Defensemen dominate Anaheim Ducks Preseason Top 20

By Jason Lewis

 

AHL: MAR 15 Norfolk Admirals at Providence Bruins

Photo: Stefan Noesen’s per-game AHL production suggests he is on the cusp of establishing himself as a professional player (courtesy of Cory Silvia/Icon Sportswire)

 

10. (NR) Julius Nättinen, C, 7.0C
‏Drafted 2nd round, 59th overall in 2015

‏The Ducks sure love their Finns, and when they pick them they are usually certain on what they are getting. Anaheim desperately needed a center in the last draft, and Nattinen was a solid pick up at 59 in the 2015 second round. The 18-year old brings the complete package to the table. He has solid size, a capable two-way game, good poise with the puck, and a strong hockey sense. While there will probably be a little bit of questioning how effective his production can be at the next level, he brings a tantalizing enough package to the table to believe that a top-six, or at the least a top-nine gig, could be in his NHL future. We should get a decent look at how his game translates when he suits up with the Barrie Colts of the OHL for 2015-16.

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

‏After a modest NCAA career with Northeastern University, Manson has proven that the transition from NCAA to NHL can be fairly seamless. While he plays a pretty low flash game with little in the way of offensive contributions, the son of former NHLer Dave Manson has translated that steadiness to the next level. Manson filled in very nicely for the Ducks in a bottom pairing role when the team needed it last season. Through his 28 games with Anaheim he was actually one of the best possession and shot suppressing players on the team. He held a team high 54.9% corsi for at even strength, and the second lowest corsi against behind Simon Despres. He will have to prove that it was more than a benefit of small sample size next season, but all signs point to him being a sure fire, steady defensive defenseman for Anaheim’s bottom pairs in the future.

8. (7) Chris Wagner, C/W, 6.5B
‏Drafted 5th round, 122nd overall in 2010

‏Chris Wagner got his cup of coffee with the Ducks after a good campaign with the Admirals in 2014-15. While he did benefit from a pretty open bottom-six group with the Ducks, he did enough to throw his hat into the ring as a contender for a bottom line forward job for the near future. He played just shy of nine minutes a game in his nine game call up. He also held a healthy 60-percent faceoff percentage, winning 33 of 55. The versatile and hard-working nature Wagner possesses makes him a prototypical addition to a team’s grind line forward group. In a system that is fairly heavy on high-end skill and speed, Wagner’s emergence is a nice addition which brings an element of diversity to the pool.

7. (NR) Jacob Larsson, D, 7.5D
‏Drafted 1st round, 27th overall in 2015

‏Larsson’s scouting report is similar to that of another Scandinavian defenseman the Ducks selected recently in a first round. We are talking, of course, about Hampus Lindholm. Both players logged time in the pro levels of Sweden prior to their draft, both posses solid NHL size, and both were coined as incredibly intelligent puck-moving defensemen. There is a lot of room for growth when it comes to Larsson, as there is a raw element to his physical stature and the maturity level he has. Nevertheless, he is slated for another season with Frölunda of the SHL and that should do well in aiding him develop that side of his game. He is smart, mobile, with room for growth in both the defensive and offensive side of the game. He is just another addition to an already strong blueline pipeline in Orange County.

6. (8) Stefan Noesen, RW, 7.0C
‏Acquired via trade with the Ottawa Senators in 2013

‏Hopeful that his injury troubles are well behind him, Noesen embarks on his second season at the pro level and what would actually qualify as his rookie season overall. The injuries have been well documented and frustrating, because when Noesen has played he has looked fairly good. The Ducks made a huge swap when sending Bobby Ryan to the Senators for Noesen and Jakob Silfverberg back in 2013. Unfortunately, fans have yet to really see what the talented young winger, selected 21st overall in the 2011 NHL draft, is capable of providing. With a full season of renewed health, hopefully everyone can get a good feel for what he is capable of bringing as a big body with some scoring ability. Noesen had a career point total of 220 points in 215 OHL games, so he can definitely light the lamp. A question of how much significant time and development he has lost still remains though.

5. (4) Nic Kerdiles, LW, 7.5C
‏Drafted 2nd round, 36th overall, in 2012

‏After being a standout at University of Wisconsin, Kerdiles was met with much stiffer competition in 2014-15. His production in his 51 AHL games could be considered a bit on the low side, and there are still question marks surrounding his defensive game. He seemed to be starting to get the hang of things in January until a concussion sidelined him for most of the remaining games on the schedule. The 21-year old arguably needed the resistance he faced this year in the AHL. He was a standout in the NCAA ranks but now will have to develop other facets of his game to go along with his excellent offensive skills in order to move forward as a pro player.

4. (5) Brandon Montour, D, 7.5C
‏Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall in 2014

‏The rich certainly have gotten richer. It was not enough that the Ducks already had big name defensive prospects and youngsters like Vatanen, Thompson, Lindholm, and the newly added Jacob Larsson, but now Montour looks like the real deal as well. In an unorthodox development path that saw the 21-year old play in the USHL, NCAA, and AHL all in the same season, Montour showed little difficulty in excelling at each level as he progressed. By the year’s end he had played 52 games across the three leagues, logging 51 points with nine goals. The next step is the AHL, where it may not be as easy to wow the hockey pundits. He is a bit of a swashbuckling and risky defenseman, but if he continues to play with the same sort of offensive confidence he did last year than he should be fun to watch in 2015-16 down in San Diego.

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

‏The 19-year old power forward has been outstanding in his junior career, and he capped it off perfectly last season. After getting traded from the Peterborough Petes to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds at the OHL trade deadline, the 2014 first-round pick ripped off 30 points in 23 games, and 26 points in 14 playoff games. The blend of size, skill, and strength are already projecting well to the AHL and beyond, and he should get his opportunity with San Diego next season. The left wing spot alongside Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf has been a pretty steady carousel the last few years. Could Ritchie be the one that steps in soon? He certainly plays a Ducks brand of hockey that would suggest that the potential is there. He still has some steps to take in his learning curve, but Ritchie is definitely one of the brightest talents the Ducks have in the pipeline.

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

‏The highly touted goaltender is learning the hard way that being a top flight goaltender and staying a top flight goaltender are two very different things. While Gibson has had to deal with all the natural difficulties a goaltender has to face, like increased skill of opponents and a higher speed at which things happen, he has had injuries and a pretty good goaltender in front of him in Freddie Andersen to compete with. His good games in the NHL have been somewhat hit or miss, and he has yet to really settle in to a full year as a lone AHL starter. He has all the skill in the world but there is still a fairly large leap in his development he has to take before being considered a legitimate number one goaltending threat in the NHL. Once he takes that leap, look out.

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

‏The 2013 first-round selection had a big 2014-15 season, and it came with a big offseason as well. After back to back seasons with over a point per game pace from the blueline for the Seattle Thunderbirds, Thompson signed an entry-level contract with the Ducks and could very well be seen in Anaheim as early as this coming season. With the Ducks moving their affiliate to nearby San Diego, Anaheim fans willing to make the trip south will get a first hand glimpse at the exceptional and fluid puck-moving game that the 20-year old Theodore brings to the table. He is big, he has great skating, an outstanding passing game, and a very good overall reading of the game. He has all the skills of a top-four defenseman in the making. It will be interesting to see how he slots into an already young and explosive puck-moving group on the Anaheim back end in the near future.

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