This season, the Anaheim Ducks have 10 prospects playing junior hockey, including five forwards, four defensemen, and one goaltender. The Ducks have prospects dispersed all throughout North America, with four in the OHL, three in the WHL, two in the QMJHL, and one in the USHL. A pair of first-round picks, Peter Holland and Luca Sbisa, are among them. Four players are battling for NHL contracts – Brandon McMillan, Josh Brittain, Stefan Warg, and Marco Cousineau.
Peter Holland, C – Guelph Storm
Acquired: 1st round, 15th overall, 2009
January 14, 1991, 6’2, 195
Anaheim’s top pick from the 2009 draft has had a rocky start to the 2009-10 OHL season. He’s scoring at just above a point-per-game clip. He missed about half of the season with an injury, but his numbers are still below expectations.
Holland has been limited to just 12 of the team’s 21 games due to a shoulder sprain, scoring 13 points. This production is slightly better than last year, but less than what was expected from one of the team’s offensive leaders. Frequent linemate Taylor Beck (NSH), for example, leads the team with 32 points in 20 games.
Guelph is right in the middle of the pack of what is now a tightly-contested Western Conference. With the season just about one-third completed, a healthy and productive Holland is crucial for Guelph to secure a playoff spot.
Matt Clark, D – Brampton Battalion
Acquired: 2nd round, 37th overall, 2009
October 17, 1990, 6’4, 218
Clark has picked up right where he left off last season, establishing himself as one of the dominant shutdown defensemen in the OHL. Clark played big minutes last season on a Brampton team that went all the way to the OHL Finals, but now finds himself in an even bigger role on a new-look roster.
Brampton was built to win last season, and high team turnover has given Clark new opportunities. In addition to facing each team’s top line every night, Clark has been given a regular shot on the first power-play unit. While he’s known more for his devastating open-ice hits, his skating ability and above average decision-making makes him a reliable power-play option in a pinch.
Josh Brittain, LW – Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 3rd round, 71st overall, 2008
January 3, 1990, 6’5, 225
Perhaps a new environment is all it will take for Brittain to get himself back on the radar. Brittain was shipped from Barrie to Plymouth early this season, his third OHL stop in two seasons. Big, physical players who can drop the gloves are head coach Mike Vellucci’s favorite type, so it’s easy to see why Brittain was sought after by Plymouth.
Formerly a defenseman, Brittain was immediately thrust into a big role for the injury-stricken Whalers. He has scored 28 and 32 goals in his first two OHL seasons, but will need to develop his overall game further to earn a contract from Anaheim this summer. Skating, untimely penalties, and shift-to-shift consistency continue to plague him. To be certain, playing on the wing of potential 2010 first overall pick Tyler Seguin can’t be hurting his chances. Brittain has six points in his 10 games with Plymouth, giving him 14 in 22 on the season.
Scott Valentine, D – Oshawa Generals
Acquired: 6th round, 166th overall, 2009
May 5, 1991, 6’2, 201
Anaheim’s last selection of the 2009 draft finds himself with much more responsibility this season, serving as one of Oshawa’s alternate captains. Valentine was traded to Oshawa late last season after playing sparingly with the much deeper London Knights, so he’s still finding his place in the league.
He’s already established himself as an unpleasant player to play against, with punishing checks and an aggressive, relentless style. His skating is good enough, and his positioning is improving, although he needs to better pick his spots for hits. Valentine has also nearly equaled his offensive output from last year, with seven points in 18 games. However, his offensive tools are limited and he’s not often the defenseman leading the rush.
Luca Sbisa, D – Lethbridge Hurricanes
Acquired: Trade with Philadelphia, June 2009
January 30, 1990, 6’2, 205
Sbisa is the latest addition to this list, having been assigned back to the WHL last month after initially making Anaheim out of training camp. With Lethbridge, Sbisa will regularly play over 30 minutes a night.
Just like in his 39 NHL games with Philadelphia last season, Sbisa did not look entirely out of place in his brief stint with Anaheim. His superb skating, solid decision-making, and reliable defensive game likely made the choice to send him back a difficult one, but still an important one. Sbisa was only playing about 12 minutes a night, and very sparingly on special teams. As the Ducks had other options available, giving Sbisa room to grow was the sensible choice.
