Depth at defense and wings bolster Anaheim’s top 20 prospects

By Jason Lewis

Photo: Ducks prospect Nick Ritchie is just under a point-per-game in his OHL career. (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Photo: Ducks prospect Nick Ritchie is just under a point-per-game in his OHL career. (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

As a new face emerges as the number one overall prospect with the Ducks, it is hard not to notice the strong group of defensemen and wingers Anaheim currently boasts. A staggering 17 of the 20 listed players on the spring list play either wing or defense. If the goal is to build from the back out, the Ducks have a blossoming mixture of talented defensemen and one of the best young goaltenders in the world to achieve that goal. Up front they also have a nice blend of size, skill, and speed to complement their NHL center depth. While the logjam may end up hurting some of these players’ chances, it currently is a big boost to the organization in terms of depth and quality.

1. (4) Shea Theodore, D, 8.0C
‏Drafted 1st Round, 26th overall, 2013

‏The defenseman has been phenomenal this year for the Seattle Thunderbirds and was outstanding with Team Canada. He has recovered very nicely from an elbow injury that cut his training camp short and has been Seattle’s most valuable player this season. He remains solid in all three zones, with a noted improvement in the defensive end. His passing game is top notch, his skating is excellent, and the leadership qualities are also there. With Seattle’s Justin Hickman (BOS) going down to a season-ending injury, Theodore has stepped in to captain the squad in his absence. He has made great strides in the last two years and rightfully takes over the top spot in the Ducks system. Theodore starting next season with Anaheim might not be the optimal development strategy, but it is possible.

2. (1) John Gibson, G, 8.0C
‏Drafted 2nd Round, 39th overall, 2011

‏It is hard to believe that Gibson is still labeled a prospect given all the hype around him. However he has still played only a handful of NHL games and his ultimate upside is still undetermined. He has struggled at times to find his form at the NHL, but has also shown flashes of brilliance. He was one of the best goalies in the AHL this season, and has tremendous promise as an NHL starter. As expected he is growing through the transition from AHL to NHL with a few rough patches here and there.

3. (2) Nick Ritchie, LW, 8.0C
‏Drafted 1st Round, 10th overall, 2014

‏The trade deadline move from Peterborough to Sault Ste. Marie has been huge for Ritchie and the Greyhounds. The power forward has been on an absolute tear since the move and helps make the team serious contenders for a league title. Despite suffering from some concussion effects lately, Ritchie has put together a fairly dominant season in the OHL. Ritchie is too big and too fast for many junior defensemen to handle, but he needs some development time before he can be a similarly-productive player at the professional level.

4. (7) Nic Kerdiles, C, 7.5C
‏Drafted 2nd Round, 36th overall, 2012

‏Kerdiles was a consistent NCAA scorer in his two years at the University of Wisconsin, and that offense has transitioned fairly well to the AHL. While Norfolk has struggled as a whole, Kerdiles has been a prominent offensive figure, fighting for the team points lead with Chris Wagner most of the year. His defensive game is not his strong suit, but he has the size to compete effectively as a pro. Kerdiles has been sidelined with a concussion since mid-February, and will certainly look for a better season in 2015-16.

5. (NR) Jiri Sekac, LW, 7.0C
‏Trade with Montreal, February 2015

‏Sekac was a tremendous pick-up for the Ducks at the deadline. He has been a very solid addition to the Ducks’ “kid line” alongside recent graduates Rickard Rakell and Emerson Etem. The trio’s speed and aggressiveness have caused plenty of issues for opposing team defenses. It remains to be seen what kind of offensive upside he has over a longer term, but his speed and puck retrieval ability alone prove his NHL utility so far. His KHL club, HC Lev Praha (Prague), finished second in the league last season and his playoff experience is an added bonus for a Ducks club looking for a long Cup run.

6. (13) Brandon Montour, D, 7.5D
‏Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall, 2014

‏Not many observers saw such a good transition coming for Montour when he went from the USHL to the NCAA. He has broken the University of Massachusetts record for scoring from a rookie defenseman this season. He was also named Hockey East’s rookie of the month in January 2015. With the Minutemen eliminated, Montour and the Ducks can be very pleased with his first year of NCAA competition.

7. (12) Kevin Roy, LW, 7.0C
‏Drafted 4th Round, 97th overall, 2012

‏Roy is a candidate to jump up and sign with the Ducks a little early in an effort to start his pro career. He is coming off another team leading 40-plus point season for Northeastern, and has little left to prove in the college circuit. He was named National College Hockey Player of the Month back in February. His move up the Ducks list isn’t just because of graduations in front of him. He has been fantastic yet again.

8. (17) Chris Wagner, C, 7.0D
‏Drafted 5th Round, 122nd overall, 2010

‏He is the big mover this year from the Ducks fall list. The Anaheim system is no doubt lacking in center depth, but Wagner has been a very good player for a struggling AHL club in Norfolk. He has been bouncing between the AHL and the NHL for the last few months, but has looked too good to stay down with the Admirals for long. He has been the leading scorer for the Admirals for most of the 2014-15 season.

9. (10) Stefan Noesen, RW, 7.0D
‏Trade with Ottawa Senators, July 2013

‏Noesen still carries the weight of lost years of development, but when he has played he has been very good. One of the key pieces in the Bobby Ryan trade, he has hardly had time to prove he was a good pickup with all of the setbacks. Since returning in February from another long injury layoff, he has been just about a point per game player in the AHL. His strength and health are still lasting concerns, but the offensive game has not seemed to fade.

