The Anaheim Ducks have done a good job taking mid-round picks and turning them into players of relevance within the organization and the NHL. They have finished strong in the standings for several years, which generally hurts a team’s ability to maintain a strong pipeline. However, General Manager Bob Murray has not only held on to many of his first-round picks, he has used them to select some outstanding players. Due to this, the Ducks pipeline has not lost much steam over the years, and they have several world class prospects waiting to make NHL impacts.
We have heard all about John Gibson in recent years, but the Ducks possess some outstanding defensive prospects like Shea Theodore and Jacob Larsson, and also some terrifying wingers like Nick Ritchie. Overall it is a strong group that has not lost much in the way of quality. While they are starting to look thinner at center and goaltending, they have the overall wealth in their top end prospects to overlook some deficiencies elsewhere.
Ritchie, at least from the early goings here, looks to be on the track to the NHL. His hulking power forward game fits right into the Ducks’ needs, as the team is looking to replace Matt Beleskey and find a more consistent answer in the top-six forwards. The tenth overall pick in the 2014 draft has ten points through the first ten games of his pro career with the San Diego Gulls. That includes eight goals. As the Anaheim offense continues to struggle, you have to wonder how long it will be before we see the 6’2” bull in a china shop make his NHL debut.
The other outstanding winger is Nic Kerdiles, who is off to a slow start but also possesses some intriguing offensive upside that could be an answer for the Ducks. His smooth overall game has developed quite well, but he is going to have to improve his goal totals at the AHL to get his cup of coffee in the future.
Max Friberg may also be within range of a full-time NHL gig very soon as well. He was Norfolk’s most frequent goal scorer last season, potting 40 points in 58 games. Both he and Kevin Roy suffer from the same knock though: they are both on the smallish side. That being said, Friberg has a hounding game that has looked workable in the AHL but has not yet translated to NHL offense since being summoned to Anaheim in early November.
The aforementioned Kevin Roy will play another and final season at Northeastern University. He is off pace currently for a third straight 40+ point campaign but remains a player with a range of skills who should probably be signed once the college season comes to a close.
The remaining player of the left wing group is Kenton Helgesen. He faces a tough challenge in remaining relevant in a pretty stacked wing group. The former Calgary Hitman had a wonderful final season of juniors, as switching from defense to wing proved fruitful. However, he started the year on injured reserve and will see some time with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL to get up to speed.
The Ducks left wing group remains fairly strong overall at the top, but lacks depth and variety.
While it is pretty clear that the weakest part of the Ducks pipeline is goaltending, center is not far behind it. The 2015 draft additions of Julius Nattinen and Troy Terry may be the saving grace to an altogether older and lacking group. Nattinen is a big-bodied Finn who possesses the puck well, and is off to an impressive scoring pace for the Barrie Colts in his rookie OHL campaign. Troy Terry is a product of the US National Team Development Program, a smaller player with a big shot who is finding his range as a freshman at Denver University.
Colgate University standout Chris Wagner has looked capable of being an NHL fourth-line center for the duration of this season, after paying dues in the minors over the last three seasons. He uses his speed and anticipation effectively in a somewhat limited forechecking role. After him, the pipeline is filled with questions.
Michael Sgarbossa, who was acquired in March of 2015 from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for defensive prospect Mat Clark, has been effective with the Ducks minor league affiliates in his limited time. Continued success may see the former Sudbury Wolf called into action in the NHL. With other minor league forwards Joseph Cramarossa (23 years old) and Charles Sarault (22), Sgarbossa (22) is part of an older center depth chart. It is also a group that lacks offensive potential and upside. None of these players project as much outside of a potential third-line players at their peak.
The additions of offensive horses and potential top-six players in Nattinen and Terry are definitely good boosts, but the center group is a weak one with limited impact.
Compared to the wealth of talent at left wing, the Ducks right wing group is lacking. That being said, there are some very good and tantalizing talents. Stefan Noesen had an excellent camp to start the year, but was ultimately sent back down to San Diego where he can hopefully (and finally) put together a healthy year of professional hockey. Also looking to make an impact at the pro level is 19-year-old Ondrej Kase. The big Czech is fresh off his title-winning year with Chomutov of the Czech second-tier, and has started pretty well with San Diego. For a seventh-round selection, the shifty winger (who can play both sides mind you) has had incredible staying power when it comes to relevant Ducks prospects. He may very well turn into a tremendous sleeper pick.
