To put it in the simplest terms, the Norfolk Admirals and some of the prospects have had a rough season so far, with December being no different. They ended the year on a down note and must find some offense if they hope to get anywhere by the time spring rolls around.
Norfolk begins the new year with a record of 15-20-1-2 and sits in last place in the Eastern Conference. Only one of the Admirals has surpassed the 10-goal mark this season and only one defenseman, veteran Brendan Bell, is among the team’s top 10 scorers. Last year’s productive trade acquisition, Andre Petersson, departed for the KHL and what remains in Norfolk is a promising mix of prospects in need of help. Young players like Rickard Rakell, Emerson Etem and Stefan Noesen that could conceivably contribute have been up and down between the leagues or suffering injury or illness.
The NHL level is another story entirely, and a strong Ducks squad is giving some young players a chance to acclimate on a gradual basis. The Ducks are known for having a very talented group on their roster and that means that their rookies are groomed to be just as well-rounded. There are several who could play a role in delivering on Anaheim’s Stanley Cup aspirations. It looks at this point like the Calder Cup playoffs are a very distant probablility.
Nic Kerdiles, LW, 21
The left winger currently ranks first on the team with 20 points. In the 38 games he has played in so far, he has just six goals but has proven to be a valuable playmaker. The rookie out of the University of Wisconsin is a good asset with his size and smarts and just in the few months since the season has started, he has shown how much he has grown since first being drafted.
Even though it is very early in his pro career, the low-key player is making a name for himself. He scored the game winning goal for the Admirals on November 1st and has played in every game so far. He still has a long road of development but at this rate could make his big breakout at any time.
John Gibson, G, 21
Gibson suffered a groin injury in November that has limited the top prospect to just six games played for Norfolk and four games played for Anaheim. With Frederik Andersen holding down the fort for the Ducks and Ilya Bryzgalov signed as insurance, there is little pressure for the organization to bring Gibson back up to the NHL. Veteran Jason Labarbera has made the bulk of Norfolk’s starts as Gibson rounds into form. Gibson has put up a solid .928 save percentage in his limited action, and remains one of the elite netminding prospects in the game.
Max Friberg, LW, 21
The speedy and physical Friberg made his NHL debut this season, appearing in one game and playing just under nine minutes before being reassigned. With Norfolk, Friberg has stood out in a more positive way. He sits in fifth place on his team in scoring with a total of 15 points in 20 games, having missed some time at the beginning of the season with an elbow injury. Friberg was one of the team’s top scoring threats last season, and is on pace to do the same this season as well.
William Karlsson, C, 21
Karlsson is no longer a stranger to the NHL game but he still has work to do before sticking full-time in the NHL. His season started strong when he scored two goals in the season’s second game, but it flagged from that point. With only one assist to his credit, Karlsson was assigned to Norfolk in mid-November after appearing in 16 NHL games.
Getting sent back to the Admirals was nothing but good for Karlsson because, even though the 21-year-old is already very speedy and skilled, his strength could be improved. Once he does that, he will be even more valuable for the Ducks. His debut was great and he showed that he can keep up with the pros so this year is all about conditioning and fine-tuning his game. He has four goals and five assists in 21 games for the Admirals.
Chris Wagner, RW, 23
Wagner was a standout at Colgate University who earned an entry-level contract. He has provided excellent leadership and support for Norfolk since turning pro. The 2010 5th rounder already had a well-developed defensive conscience, but he has worked hard to be productive with the puck as well. Wagner has totaled 10 goals and nine assists in 25 games, good for second on the team in scoring. He has been up and down between Anaheim and Norfolk several times this season, with two NHL games played. The Admirals’ alternate captain is the kind of strong two-way player that Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau has often deployed and could well return to the NHL before too long.
Louis Leblanc, C, 23
A first-round pick of the Montréal Canadiens in 2009, Leblanc’s development has settled into a straight line. He had a very good NHL début with Montréal back in the 2011-12 season, scoring 10 points in 42 games but seems to have hit the outer mark at the NHL level. In the AHL, Leblanc has been a consistent, but unspectacular, presence. He does sit fourth in team scoring for Norfolk with 17 points, and leads in goals with 11. Though he is a veteran of 50 NHL games, Leblanc is unlikely to add to that total playing in a deep Anaheim system.
Josh Manson, D, 23
Josh Manson made his debut with the Ducks against the Dallas Stars back in late October and proved that Anaheim made the right choice in choosing him with the 160th pick in 2011. Manson will never be a big goal scorer but he created chances for his team to come through and win. He played 18 games with Anaheim and came out with one assist and has two assists in 11 games in Norfolk.
The son of tough guy Dave Manson is following right in his footsteps. At 6’3″ and over 200 pounds, Manson brings the size, strength and intimidation that both Anaheim and Norfolk value. The extra time spent back with the Admirals is just good for style and smoothing him out to where he can be beneficial in all areas of the game.
Igor Bobkov, G, 24
Bobkov has had a rollercoaster of a time in his pro career between the Utah Grizzlies, Norfolk and Anaheim. At 6’6″, he has the kind of size teams seem to be chasing in their goaltending, but he has had problems with consistency and dropped down the depth chart once Gibson returned from injured reserve. At the ECHL level, Bobkov has amassed a .880 save percentage over seven games. In the AHL, he has an .842 save percentage in six games. Neither mark will inspire much confidence in the 2009 third-rounder, who is approaching decision time as far as his North American career is concerned.
Anaheim Ducks Non-Minor Pro Prospect Roundup
2014 first-round pick Nick Ritchie is one of Anaheim’s most talked about and anticipated prospects. Already playing at 6’3″ and almost 230 pounds, he was still an unlikely contender to get a spot with the Ducks this season. But, with his strength, size and an impressive shot, Ritchie has just what Anaheim looks for in a player. In the 25 games he played with the Peterborough Petes, he had 14 goals and 18 assists for a total of 32 points. He scored just one goal for Team Canada at the World Juniors but no doubt intimidated many opposition players with his forechecking ability. He was traded to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and is expected to help that team challenge for an OHL title.
Kenton Helgesen is another prototypical Anaheim pick, one who hopes to follow Ryan Getzlaf’s footsteps from playing with the Calgary Hitmen to a successful professional start. He is a good, physical player who has been versatile enough to play both left wing and defense during his time with the Hitmen. Helgesen also serves as the team’s captain. He has been successful so far this season with the Hitmen. In the 40 games he has played so far, Helgesen has 12 goals and 16 assists and has helped his team to a very solid start.
Nick Sorensen is slightly behind the curve this season due to a lengthy post-surgery recovery, but the 2013 second round pick is set to return in time to help league-leading Skellefteå defend its SHL title. Sorensen is on loan to the Swedish club after two successful seasons with the Québec Remparts.
Anaheim Ducks Prospect of the Month
The 26th overall selection of the 2014 NHL Draft, Shea Theodore is looking for a strong second half of the 2014-15 season. He sustained an elbow injury in training camp and the Ducks used that adversity to Theodore’s benefit by assigning him to Norfolk on a conditioning assignment rather than returning him to the WHL immediately. He responded to the challenge by scoring five points in five games. With the Thunderbirds, Theodore has provided steady play, leadership and offense from the blueline, with 13 points in 12 games. He was a stalwart for Team Canada at the World Juniors, as well, pairing on a dominant shutdown unit with Darnell Nurse (EDM) and scoring two points for the gold medal winners.
Article written by Connie Lee. Follow Connie on Twitter via @xconniex21