired: Drafted 93rd overall in 2007

Like his teammate and fellow Anaheim prospect Mitera, Kampfer was asked to take on a larger role with the Michigan Wolverines in 2007-08, due to their inexperienced blue line. In fact, after Mitera, Kampfer was one of the most experienced defensemen on the squad.

Unlike Mitera, Kampfer plays more of a two-way game which sometimes gets him into trouble in his own end with questionable decision-making. Blessed with great skating ability, Kampfer posted two goals and 17 points in 42 games in 2007-08, a more than generous improvement over his four-point freshman campaign. He’ll be expected to take the next step development-wise as he enters his junior season with the Wolverines. As a player who may have been in a bit over his head as a sophomore due to necessity, Anaheim will take it slow with this Michigan native and it is likely he will play his full four years with the Wolverines.