10. (8) Marcus Pettersson, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd Round, 38th Overall, 2014

The lanky defenseman is going to be a bit of a project player. The 18-year-old had struggles with the physicality of the Swedish Hockey League and was loaned out to HC Vita Hästen of the Swedish second tier, the Allsvenskan, where he could play against men in a less intense league. Despite that seemingly backwards step, Pettersson will get more playing time and still has a lot of physical traits to like. His hockey sense, mobility, and size alone still project well, and there is no need to rush.
 
11. (11) Nick Sorensen, RW, 7.0D
‏Drafted 2nd round, 45th overall, 2013

‏Sorensen is in a holding pattern in his development currently. He is fighting to see if he can get his offensive game going at the pro level with Skellefteå of the SHL to mixed results. Injuries have also put a dent in his year in Sweden, limiting him to 14 games and and four points this season. Sorensen was very productive in the QMJHL with the Québec Remparts and showed well in two World Juniors for Team Sweden. A change in development strategy may be necessary, and Sorensen could bolster the Admirals next season.

12. (15) Andrew Welinski, D, 6.5C
‏Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2011

Junior Andy Welinski has been a steady contributor for Minnesota-Duluth once again this season, but also hit career highs in plus-minus and goals. While the offensive side seems limited, UMD has never had a blue-chip forward during his tenure there. Welinski’s consistent defensive play has been a staple in his game for a long time and this gives him more than a fighter’s chance at the next level.

13. (NR) Josh Manson, D, 6.0B
‏Drafted 6th round, 160th overall, 2011

‏Manson has been a great surprise this year for the Ducks. A peripheral prospect at best to start the year, he has stepped in very capably at the NHL as a stay-at-home option for Anaheim. When injuries and inconsistency cropped up for the Ducks, Manson was there to stop the bleeding. While he has very little offensive upside – which limits his overall position on the list – he has looked right at home as a bottom-pairing NHL defenseman capable of out-muscling the competition.

14. (16) Kenton Helgesen, LW, 6.5C
‏Drafted 7th round, 187th overall, 2012

‏The transition from defense to wing continues to pay dividends for Helgesen and the Calgary Hitmen. His size and strength have caused issues for opposing defenses, and he has a 20-plus goal and second 40-plus point season to show for it. As he continues to keep his game simple and get to the dirty areas of the ice, success will likely follow him as he moves to the next level. His strong play has earned him top line and first unit power play minutes alongside Canucks top prospect Jake Virtanen and 2015 draft eligible forward Pavel Karnaukhov.

15. (14) Max Friberg, LW, 6.5D
‏Drafted 5th Round, 143rd overall, 2011

‏Friberg has the potential to be more than a role player with Anaheim, but it seems likely that he will settle in to a bottom six role more comfortably in the future than a top six. He has been effective with Norfolk this season yet again, but his limited offensive upside may hurt his overall chances. He still shows strong enough defensive play, tenacity, and skating to be considered a noteworthy prospect.

16. (18) Keaton Thompson, D, 6.5D
‏Drafted 3rd Round, 87th overall, 2013

‏Low-key, steady, and effective, Thompson may not have the flashiness of some other defenseman but the University of North Dakota sophomore is solid enough in all three zones to warrant recognition. He has bounced around with different partners this year but has settled in nicely with Jordan Schmaltz (STL) lately with a more defense-oriented role.

17. (NR) Grant Besse, RW, 6.5D
‏Drafted 5th round, 147th overall, 2013

‏The winger has been a classic case of a good player on a struggling team this season with University of Wisconsin. He has been the Badger’s leading scorer and driver and has an interesting blend of defensive and offensive ability. While 22 points and a -14 rating do not seem  promising, he has been a good all-situations forward and arguably Wisconsin’s MVP in a forgettable season. Besse is average-sized but has excellent anticipation and creativity and a very quick release.

18. (19) Miro Aaltonen, RW, 6.5D
‏Drafted 6th Round, 177th overall, 2013

‏The Finn is having an excellent year in his native country with the Espoo Blues. He has been playing top-six minutes for the Blues and put together a strong overall offensive season, finishing the regular season in the top 20 scorers in the Liiga. His small size still begs the question of whether he can play a similar role in North America. As far as his 2014-15 goes he has definitely shown growth and good play, but another year at that same level might be equally seen as a holding pattern.

19. (NR) Brian Cooper, D, 6.0C
‏Drafted 5th round, 127th overall, 2012

‏He has gone somewhat under the radar, but Cooper has improved tremendously from his freshman year. The University of Nebraska-Omaha junior has been looked to as a steadying figure on the UNO blueline this season and he has delivered. He has been paired up with freshman stay-at-home defenseman Joel Messner, and the two have been the team’s strongest pairing. It has also allowed Cooper to display more of his offensive skills, although they are still fairly limited.

20. (NR) Ondrej Kase, RW, 6.5D
Drafted 7th round, 205th overall, 2014

Kase is a fairly interesting talent that has been great in the Czech second tier league this season. Although the competition may not be of the highest quality, he has been a very good performer with KLH Chomutov, including 11 points in 10 playoff games. He also had a good U-20 World Junior Championships with the Czech Republic, despite the team struggling as a whole. He is shifty, offensively gifted, and has a good hockey sense. He may be a bit of a boom or bust guy – especially if he does not add some muscle weight – but he has been interesting at the least this season.