The Ducks’ veteran core of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler helps make the team contenders for a Stanley Cup this season. But Anaheim General Manager Bob Murray and his staff have been extremely efficient at the draft, adding excellent young players like Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Devante Smith-Pelly and Frederik Andersen in recent years. In addition, the team has excellent resources developing in Norfolk, several of whom have debuted this season and will look to become contributors in a playoff run.
The 2014-15 season has seen great opportunities for some of the Anaheim Ducks prospects with some finally getting the professional ice time they deserve and others even going to the 2015 World Junior Championship and winning gold. It wouldn’t be a real hockey season though if there weren’t some struggles in between and that is what some of the other rookies have seen lately.
Rickard Rakell, C/RW, 21
Rakell has really broken through the barriers since the season started. He even had a career-best four-point night and was praised by Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau for making some big improvements after being demoted to the AHL‘s Norfolk Admirals for a bit. He has played 40 games this year with five goals and 12 assists. Rakell has seen his ice-time fluctuate quite a bit, some of which has to do with lack of faceoff proficiency. As he gets stronger on the dot, he can be trusted with bigger minutes. The rookie’s special teams time has been minimal as well, but what Anaheim really needs going forward from Rakell is increased even strength production, a skill the young Swede is capable of delivering.
William Karlsson, C, 22
A 2011 2nd-round selection, Karlsson started his season in Anaheim and had a two-goal outing in his second game, but failed to get much going after that before being assigned to Norfolk in November. Karlsson scored at a decent rate as a young professional in the SHL, but probably relies a little too much on speed and finesse for a rookie on a Bruce Boudreau team. Anaheim has the luxury of seasoning Karlsson in the AHL but at 13 points in 29 games for a below-average Norfolk squad, Karlsson is a little behind the pace. Karlsson’s first full season in North America has not gone as he would have liked so far, but the 2011 second-rounder has enough upside to remain relevant for Anaheim this season.
Mat Clark, D, 24
Clark did not play in many games this season and has not scored as many points as his teammates but the defender knows how to keep the opposing team from getting to the Anaheim net. The Ducks were going through a period of tough times in their defense area with illnesses and other complications, so some young guns, including Clark, were brought in to take over for the time being. He only played in seven games, averaging around 12 minutes per game, but did manage his first NHL point, an assist. Clark is not a flashy player, but he is a fine combination of size and safe instincts. With the depth of Anaheim’s defense corps the major question mark for the team, Clark remains a decent option to play some more NHL minutes this spring.
Josh Manson, D, 23
Manson came flying out of the locker room ready to go for his debut this year and still managed to impress everyone despite not having any extraordinary success during his 18-game stint. Manson managed just one assist and a fight against Vancouver’s Ryan Stanton. The former Northeastern University standout brings good size and strength to a defensive group that has needed some fresh bodies at different points of the season. Like Clark, Manson is not expected to be a power play specialist. Whether by necessity or design, Manson ended up logging nearly 20 minutes a game during his NHL tenure, suggesting that he may the first option for a call-up if one of the veterans struggles again. For a young defenseman, the AHL is still a good place to learn the finer points of the professional game.
John Gibson, G, 21
Another player selected in the 2011 NHL Draft, Gibson has been seen as one of the stars that are shining more brightly as the games go on. Ever since his NHL debut last year, he has been slowly making bigger strides to improve but has had a few struggles in between playing for Anaheim and Norfolk so far this season. He played in only four games with the Ducks before sustaining a groin injury and had an equal two wins and two losses, with a .927 save percentage. With Frederik Andersen playing steady hockey in Anaheim, and veteran Ilya Bryzgalov signed for insurance, there is a chance that Gibson remains out of the picture this season. His strong numbers in Norfolk since returning from injury in late December – a 2.28 goals against average and a .928 save percentage – give every indication that Gibson remains a top goaltending prospect.
2015 World Juniors Update
2013 first-round pick Shea Theodore represented Canada in the World Junior Championship and was a big part of the team’s gold-medal success. Playing with Darnell Nurse (EDM), the two effectively controlled the play whenever they were on the ice together. Though Theodore has considerable offensive upside, as last season’s 79 points in 70 games for Seattle shows, the WHL star is a savvy defenseman who can use his natural skills for puck possession. He was a point-per-game in the AHL during a rehab stint earlier this season, and looks to be a major component of Anaheim’s enviable system depth.
2014 7th rounder Ondrej Kase played for the Czech Republic in the WJC. Kase was highly ranked by the major scouting services, including being ranked eighth overall among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting. Perhaps under-scouted coming out of the Czech second-tier, Kase seems to possess real upside, though he is still somewhat raw and untested. He has put up decent point totals in his home league for KLH Komutov this season but is still growing physically. At the World Juniors, a disappointing showing by the Czechs meant very few impressive stats, but Kase’s exposure to the skill level of his peers in this context can only help push the talented young man further.
Prospect of the Month
Nick Ritchie also played for Team Canada in the World Juniors, and though he had just one goal in the tournament, his physical presence made it even tougher for opposing teams to deal with Canada’s depth. 2014’s tenth overall pick, acquired in the Bobby Ryan trade, Ritchie is a longer-term project but does possess a good mix of skill and size. The young man saw his productive junior career with Peterborough come to an end in January when he was traded to Sault Ste. Marie. Since joining the Greyhounds, Ritchie has amassed seven goals and two assists in nine games. The Greyhounds are poised for a deep run into the OHL playoffs and Ritchie will be a key contributor.