Sbisa has already put up six assists in his first eight games back in the WHL. Despite what must be a disappointment for him on a personal level, there is no doubt he will be a leader on Anaheim’s blueline moving into the future.
Brandon McMillan, LW – Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 3rd round, 85th overall, 2008
March 22, 1990, 5’11, 190
McMillan slid under the radar most of last season, but he seems determined not to let that happen again. The 49 points in 70 games he put up last season were respectable, but largely overshadowed by what was a very lethal Kelowna offense. McMillan was unable to stand out until he was shifted to defense for Kelowna’s run to the Memorial Cup. His speed made him an tremendous asset, and McMillan was one of the most impressive defensemen in the tournament.
Naturally, this brought up the question of whether or not the switch would be permanent. But McMillan is back up front this season, and it’s easy to see why. He’s become a legitimate offensive threat in the WHL, leading Kelowna with 25 points in 16 games. His versatility and consistency are his greatest assets, outside of his speed. He plays big minutes in all situations for Kelowna, and he’s gone pointless in just two games this season. McMillan is well on his way to an NHL contract this summer.
Stefan Warg, D – Seattle Thunderbirds
Acquired: 5th round, 143rd overall, 2008
February 6, 1990, 6’3, 215
Warg turned some heads in Anaheim’s rookie camp before being sent back to Seattle for the second season. The Swedish import plays a no-frills, but very effective brand of hockey. His size and mobility make him a very dependable defenseman for the Thunderbirds. He’s at his best when he keeps his game simple.
Warg has decent offensive instincts, but could use a little more confidence in them. His nine assists in 24 games so far outpace what he put up last season. He’s not yet a lock for a contract this summer, but he has the tools of a solid bottom-pairing defenseman.
Nicolas Deschamps, C – Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Acquired: 2nd round, 35th overall, 2008
January 6, 1990, 6’2, 195
Already armed with an NHL contract, Deschamps is most likely in his last season of junior. Deschamps is a dangerous offensive player, but his numbers have yet to improve from his impressive rookie totals. After 67 and 65 points in his first two QMJHL seasons, Deschamps is still hovering around the same point-per-game pace with 23 points in 20 games, oddly enough, giving him 155 points in 155 career games. The consistency is a plus, but the offensive growth expected when Anaheim drafted him 35th overall has not been there.
However, Deschamps has made strides in his two-way play, which was lacking in his QMJHL rookie season. He’s put on about 15 pounds since he was drafted, and is learning to use his size more effectively. It looks as though Deschamps will continue to be one of Chicoutimi’s best offensive threats, but the challenge will come if he turns professional next season.
Marco Cousineau, G – P.E.I. Rocket
Acquired: 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2008
November 9, 1989, 6’0, 200
Despite a stable of goaltending prospects, Cousineau is the lone player in major junior hockey. He’s had a rocky start to this season, after a breakout performance as the top goaltender at last year’s Memorial Cup. Cousineau was traded in the offseason from Drummondville to P.E.I., and he struggled out of the gate. He’s since trimmed down his numbers back among league leaders, with a 2.99 GAA and a .909 save percentage, alongside a 6-8 record.
Cousineau will need a contract this summer if Anaheim intends to keep him, and has to turn pro in any case since he’s overage this season. He’s been plagued by inconsistency throughout his junior career and is no lock to get a contract. However, he’s shown that he excels under pressure and has the big-game ability that many teams covet.
Radoslav Illo, C – Tri-City Storm
Acquired: 5th round, 136th overall, 2009
January 21, 1990, 6’0, 188
A Slovakian import into the USHL passed over in his first draft-eligible year, Illo wasn’t well known when Anaheim drafted him this past June. Now in his second year in the USHL, Illo’s scoring ability is readily apparent. He leads his team with nine goals through 14 games, also good for third place in the league. His role this season has been expanded to the top line, and he’s responded with 13 points.
Illo also recently committed to play college hockey next season for the Bemidji State Beavers. The Beavers enjoyed a Cinderella run to the NCAA Frozen Four last season, and will be joining the WCHA next season. The high-scoring, skilled Illo represents the type of recruit Bemidji State was usually unable to get in their current conference, the CHA. This means that Illo could find himself with big minutes in a powerful conference as early as next season.