The Anaheim Ducks have managed to compile some pretty strong draft picks in recent years. Much to their enjoyment, many of them are panning out in a very good way. Dominant seasons were logged this year by many of the Ducks former first-round selections and several are getting close to the pro level. Take a look at who won what in this year’s Ducks prospect awards.
Hardest Worker: Chris Wagner, C, Anaheim Ducks (NHL)
The former collegiate standout from Colgate University has been considered a bit of a sleeper in the Ducks system. The reason is that despite his rather ho-hum skill set he has an attitude and intensity that make it worthwhile. The centerman can do a little bit of everything. He has the skill to provide depth scoring, is solid in the face-off dot, plays a good defensive game, and is not afraid to play a physical style. He is your classic responsible depth center. He has made strides year after year at the AHL level, and got his first cup of coffee with the Ducks this season. He has the work ethic, skill, and attitude to be a potential starter on next season’s opening day roster. He has worn an ‘A’ on his sweater the last two seasons with Norfolk, so that should give you some idea as to the attitude of the 2010 fifth-round pick.
With 102 goals in 212 regular season OHL games, Ritchie has established that he can score in the OHL. The big power forward likes to use his strength to dominate opponents, but he also possesses a solid pro level shot. Everything about it is exceptional: the release, the power, and the accuracy. The best thing about Ritchie is that he couples his excellent shot with a willingness to crash and bang. He uses his size and smarts to get open and use his excellent shot to his advantage.
Theodore has taken very good steps in his defensive game this year. While in previous seasons he looked a bit too offensive-leaning, this year he has balanced out when to jump into the play versus staying back and tidying up his own end. He was far less of a risk taker this year but was still able to put up a very solid point pace. Overall his two-way game is starting to look very promising for the long term.
Fastest Skater: Ondrej Kase, RW, KLH Chomutov (Czech2)
Kase can flat-out fly. While he has a wealth of offensive skills, maybe his best attributes are his blistering speed and agility. On the bigger ice of Europe it has done him well in posting a respectable season with KLH Chomutov in the second-tier Czech 1. Liga. While his size is a concern, you cannot hit what you cannot catch. Kase has very good top-end speed, which makes him threatening in transition and on the rush. However, he also has good lateral speed which makes him a handful for defensemen to keep up with in their own zone.
Prospect of the Year: Shea Theodore, D, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
With another great offensive season, an outstanding World Junior Championships, a good (albeit short) WHL playoff stint, and a very promising showing at the AHL level, Theodore is definitely the Ducks prospect of the year. The high level of play with the young defenseman seems to grow each year. He battled through injury this season but still managed to be one of the most dominant two-way defenseman in the entire CHL. While there was pressure from other prospects like Nick Ritchie, Brandon Montour, and John Gibson for prospect of the year, Theodore showed the greatest improvements and overall level of play through the entirety of his season. He should be a fun one to watch moving forward into the pro level.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Brandon Montour, D, Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Montour has risen through the ranks quickly. Not many can say they went from USHL to NCAA to AHL in one year. The scariest thing about it is that he has looked more than capable at each and every level. He was a point per game player with Waterloo and UMass, and when he finally got to the AHL he promptly tallied 9 points in his first 13 pro games. He has proven he can play with the big boys in the short term, and with a summer to prepare for what he has seen you can expect Montour to come in guns blazing next year. There will be some competition on the Norfolk blueline, but look for the defenseman to have a big 2015-16.
Most Improved Prospect: Josh Manson, D, Anaheim Ducks (NHL)
I am not sure that anyone saw Josh Manson as an NHL threat when he came out of Northeastern University. However, with hard work, and a little bit of luck, Manson made a solid name for himself on the Ducks’ blueline this year. For a 23-year-old rookie, he showed tremendous poise at the NHL level. That is something you do not generally expect from young defensemen so early in their professional career. He keeps his game relatively simple and mistake-free, which gave him a nod of confidence from the coaching staff. The overall improvement from Manson’s game simply comes from his ability to step right in to the NHL from college and adjust accordingly to the speed and thinking of the game. He went from 0-60 in a sense, and looked fairly comfortable doing it this season.
Overachiever: Ondrej Kase, RW, KLH Chomutov (Czech2)
Czech scouts loved Ondrej Kase before he was drafted. His offensive ability was highly regarded, and some thought the only thing holding him back was his size. Playing in the Czech 1. Liga, Kase was able to flourish a bit under the European style. Size is not as important overseas as it is in the North American game. Therefore, Kase was able to put those offensive skills to use in a big way. As a 19-year old he was able to put up 21 points in 37 regular season games, and he also scored at a ridiculous point per game pace in the playoffs. His numbers may look a little bit inflated at this point considering the league he played in. It was a wonderful year for the young Czech, but next year will not be as easy. Newly promoted Chomutov will face stiffer competition.
Underachiever: Marcus Pettersson, D, Skellefteå (SHL)
Playing at the pro level at 18-years-old is not for everyone. It takes a very high level of skill to be a boy competing with men, and Pettersson just did not have that yet this season. While the defenseman looked fairly strong for the Skellefteå U20 team, he was not strong enough or quick enough to compete at the senior level. He was given very limited minutes and/or relegated to the press box on most nights. In order to get himself more playing time, he was loaned to the Allsvenskan and Vita Hästen. He continued to have his up and down moments in the Swedish second tier as well as the Allsvenskan playoffs. Overall this was a big learning year for Pettersson, who looked like he bit off a bit more than he could chew at times.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Marcus Pettersson, D, Skellefteå (SHL)
He was an underachiever, no question. However, the Ducks knew he was a bit of a project defenseman when he was drafted. While a second round pick is definitely a steep price to pay of project player, he has all the physical tools to make it work. He thinks the game well and has great size, but needs to couple it with an improved element of strength and physicality to his game. Otherwise he is simply not going to be able to cut it at the next level. He has another year left in Sweden and he needs to show some improvement and staying power at the upper level. If he can not hang with the big boys this year it might be best for him to come to North America where he can get more comprehensive development from the Ducks staff. There is a wealth of quality defenseman in the Ducks system, and Pettersson cannot afford to get too far behind on the depth chart and in the pipeline.
Prospect of the Month
While he had a lull in the middle of the year, Max Friberg quietly put together a very strong season for the Norfolk Admirals. He finished off the season in relatively strong fashion, with points in six of the team’s last eight games. He also logged 15 points in the final 13 games of the season. That is particularly impressive when you factor in that he scored 40 points on the season in total. With the wealth of talent that the Ducks have, it can be easy at times to overlook Friberg. However, the winger has finished 2014-15 in very strong fashion and could potentially carry that play over into next season where he should have a shot at the Ducks’ bottom lines.