The Anaheim Ducks enter the summer of 2014 with a bit of disappointment after losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings, in the second round despite finishing atop the NHL standings at the conclusion of the regular season. Their performance this season was seen as a pleasant surprise though, and with so many young players within the organization showing promise, there is plenty to look forward to for Ducks fans.
This season also appears to be the end of an era in Anaheim. Teemu Selanne, the team's all-time leader in games played, goals, assists, and power-play goals, as well as many other team records, has announced this past season in the NHL will be his last. Some fans may hold out hope that he will re-consider, as he has done so in the past, but the Ducks are likely entering the season with the assumption that the man they call the Finnish Flash is no longer a member of their lineup.
A reason for fans to be excited is the deep pool of prospects that Anaheim has amassed over the past few seasons, and the fact that the Ducks own four of the first 55 picks in this year's draft (they acquired Ottawa's first round pick and Toronto's second via trades). The Ducks' affiliate team in the AHL, the Norfolk Admirals, saw a great improvement from last year, and even managed to knock off the top seeded Manchester Monarchs in the first round of the playoffs after sneaking into the eighth seed. The fact that a few of their top prospects were key contributors not only in the Admirals' playoff run, but also the Ducks’, is just another testament to the great job this team's management has done preparing its the team for the present and the future.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. John Gibson, G
2. Sami Vatanen, D
3. Rickard Rakell, RW
4. Frederik Andersen, G
5. Shea Theodore, D
6. Nicolas Kerdiles, C
7. William Karlsson, C
8. Stefan Noesen, RW
9. Nick Sorensen, RW
10. Kevin Roy, C
As previously stated, the Ducks are set to lose a legend in Teemu Selanne, but they also have two other UFA forwards on which to make a decision. First, another aging Finnish veteran, Saku Koivu, is set to be a free agent, and it seems likely that he could follow his old friend and fellow countryman into retirement, or possibly back to Finland for a few twilight years in his homeland. The other UFA forward Anaheim has to consider is Daniel Winnik. Therefore Anaheim's primary need heading into the summer would be a top-six forward, preferably an established center to help spread out the offense. They also had trouble finding a permanent winger to play with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and while Patrick Maroon performed well with them in the playoffs, the Ducks might consider adding a left winger to compete for that spot.
On the back end, all but two of Anaheim's defenders remain signed through next year, the exceptions being Sami Vatanen (RFA) and Stephane Robidas (UFA). Vatanen is an extremely smooth skating youngster who the Ducks will be very keen on locking up for a few more years, while Robidas may be looking for a new home come July 1st. With seven defensemen signed for the upcoming season, plus Sheldon Souray on LTIR and Vatanen as an RFA, it seems unlikely the Ducks will be a major player amongst the defensive free agents this off-season.
While the biggest splash may come in the offensive department this off-season, Anaheim's decision between the pipes is not an easy one to make either. Frederik Andersen lit the league on fire upon his call-up to Anaheim, and John Gibson showed in the playoffs that he is exactly where he should be at this point in his development. Going with Gibson and Andersen in 2014-15 gives the Ducks a lot of extra cap space to bolster other holes in their line-up, but it is never easy losing a player who was as big of a part of your team as Jonas Hiller has been for the Ducks since 2007-08.
When looking at the Ducks' prospect pool the first thing that jumps out is just the overall depth they have assembled throughout every level of the game. Their NHL lineup received great contributions from their depth players up front such as Nick Bonino, Maroon, Andrew Cogliano, Mathieu Perreault, and Winnik and on the back-end with Ben Lovejoy, Hampus Lindholm, and Sami Vatanen. Their goaltending also remains an area of great strength, with two of the better young goalies to debut in the NHL this season. Prospect forwards and recent graduates such as Emerson Etem, Nicolas Kerdiles, Rickard Rakell, Devante Smith-Pelly, and William Karlsson all showed great improvements over the course of the season and all seem on the cusp of becoming full-time NHL players.
