Anaheim Ducks’ organization burgeons with promise at junior level

By Andrew Knoll
Photo: WHL standout Emerson Etem could compete for an NHL spot as soon as the 2011-12 season. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Every junior prospect playing for the Ducks competed for a playoff team this year. All three of the forwards, Emerson Etem, Peter Holland, and Devante Smith-Pelly, finished among the top scorers on their teams. These potential pros possess multiple dimensions to their game and appear on track for an NHL future at this point in their development.

WHL

Emerson Etem, RW, Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired: 1st Round, 29th Overall, 2010


Etem represented the United States at the World Junior Championship and continued to improve his complete contribution to the Medicine Hat Tigers. He improved to a 45-goal campaign despite playing seven fewer games this season and his plus/minus rating leaped to an impressive plus-41. A speedy, low-flying forward who played in all situations, Etem has demonstrated that he has plenty to offer the Ducks in the not-too-distant future with his potentially explosive offense, responsible defense and surplus of speed.

The 18-year-old Etem finished with 23 multi-point games in the regular season. He produced six more in 15 playoff games before Medicine Hat was eliminated in the WHL Eastern Conference Finals. In addition to his offense, the speedy Etem was a reliable and often dangerous penalty killer. At last year’s combine Etem demonstrated outstanding cardiovascular fitness, lower-body strength and pound-for-pound strength. He continued to excel in those areas this year, distinguishing himself further from his peers.

WHL opponents can dread another year of game-planning for Etem unless he ends up on the Anaheim roster next season. Given the flux in their bottom six and the age of some of the scoring forwards, Etem should have every opportunity to make the club going forward, perhaps as soon as this fall.

OHL

Igor Bobkov, G, London Knights
Acquired: 3rd Round, 76th Overall, 2009

Bobkov continued to play sparingly in the second half of the season. He made eight starts for the London Knights since the last update, all during the regular season. He may have reached the apex of his regular season in January when he strung together three consecutive appearances with a sub-2.00 goals-against average and won two of those decisions.

In the OHL postseason, Bobkov did not see significant action with his only real duty coming in the 6-0 shellacking that swung the series in favor the Owen Sound Attack. Owen Sound eliminated London in six games, which gave Bobkov the opportunity to play a short stretch of games with Anaheim’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. Bobkov won both his starts with a .917 save percentage and likely gave a glimpse of the immediate future to Crunch fans, who have seen their regular netminders struggle mightily this season.

HIs greatest accomplishments remain on the world stage. He previously backstopped Russia to an Under-18 Silver medal, performed admirably in the Super Series earlier this season and, most notably, was in net for Russia’s stunning rally to capture World Junior Championship gold in Buffalo. His ability to elevate his play in big games along with his size, relatively sound athleticism and willingness to receive criticism coupled with the Ducks’ lack of depth in net might mean a quicker than expected ascent for Bobkov. At the pro level, Anaheim had three goalies under contract with uncertain futures and at the minor pro and amateur level, Bobkov has likely emerged as their most promising prospect.


Peter Holland, C, Guelph Storm
Acquired: 1st Round, 15th overall, 2009

Holland was part of a trio of players that accounted for 45 percent of the Guelph Storm’s goals this season. His campaign was not a tale of two halves as it had been the previous year, rather his production was reasonably consistent. Apart from a sluggish November, Holland recorded 15 points or more in each month of the season.

After Guelph was eliminated by the Saginaw Spirit in the first round of the OHL playoffs, Holland enjoyed a productive three-game cup of coffee with Syracuse. He recorded three goals and three assists, showing a bright glimpse of what he might offer a Crunch team that also got improved offense from Kyle Palmieri and Patrick Maroon as the season progressed.

Despite his similar per-game production, Holland shouldered not only considerable responsibility this season but also took on a diversified role with his club. He played in all situations, including quarterbacking Guelph’s power play at times. A powerful forward with a wide array of offensive talents, Holland could challenge for a roster spot but will likely be part of what may be shaping up as a potent Syracuse club next season.


Devante Smith-Pelly, LW, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
Acquired: 2nd Round, 42nd Overall, 2010

Smith-Pelly may not have shown significant statistical improvement but he remained at the fulcrum of the Mississauga juggernaut this season in the OHL. A gritty player who has both the hands and the will to work in tight spaces below the faceoff circles, Smith-Pelly also provided booming hits and timely goals in key situations this season. Smith-Pelly scored 15 goals in 20 playoff games, which tied him for the league lead. Seven of his first 11 goals were either tying goals or go-ahead goals. He then exploded for a hat trick in a potentially pivotal game five victory and scored once more in a losing effort in game six. Although Mississauga fell to Owen Sound in seven games, they will compete for this year’s Memorial Cup as the host team.

He has strong mentors at the NHL level, working out regularly with Los Angeles’ Wayne Simmonds and St. Louis’s Chris Stewart. Both players have been impressed with Smith-Pelly’s work ethic and commitment to physical conditioning as well as his competitiveness. Simmonds compared Smith-Pelly’s playing style to Stewart’s with a bit of toughness shaved off the edges.

A stout, fearless and relentless player with solid defensive awareness, Smith-Pelly has the tools to become a reasonably complete NHL player or specialize to develop a niche over time. At just 18 years old, Smith-Pelly will likely return to what has been a dominant Mississauga team next season although he is quickly developing the physique and strong mental game of a pro to challenge for a spot in camp next year.

Scott Valentine, D, Oshawa Generals
Acquired: 6th Round, 166th Overall, 2009

Valentine nearly doubled his point total and went from a minus-31 to a sound plus-17 for the much-improved Oshawa Generals. He has earned a reputation as one of the hardest and cleanest body-checking defensemen in the OHL. The 20-year-old continued to improve his strength and use his stick with increasing effectiveness. Valentine has become a respected member not only of his team but of the Oshawa community, as he was awarded the team’s Red Tilson Community Service Award.

In addition to a strong physical presence, Valentine has added a little more nastiness to his game this year and also been produced offensively at key times. He topped 100 penalty minutes, including a slew-footing major that earned him a one-game suspension. In a 5-4 victory over the Sudbury Wolves in February, Valentine scored the game-winning goal when he unleashed a thunderous slapper on a shorthanded penalty shot midway through the third period.

Valentine’s role and responsibility should continue to expand. If he returns as an overager to an Oshawa squad set to sustain the loss of multiple rearguards, he could become their top defenseman. Should he head to Syracuse, he could see significant duty immediately. The Crunch were starved for a physical presence on the blue line as well as reliable puck-movers this season.

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