Nick Sorensen, Deven Sideroff, and Grant Besse give the Ducks a different look. All three provide good potential offensive skills, but a lack of one aspect of their game or another leaves question marks hanging above their heads. With Besse and Sideroff it is the size factor. With Sorensen it is the consistency and ability to play a north-south style. While the young Sideroff is new to the system, his combination of high-intensity effort and skill make him intriguing.
It is a wait and see approach with both Besse and Sorensen. The latter has been loaned to the SHL club Linköping, which is generally not a good sign two years post-draft, but nevertheless he has started strong this season and should remain in the conversation. The 21-year-old Grant Besse is in his junior year at Wisconsin where he was a top-ten scorer his freshman season on a team that had players like Kerdiles, LA Kings prospect Michael Mersch, and Buffalo prospect Jake McCabe to lead it. Last season he led an historically-awful Badgers squad in scoring, and he is off to another team-leading campaign in 2015-16.
Altogether it is a fair group with some players worth keeping an eye on. There are no standouts, but rather a couple of boom or bust players that may have an impact.
The overwhelming strength of the Ducks defensive group is ridiculous at this point. If each player within this depth chart pans out at their ceiling, you may be looking at three top-four defensemen. Those three are Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour, and Jacob Larsson. Each brings a different style, a different look, but a lot of potential. With Shea Theodore you get the crisp puck-moving, outstanding skating, and heads up creativity. Montour’s outright offensive force leaves him as a risk defensively, but a weapon offensively. He can skate, shoot, and plays an appealing and aggressive offensive game. Can he get away with it in the NHL though? Then you get the low-key yet quietly dynamic Larsson, who looks to be stellar two-way defenseman.
Outside of the three rock stars there are some good supporting players as well. Josh Manson vaulted into relevance as a bottom-pairing shutdown option at the NHL level last year. Andy Welinski has developed his two-way game nicely at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Finally, the enigmatic Marcus Pettersson is currently battling it out in the SHL with Skellefteå. His size and skating ability make him an intriguing player despite some inconsistent play. University of North Dakota junior Keaton Thompson brings size and should see some increase in scoring numbers this season as that squad hits full stride.
The lower end of the defensive group includes players like University of Nebraska-Omaha senior Brian Cooper and current San Diego Gull Jaycob Megna, who played three seasons at that same program. Matt Berkovitz is taking an additional USHL season before hitting the college ranks, but is expected to join the Wisconsin Badgers. Providence College freshman Steven Ruggiero was a teammate of Troy Terry’s in the US U-18 ranks.
Some of these players are newcomers, while others are simply players with limited skillets in one facet or another. Some, like Megna, are more defensive leaning, while others like Berkovitz are more of a puck-moving style player. While limited in upside, it gives the Ducks a nice diverse batch of blue liners that continues to be the backbone of their system.
The two-man Ducks goaltending group is easy to dissect. You have John Gibson, a potentially world class talent, and then Garrett Metcalf, a 19-year old late rounder in 2015 who is struggling to find his feet for a newer USHL franchise, the Madison Capitols. The latter is also committed to UMass-Lowell for next season where he can hopefully take his game to another level.
The real big man is, of course, John Gibson. The verdict? Uncertain. Gibson has had a rather interesting career arc thus far. He has gone from Team USA hero at both the U-20 World Junior Championships and the World Championships in 2012-13, to struggling to usurp the twined throne of the Ducks goaltending depth chart. What has not helped is the inconsistency and the injuries he has suffered. Gibson has put up respectable numbers at the AHL level, but not anything that would instill confidence in him being an every day NHL starter. Furthermore, he has posted average numbers when given the opportunity to start at the NHL as well. Goaltending is a very slow development process, and John Gibson and the Ducks are currently enduring that. He is just 22 years of age, but there is a lot riding on him to take over for the pending free agent number one in Anaheim, Freddie Andersen. It is hard to know where Gibson goes at this point, as he is in a state of limbo between the NHL and AHL. Better AHL performances would probably help solidify his status moving forward.
The Ducks, in general, have always had a bit of a weak goaltending pipeline. It remains their weakest area, and it would not be surprising to see them pull another goalie prospect for the group in the 2016 Draft.