Another area of great strength is young puck-moving defensemen. Cam Fowler remains the team's prized possession on the back end, and with his defensive game showing lots of progress this season, they appear to be in good hands. Beyond that, Hampus Lindholm turned in a performance that few thought possible heading into the season. Vatanen proved that his skating and puck-handling skills can make him a difference maker on the back end, while Shea Theodore emerged as one of the top defensemen in the Western Hockey League.
Next season will see a few young forwards graduate from the AHL to the NHL, while also seeing a large influx of recent draft picks moving up to the AHL and professional ranks for their first full season. With that being said, Anaheim will be looking to re-stock their cupboards and continue to keep their assembly line-like development running as usual. Their primary concern is likely a future top-six forward with size and skill, as that seems to be the norm amongst the California based teams.
The Ducks have been heavily rumored to be seeking a second line center and with a number of high picks heading into the draft, a level of uncertainty surrounds their draft outlook. On top of skilled forwards, the Ducks should also be looking at adding a two-way defenseman with size and a knack for taking care of his own zone first. The Ducks' depth really is amongst the best in the league, and with that comes few glaring weaknesses.
Bob Murray was named General Manager during the 2008-09 season when he replaced Brian Burke mid-season. He has thus been part of the team for the past five drafts (2009-2014), and it gives us a decent sample size to attempt to figure out his draft tendencies. He has had seven first round picks in that time and has shown a preference for players from the CHL at this point (three from the OHL, two from the WHL). The other first round picks were used to select Swedish defenseman Hampus Lindholm, and U.S. National Team Development Program member Kyle Palmieri. During that time, the Ducks selected four forwards and three defenseman (two in the last two years).
The second round remains much of the same in terms of tendencies as the Ducks have had six picks in the second round since 2009 and have gone to the CHL fifty-percent of the time, with the other selections all coming from either the USNTDP (Kerdiles, Gibson) or from Sweden (Karlsson). This set of picks again saw four forwards being picked along with one defenseman and one goalie.
The Ducks tend to keep that same strategy throughout the draft with a heavy influence of CHL players (with seven of 12 CHL players picked coming from the OHL), a steady influx of Americans primarily from the USHL, and prospects from Sweden. Beyond those three main areas, the Ducks have been a little more scattered with their drafting patterns. They have drafted one player from Russia, high school, the EJHL, and the BCHL since the 2009 draft, and two each from Finland and the United States college ranks.
The Ducks have not selected a player directly from the OHL since 2011, but history shows that they could snag a couple in this year's draft. Also look for at least one European, historically it has been a player from Sweden, but this may be the year they go off the board with that pattern as well. The two most recent goalies to be selected by the Ducks now represent the team's present and future, but the Ducks may look at adding another goalie into the pipeline as well.
The Ducks currently hold the following picks: 10th, 24th, 38th, 55th, 85th, 123rd and 205th. They traded their own fourth round pick (Robidas), fifth round pick (Lovejoy), and sixth round pick (Tim Jackman). The 10th overall selection they hold came from Ottawa in the Bobby Ryan trade, and the 38th overall pick was acquired from Toronto in the deal that sent Peter Holland to the Maple Leafs.
Hockey's Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
10. Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
The Ducks enter the draft looking for an impact forward with great size, and low and behold, Nick Ritchie fell right into their lap. His combination of dominating physicality, willingness to drive the net, and excellent shot make him a great fit in a division that features the Los Angeles Kings as their most heated rival. There were quite a few players considered at this spot, but Ritchie is closer to NHL ready than players like Alex Tuch (college bound) and Jake Virtanen (surgery). While Haydn Fleury was hard to pass up, Ritchie seemed like the best fit for the Ducks at the 10th spot.
24. Jared McCann, C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
With Travis Sanheim already off the board, Jared McCann popped out as a player who was slipping down the line and he was ultimately too hard to pass up. He plays a sound two-way game and possesses a laser of a shot. He has been a proven goal scorer at every level he has played at, and adding two of the best shots in the draft (Ritchie and McCann) should be seen as a huge win. Other defensemen were considered with this pick, such as USNTDP members Jack Glover and Jack Dougherty and Swedish product Marcus Pettersson, but with the Ducks also holding the 38th overall pick, it seemed likely that the team could still find a very good defensive prospect with that pick.