Depth and development strengthen Anaheim Ducks prospect pipeline

By Jason Lewis
NHL: OCT 09 Ducks at Penguins

Photo: Rickard Rakell’s two-way game has earned him a job with the Anaheim Ducks in 2014-15 (courtesy of Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

 

Despite the amount of success the Anaheim Ducks have had in recent years, they have still put together a deep pool of talent with a great deal of variety. Their mid-round drafting has been superb and they have rarely failed with high round picks, such as Nick Ritchie. The team is currently seeing an influx of role players and depth players to help support the already high-end talent the NHL team has. It is this sort of cohesiveness to the pipeline that puts the Ducks near the top of the league in overall prospect talent.

Compared to the 2013-14 pool, the Ducks have added key defensive pieces and seen large steps from players like Rickard Rakell, William Karlsson, and Josh Manson. As long as they continue to draft and develop well, the Ducks will continue to have a worthwhile pipeline that will supply Anaheim for years to come.

Left Wing

Left wing is arguably the weakest position for the Ducks pool if you do not factor in the injury troubles they suffer on the right side.

Nick Ritchie, however, is a top tier talent. Selected 10th overall in the 2014 draft, Ritchie is an explosive power forward who fits the mold of Ducks hockey very well. The blend of speed, size, and skill saw him net close to 40 goals in the OHL last year with Peterborough. He is off to a roaring start with 17 points in his first 14 games as well. He is arguably one of the Ducks’ most prized prospects at this point and is almost a sure-fire NHL talent.

Kevin Roy is coming off a solid season with Northeastern University, and he will be a big part of their offense this season. However, the diminutive forward has had a rough start, finding the net just once in the first eight games. He is still an intriguing offensive talent with slick hands and great speed.

The Swede Max Friberg remains an intriguing prospect for the Ducks. While his offensive capability was a bit of a question before he came to the U.S., he had a solid 40 point season last year for Norfolk and will look to build upon that. He is energetic, skilled, and aggressive, and that has helped him carve out a potential niche with the Ducks as a top-nine forward in the future. However, he was hit with a lower-body injury in the first game of this season with the Norfolk Admirals and has yet to return.

Former 2008 fourth round pick Andre Petersson is in his last year of prospect eligibility. He demonstrated moderate skill with Norfolk in his short stint last year, but has made his way to HK Sochi in the KHL this year where he has had a decent start. There are still considerable questions raised about the work ethic and attitude of Petersson, so at this point he should be considered a likely candidate to remain in Europe.

Former Sudbury Wolves captain John Kurtz remains a bottom line mainstay and fighter for the Admirals. He chips in the occasional goal but is mainly an energy-bringing role and character player.

Center

There is a lot of variety down the middle for the Ducks. If you are looking for skill you have Nic Kerdiles. If you are looking for grit or two-way games you have William Karlsson or Joseph Cramarossa. There is a decent blend at center for Anaheim.

Kerdiles in particular remains the most intriguing of their center options. The natural goal scorer has transitioned from NCAA hockey to the AHL this season and has looked fairly good thus far. He has seven points in the first 12 games of 2014-15 and has seen plenty of power play time. Kerdiles made the jump out of college sooner than most do, playing just two years with Wisconsin. Considering Wisconsin’s troubles this season it might have been a brilliant move for Nic to make way to the AHL when he did.

Karlsson was one of the stand-outs at the Ducks camp this year and has battled his way into a bottom-six job in Anaheim to start the year. The center has suited up for all but three games this season for the Ducks, and has continued to grow as a solid all-around center. The Ducks have question marks with their bottom line center, but the emergence of Karlsson may help them stabilize it just a bit.

While he is a bit of a reclamation project at this point, former Montreal Canadiens first rounder Louis LeBlanc still has a chance at the NHL. At 23, Leblanc was traded this offseason from the Canadiens to the Ducks in a change-of-scenery move. Leblanc has struggled to find the same goalscoring prowess he had in juniors, and has yet to top 15 goals or 30 points in the AHL. He has four goals and eight points through the first 13 games with Norfolk, and will be looking to rekindle that form that made him a first round pick in 2009.

Also on the Admirals is energy-line center Joseph Cramarossa. While he has yet to really take off offensively, Cramarossa is attempting to solidify himself on the Admirals bottom line with steady defensive play and a simple north-south game. He has looked fairly solid through the first few games of the season with the Admirals.

The former college free agent Antoine Laganiere is off to a slow start. He has just two goals in his first 14 games with the Admirals and is also a minus-six. Last year Laganiere did fairly well as a bottom-six option for the Admirals with his size and puck possession ability. The team will be looking for another step forward this season from the Yale grad.

Charles Sarault was an offensive force with Sarnia, but has failed to rekindle that form in the pro ranks. Last year saw an ECHL stint for the 22-year-old, and this year he has yet to find the score sheet. He has also been a healthy scratch on a number of occasions for Norfolk.

Radoslav Illo has fallen out of relevance. After his college days with Bemidji State and a short 2013-14 look with Norfolk, he returned to his Slovakian roots with MHC Martin of the Slovak league. At this point he is age 24 and should be considered at risk to stay in Europe.

Former 2013 sixth round pick Miro Aaltonen is in the last year of a two-year extension in the Finnish Liiga where he has played very consistently for the Espoo Blues.

Right Wing

The Ducks have a fairly well-rounded group of wingers overall, and the right wing position has a few noteworthy prospects. The headliner is Rickard Rakell, who has made a full-time jump up to the NHL this season. The Swede has been praised for his solid all-around game so far and is being given some opportunities on the power play. While playing primarily on Anaheim’s bottom lines, Rakell has had limited minutes and has failed to score a goal so far. However, he is showing a responsible enough two-way game to remain in the Ducks lineup as a bottom-line forward, which is not bad for a 21-year-old.

