Anaheim Ducks possess diverse group of players at collegiate and European levels

By Andrew Knoll
Photo: Sami Vatanen is an electrifying forward who raised his stock considerably over the past season. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Anaheim Ducks own the rights to nine prospects competing in the NCAA, headlined by the Hobey Baker Award finalist Justin Schultz. Their investment at the college level seems shrewd to this point, with most of their prospects being later-round picks or free agents who have all shown relative promise to date.

Sami Vatanen headlines a group of European prospects that consist mostly of skilled players who are on the slight side. The Ducks may have to wait a while to harvest the talent they have been cultivating abroad as their players gain size and familiarity with the North American style of play.

NCAA

Justin Schultz, D, 20
Acquired: 2nd Round, 43rd overall, 2008


Schultz accumulated accolades at the end of his season as quickly as he racked up points during it. His 18 goals and 47 points led all NCAA defensemen as he combined with partner Jake Gardiner to be the productive defensive tandem in the nation.

He was named the WCHA Defenseman of the Year and was one of ten Hobey Baker finalists. Though he did not make the final cut of three candidates, his 24 goals over the past two seasons are more than any of the six defensemen who have won the award in its history. Schultz was also named Inside College Hockey’s Defensive Player of the Year and selected by College Hockey News to their all-NCAA first team.

Behind Schultz’s increasing effectiveness on the ice, stands a more extroverted and assertive player on the bench. He demonstrated little hesitation in his decision to return for his junior season, when he will take even more of a leadership role in pushing the Badgers toward their goal of a national championship.

Kevin Lind, D, 19
Acquired: 6th Round, 177th overall, 2010

Lind has been an important component of Notre Dame’s run to the Frozen Four this season. He has provided a big, steady defensive presence for the Irish. His heady play and work ethic have drawn praise from coaches, who also believe his offensive game can grow as he becomes more assertive and comfortable at the NCAA level.

Radoslav Illo, C, 21
Acquired: 5th Round, 136th overall, 2009

Illo had plenty of options after splitting his early developmental years between a pro developmental club in Slovakia and the USHL. His tires were kicked by CHL teams and NCAA clubs alike before he opted to go to Bemidji State University where he just completed his freshman season. Illo’s role was limited for much of the season but he showed flashes of the offensive promise that lured such an array of suitors. His second season should afford Illo more ice time and power-play minutes, which will offer a better assessment of his ongoing adjustment to the North American game.


Brett Perlini, RW, 20
Acquired: 7th Round, 192nd overall, 2010

One of three prospective second-generation NHLers on the Michigan State roster, Perlini saw his playing time, role and production expand during his junior season. A year after being voted the most-improved Spartan, he progressed by setting career marks in games played, goals, assists and points. Perlini excels in one-on-one play, often winning difficult puck battles and getting into the grimy areas of the ice without hesitation. He demonstrates fearlessness on the ice and dedication away from it, both of which suggest he could develop into a valuable, scrappy forward in the not-so-distant future.

Ryan Hegarty, D, 20
Acquired: 4th Round 113th overall, 2008

A fluid skater with a knack for the smart player, Hegarty often provided a stabilizing presence for a Maine Black Bears team riddled with injuries and plagued by soft goals. A smallish defensive defenseman, Hegarty’s role was defined narrowly this season to penalty killing duty and specific matchups. He performed admirably in those situations and should see expanded responsibility as a junior.

Nick Pryor, D, 20
Acquired: 7th Round, 208th overall, 2008

Renowned as a mobile defenseman, Pryor’s development at the University of Maine has been immobilized by injury in both his seasons there. In two campaigns, he has played a total of 11 games, primarily due to concussions. Pryor was a utility man, playing both defense and wing for the Black Bears in limited duty, while showing the speed and passing skills that made him an attractive recruit.


Rick Schofield, LW, 23
Acquired: Signed as free agent, 2011

After completing a senior season at Lake Superior State University in which he posted career highs in all three major scoring categories, Schofield was signed to an entry-level contract by Anaheim. He finished his luminous career with the Lakers by posting career highs in major scoring categories and leading the team in every scoring category. Schofield has earned a reputation as a strong competitor, a leader among his peers, a dedicated worker and a high character player.

Justin Vaive, LW, 21
Acquired: 4th Round, 92nd overall, 2007

Vaive’s combination of size (6’6, 225 pounds) and hockey pedigree (his father Rick played 876 NHL games) made him an attractive prospect to the Ducks and to Miami University (Ohio). In four seasons with the Redhawks, Vaive never cracked double-digit goals or posted more than 16 points. He was part of two runs to the Frozen Four, however, and established himself as a formidable presence in all the grimy areas of the ice. He created space for his linemates, dug pucks out of the corner effectively, wore down opposing defenses while cycling and won more than his share of puck battles. Like many players his size looking to assume pro roles, Vaive is bound to take more time than most players to fill out his frame, to become coordinated at his optimal size and to develop his complete game.

