The learning curve can come in various cycles throughout a player’s career. While some players are at a low, others are at a high. For the Ducks, they have a full range of NCAA and European prospects experiencing different points of the curve currently. Some are struggling while others are excelling. Changing teams, changing roles, and the pressure to perform all have an effect. How the player copes with this and grows from it is an important step in any young player’s career. Let us take a look at how each of the Ducks prospects of the NCAA and Europe have performed this season.
Kevin Roy, LW, Northeastern University (Hockey East)
Drafted 4th round, 97th overall in 2012
Roy has had another good and consistent year with Northeastern. Last season’s leading scoring was again the Huskies’ biggest contributor offensively with a second consecutive 40-point season. He led the team in scoring and in points for 2014-15, and ended up seventh overall in conference scoring. He was ten points clear of the next closest forward on his own squad. He has been a very steady contributor as well, having just three multi-goal games on the season. Most of his goals have been spread over multiple games. However, it still should be noted he put up a outstanding 4-goal game against Connecticut back in early February. He was a finalist for Hockey East Player of the Year, a title ultimately claimed by Jack Eichel. At this point it is unclear of Roy plans on returning for his senior year or moving into the pro ranks. Despite a smaller stature, he seems to have the natural offensive skills and hockey sense to move up. Whether he does or not remains to be seen.
Grant Besse, RW, University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Drafted 5th round, 147th overall in 2013
Wisconsin bottomed out the Big Ten this year. They won two games against the conference and just four overall. However, Grant Besse still had an admirable year. He was simply a case of a good player on a very bad team. He took his knocks in plus-minus, but he was the only goal-scorer in double digits this year and was a key player on both the power play and penalty kill. The Badgers were outscored 59 to 129 this season so it was hard to remain a positive player all things considered. Besse is a smallish player, but has shown quite a bit of heart this season in continuing to play well despite some dreary surroundings and a very young team. There is some natural leadership that has arisen from the forward this season. He has certainly showed a willingness to take on the lion’s share of responsibility during this difficult year.
Andy Welinski, D, University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC)
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall in 2011
Welinski stepped up his offense this season with Minnesota-Duluth. He set a new college career high in goals and points, and also took a good step in his defensive game. With nine goals the junior was actually third on the Bulldogs, and second overall in the entire conference. He also made the all-conference second team this year. He did benefit from the squad having tremendous goaltending and a fairly deep group, but Welinski has put together one of his strongest college seasons yet.
Keaton Thompson, D, University of North Dakota
Drafted 3rd round, 87th overall in 2013
North Dakota took an early exit in the NCHC tournament at the hands of St. Cloud State, but they are still one of the best and will face Boston University in the 2015 Frozen Four. Thompson and partner Jordan Schmaltz (STL) teamed up for a very solid year overall. Thompson played the more reserved and physical of the duo, allowing Schmaltz to be the more offensively oriented player. While Thompson showed he has some offensive flash of his own, his steadying and consistent presence on the blue line was a very positive thing for UND this season. At just 19, Thompson does show a very good overall defensive game, and it will only get better as he gains more experience. How he does away from first-rounder Jordan Schmaltz could be very telling in how real Thompson is.
Brian Cooper, D, University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCHC)
Drafted 5th round, 127th overall in 2012
The diminutive defenseman has had a positive career arc since his freshman season and took another step this year. The Mavericks gave Cooper a little more responsibility this season due to upperclassmen departures from last year, and he did admirably with his opportunity. While he is not a defenseman that will knock your socks off with any one skill, he has been a steady all-around contributor. He is average in just about every aspect of the game, be it puck-moving, physicality, or defensive reading of the game. While average generally has a negative connotation, this is definitely not a bad thing. Not being deficient in any one area bodes well. Cooper would probably benefit from one final year at UNO where he can take on even more responsibility, but first the surprising Mavericks must face Providence in the Frozen Four.
Brandon Montour, D, UMass-Amherst (Hockey East)
Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall in 2014
Montour’s path has been quite a strange one. He was an older USHL player, joined UMass halfway through the season, and now has jumped into the pro ranks. He has already joined the squad in Norfolk and signed his first professional contract. When Montour did play with UMass he looked strong overall. His offensive game is already at a level where another year of college might not have been a good thing. The Ducks also risked losing him due to starting the year in juniors. Nonetheless, he joined the college ranks for a brief time, and was a point per game defenseman that played top-pairing minutes while he was there. A good, albeit brief, showing in the NCAA should be a launching point for Montour.
Nick Sorensen, RW, Skellefteå (SHL)
Drafted 2nd round, 45th overall in 2013
The young winger has had mixed results jumping across the pond from the QMJHL to Skelleftå of the SHL. Wrist surgery held the him out until January. When he was inserted into the lineup he looked solid at times, but mainly a little behind. Given the circumstances of a new league and a long injury layoff, that was to be expected. You could consider this something of a lost year of development for Sorensen. Nonetheless, he is just 20 years old and should be in better shape to make an impact next season. He has been relegated to bottom line duty and press box patrol for the majority of his active time on the squad. He still has a lot of development to do and a skill set that promises good results.
Miro Aaltonen, C/RW, Espoo Blues (Liiga)
Drafted 6th round, 177th overall in 2013
It is tough to get a gauge on how good Miro Aaltonen has been this year. He is a smallish forward with some very tantalizing offensive skills, but he is playing on the larger ice of Europe. Considering his speed and puck skill that has made a big impact on his numbers. Aaltonen has been one of the best young forwards in Liiga this season with the Espoo Blues. While there is not much to say about his physicality or defensive game, he has showcased a good offensive mind and the hands to go along with it. It is hard to imagine he would be as good in the North American game, but he has definitely played well enough and hard enough to get people wondering.
Ondrej Kase, RW, KLH Chomutov (Czech2)
Drafted 7th round, 205th overall in 2014
Like Aaltonen, it is hard to know where Kase is in comparison to the North American game. The Czech2 league is not exactly a powerhouse European league, but Kase has done well for a 19-year old nonetheless. He is another somewhat intriguing player with great offensive instincts and hands, but a lack of size and strength could hold him back. Chomutov have made a great run in the Czech2 playoffs and Kase has been absolutely outstanding when his squad needed him.
Marcus Pettersson, D, Skellefteå (SHL)
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall in 2014
The tall and lanky defenseman has no doubt had a mentally taxing season. He bounced around three different teams in three different levels of competition, all trying to find a place to fit. While he looked too good for the Skellefteå U20 team, he was not getting the minutes on the talented senior squad. He was loaned to Vita Hästen of the Allsvenskan in order to get more playing time and a little more confidence. The skill set is there, and Pettersson has moments where his puck-moving and passing are top-notch. He was drafted as a bit of a project player, and this year he has struggled to find the playing time or the role to refine his game. With an elevated role and a little more muscle added to his frame, Peterson still has a lot of promise. Just chock this year up to a young player trying to cut it in a competitive men’s league.
Prospect of the Month
The Soo Greyhounds are looking to capture an OHL title and make a run at the Memorial Cup this season. They bolstered their chances at the deadline by adding Nick Ritchie from Peterborough. That move has yielded great things. Ritchie has been a huge contributor to the Greyhounds offense with 15 goals and 30 points in 23 games. He has 21 points in his last 14 games and has been on the score sheet for all but two of those games. That run includes a game on March 21 against Windsor in which Ritchie dominated with five points (two goals, three assists). He has been a remarkably consistent scorer for the Greyhounds and they are hoping he continues that form into the playoffs.