It seems as though injuries seem to follow Stefan Noesen wherever he goes, and unfortunately they have hit him again. The Ducks forward has battled through ACL and MCL tears, which limited his 2013-14 play time. This year he has suffered an Achilles injury and will miss at least four months of the season.

The injury bug has also hit for the exciting Swedish winger Nick Sorensen. Sorensen jumped across the pond from the QMJHL to Skellefteå in the SHL, but is going to be sidelined for at least three months to take care of a nagging injury. The 20 year old has had his fair share of injury troubles in the past as well, so hopefully this is a preventative move to help him stay off IR and on the ice. He is an extremely impressive goalscorer when healthy, and his move to the professional leagues of Sweden is going to be an interesting competitive jump for him.

A former standout at Colgate University, Chris Wagner is doing very well this season so far. This comes on the back of a great 2013-14 campaign in the AHL where Wagner proved he wasn’t just a goalscorer in collegiate hockey. With 28 points and 14 goals last season, Wagner took a step forward on the depth chart. So far this year he has six goals and nine points through the first eight games of the season. His early season production has earned him a call up to the Anaheim Ducks as well.

Grant Besse and the University of Wisconsin are off to a terrible start, going 0-6-0 to start the year. The sophomore is currently second on the team in scoring with three points, but Wisconsin is likely in for a long year with a young Badgers team.

The Ducks added the undersized Czech forward Ondrej Kase at the 2014 draft. The seventh round pick is currently suiting up for KLH Chomutov in the Czech2 league, and he adds a nice blend of offensive capability to the system despite being of less than ideal size.

Defense

Defensively the Ducks have an incredible number of prospects. There are players of various styles and readiness, which gives them good overall depth.

Joining the ranks from the 2014 Draft are two very promising young players in Marcus Pettersson and Brandon Montour. Pettersson, who is currently playing with Skellefteå in the SHL as an 18 year old, is a lanky two-way defenseman who has a lot of raw physical ability that the Ducks hope pan out. Montour has been tearing up the USHL circuit with his impressive offensive abilities and skating. Unlike Pettersson, Montour doesn’t have the physical advantage, but instead relies on his hockey sense and skating prowess. Both players being added to the Ducks pipeline improves the top end immensely for Anaheim.

The other strong defensive prospect the Ducks have is Shea Theodore, who is ever so close to jumping to the pros. Theodore played some rehab games with the Admirals before being returned to the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL for what will be his final junior year. The big puck mover looked solid in his limited stint with Norfolk, and the future looks incredibly bright for the 2013 first round selection.

Down in the minor leagues, the Ducks have a number of defensive prospects. Jesse Blacker, Mat Clark, Andrew O’Brien, and Josh Manson all started the year with the Ducks, but two have been called up to the big club to replenish an injured blue line. Manson and Clark have both been recalled to fill in as tough stay-at-home defensemen on the Ducks’ blueline. O’Brien and Blacker, both of whom play similar games, remain down in Norfolk.

Keaton Thompson and Andy Welinski remain in the NCAA along with Brian Cooper. The latter is looking at a solid junior year with University of Nebraska-Omaha, while Thompson and Welinski suit up for University of North Dakota and University of Minnesota-Duluth, respectively. Welinski in particular is having a very solid start to the season and is on pace to blow away his sophomore totals. Joining the NCAA ranks in 2015-16 for the Ducks will be Matthew Berkovitz. The 2014 fifth round pick is currently playing with Sioux City of the USHL and has been praised for his highly intelligent defensive game.

Kevin Lind and Jaycob Megna were two players jumping from NCAA to pro; however, Lind has been assigned to the ECHL and Megna has yet to play a game this year for Norfolk due to injury.

The Ducks defensive system remains one of their strongest and deepest pools, rivaling both their center and goaltending positions.

Goaltending

The Ducks still have two tremendous goaltending prospects in Frederik Andersen and John Gibson. While Andersen is on the cusp of graduating, at the time of this article he is still under 45 regular season games started. The Dane has had an incredible rise through the organization, and while the excitement is generally centered around the blue chip prospect John Gibson, Andersen has been worthwhile in his own right. He is currently posting a .924 save percentage and a goal against average of 2.07 through the first 13 starts of the year with the Ducks. Both are near the top of the league amongst eligible goalies. His calm and composed style has held up very well as he has settled in as the Ducks’ majority starter this year.

Even after a solid goaltender like Andersen, the Ducks still have one of the most eagerly awaited goaltending prospects in the world in Gibson. Always noted for his history as a winner and his competitiveness, Gibson is on the cusp of jumping full-time to the NHL. He put up stellar numbers in the AHL at 20 years old and is currently transitioning from the AHL to the NHL. A groin injury has unfortunately stalled his development a bit, but the Ducks still seem intent on getting him into the NHL mix this year.

Finally, the Ducks round out the goaltending group with Igor Bobkov. The young Russian has seen his stock fall considerably since the days of his U18 World Junior Championship, where he was named best goaltender of the tournament. After less than desirable AHL stats he was relegated to ECHL duty last season. Despite putting up good numbers in the ECHL, he has looked shaky in the AHL again to start this year. It is apparent where Bobkov is on the depth chart, as he has been surpassed by Gibson, Andersen, and veteran Jason Labarabera when it comes to starts and call ups.

Follow Jason Lewis on Twitter @SirJDL