Christopher Wagner, C, 19
Acquired: 5th Round, 122nd overall, 2010

Wagner set an EJHL record with 83 points and, along with linemate Charlie Coyle (SJ), led his squad to the Southern Division championship last season. That campaign earned him a draft selection by Anaheim and a full scholarship to Colgate, where he has settled in comfortably with 19 points in 41 games this season. Though his club fell to Yale in the ECAC semifinals, Wagner earned a reputation as a tireless worker who is strong in board battles. He should play a larger role in his sophomore season, which will afford him an opportunity to showcase his offensive skills a bit more.


Europe:

Sami Vatanen, D, 19
Acquired: 4th Round, 106th overall, 2009

Vatanen wowed North American fans with his performances at the 2010 World Juniors. That season would also see him compete for Finland at the World Championships and set an SM-liiga rookie defenseman scoring record with 30 points in 55 games, breaking the previous mark of 27 points. In his second pro season, Vatanen improved defensively but remained offensive-minded on a stout JYP squad, posting similar regular-season totals.

He helped propel his club to an easy first-round playoff series win, which included a multi-point opening game for Vatanen. However, a knee-on-knee collision has sidelined Vatanen as his team has advanced. He has been recuperating while their season hangs in the balance in the hopes of returning to action should his team reach the SM-liiga Finals, which begin in mid-April.

Vatanen projects as a mobile, puck-moving defenseman who will be expected to contribute with the man advantage. Size remains the chief concern with Vatanen since he weighs, at most, 175 pounds. Fitness, however, is absolutely not an issue with this prospect as he can log big minutes and possesses solid pound-for-pound strength. With strong hockey sense, solid speed and the number 44 on his back, some have likened his style of play to the outstanding Finnish rearguard and NHL All-Star Kimmo Timonen.

Andreas Dahlstrom, C, 19
Acquired: 6th Round, 161st overall, 2010

Known for changing speeds and displaying a vivid hockey imagination, Dahlstrom has been on a measured path by his Swedish parent club, Stockholm’s AIK. His development has also been hampered by injuries. Though he has yet to see any time at the Eliteserien level, Dahlstrom should have plenty of opportunities as a regular for Almtuna, the Allevanskan team for which he will begin next year on loan. Like many young players, adding strength, refining skating technique, and becoming a stronger finisher are all on Dahlstrom’s to-do list.


Tim Heed, D, 20
Acquired: 5th Round, 132nd overall, 2010

Heed converted to defense from forward, meaning he brings offensive skill and power-play ability to the blue line. It has also meant a bit of a steep learning curve for the undersized rearguard. Nevertheless, Heed has established himself as a solid part of Sweden‘s national junior teams competing in a significant role for the Under-18, Under-19 and Under-20 squads. He has also played at both professional levels, the Eliteserien and Allevanskan, producing 23 points in 29 games for the Vaxjo Lakers of the second-tier Allevanskan this season. He was recalled to Sodertaje SK for the stretch run and the playoffs, where he notched two points in seven postseason games. While he no doubt needs to add size and strength, Heed appears to have a productive future ahead of him as either a top-level European pro or an NHL’er.

Sebastian Stefaniszin, G, 23
Acquired: 4th Round, 98th overall, 2007

Stefaniszin is the Ducks’ most experienced prospect as he has played professionally in Germany since the 2004-2005 season. That experience has not led to success, however, as he has split time between the top and secondary German leagues in each of the past two seasons all while posting underwhelming numbers across the board. His new top-level club, Nuremberg’s Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers, left no shortage of opportunities for Stefaniszin to step into the number-one role, but his 4.48 goals-against average and .865 save percentage did not exactly kick in the door. In four contests with the Landshut Cannibals, his numbers were even worse, a step down from last season when he at least prospered playing in the second-tier league for Landshut.


Tomas Zaborsky, LW, 23
Acquired: Trade with New York Rangers, 2010

If and when Zaborsky arrives in the NHL, he will have been seasoned at many levels in several locales. After a brief pro stint in Slovakia, Zaborsky spent time in the OHL, then two levels of minor pro hockey in the United States, and now has a growing role with Assat-Pori of Finland‘s SM-liiga. Known of his deft hands and outstanding offensive awareness, Zaborsky’s second pro campaign in Finland has seen him raise his goal total from nine a year ago to 23 this season. Zaborsky has also continued his involvement with the Slovak national program, for whom he competed in the World Juniors in 2007. The 23-year-old is under contract for next season with Assat-Pori but the diversity of his experience to date and his blossoming offensive game should work in his favor when he attempts to return to North America.

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