While the NHL season has been altogether disappointing for the Anaheim Ducks, fans should take solace in the fact that the AHL team is not having a particularly bad season. They started quite hot, cooled considerably in November but started to come back around in December. With the current way the AHL is structured, with the Pacific playing fewer games, it is hard to get a handle on just how they compare with the rest of the league as of right now. Personnel moves in the organization will also affect the team as the season enters its critical second-half.
Be that as it may, they have a roster loaded with future NHL talent. They have also handed the division-leading Ontario Reign three of their six total losses on the season. There is some definite quality about the Gulls, and with players being sent back down to the minors and others returning from injury they should be a team that challenges later in the year if everything goes according to play. Let’s get down to individual players.
Stefan Noesen, 22, RW
Noesen’s injury riddled career is finally starting to level out. He had a good limited second half with Norfolk last season, a great preseason with the Ducks, but has altogether scuffled with San Diego this season. It is not for lack of opportunity either. The winger has seen time with the likes of Nick Ritchie, Michael Sgarbossa, and the Gulls top power play unit as well. For whatever reason though, he has posted just three goals and twelve points in his 30 games. Outside of a statistical standpoint, Noesen plays a respectable two-way game, and has become increasingly physical. He can skate well, finishes his checks, and works hard in the corners. There is a lot to like about his game overall even though the production is not currently there. He has seen primarily top-six time, and his skill level suggests the offense should come around at some point.
Joseph Cramarossa, 23, LW
The Toronto native has been a staple on the Gulls bottom line. While he is a natural centerman, he has given way to Nic Kerdiles and moved off to the wing for the majority of the season. While he is not much in the way of offense normally, the winger has seven goals on the year but at an obscenely high shooting percentage around 18%. That will more than likely come down. He is a very physical, grinding player, but needs to work on his defensive game and footspeed. In viewings this season, Cramarossa can get beat to pucks on the first step if he is not anticipating well. Still, he is an energy line forward who can win battles on the boards and in front.
Ondrej Kase, 20, W
The 2014 seventh-rounder has hardly factored into the Gulls lineup, playing in just three matches this year after taking a hit to the head in October. He has one goal and on assist in the three contests and had played primarily bottom line minutes.
Shea Theodore, 20, D
If there was one word to describe Shea Theodore, it would have to be: Smooth.
He is just a smooth all-around two-way defenseman. He takes his risks in a calculated way, but also does not leave himself open to be exposed defensively. He skates well enough to jump into the play and recover with relative ease. He looks confident and comfortable in controlling the play this season in the AHL, but will probably want to be more aggressive in the future in joining the attack. He has been a part of the Gulls top D unit, and while he normally sees even strength time with Andrew O’Brien, he will also double shift with other members of the Gulls blueline corps. He will not wow you overall in flashy play like a Brandon Montour-style defenseman, but the 20-year old is as silky as could be. In his rookie season of the AHL he already shows flashes of supreme confidence and intelligent play with the puck. Keep an eye on this kid. He has already earned one NHL call up in his young career, with five games played so far, in which he has registered ten shots on goal and has ramped up into the 20 minutes a night range.
Nick Ritchie, 20, RW
One of the other big boys down in San Diego has been Nick Ritchie. The tenacious winger leads the Gulls in goals with 11 on the season, and has earned himself an NHL call up and his first NHL start already. The 6’2” forward is brutish in his approach. Alongside Noesen and Sgarbossa, Ritchie has been the disruptor. He constantly finds himself in the high scoring areas and is a battler in front. He is strong, and uses his body position well to box out defenders in front. He may not always be the most deft of puck handlers, but if he continues to put himself in high scoring areas the goals are always going to be there. The physical nature of Ritchie makes him a handful for opposing defenders, and that has led to strong production thus far.
Andrew O’Brien, 23, D
He has been playing a bit of top four minutes for the Gulls this year, bouncing between playing shutdown for Theodore and alongside other shutdown D Jaycob Megna. He has a pretty blue collar approach to the game and focuses on taking care of his end primarily. There is very little offense to speak of from the Ducks 2012 4th round pick. He kills penalties and mainly stays on the defensive side of the puck. Every team needs a little something like what O’Brien brings to the table.
Jaycob Megna, 23, D
He is a player of similar ilk to Andrew O’Brien, but a bit less of a physical presence. This year he has been one of San Diego’s true blue shutdown players. He gets penalty kill time and has been paired up with Shane O’Brien and Andrew O’Brien for decent stretches of the season. He has no goals in 25 games and only three assists. However, he has taken just one minor penalty on the year. He is a decent skater and has exceptional reach at 6’5. He will not stand out to you in viewing a game, but for a player of Megna’s style, that is a good thing. He has had a steady year for the Gulls.
Nic Kerdiles, 21, C
Kerdiles has had his struggles this year, but remains one of the better Gulls forwards on the team. He has been shifted into a somewhat precarious position in the lineup with Chris Mueller and Michael Sgarbossa slotted ahead of him in the top six. Ergo, Kerdiles has drawn into the lineup with some pretty questionable offensive quality wingers like Tim Jackman or Joseph Cramarossa. Nevertheless he has managed at least some success and is getting power play and penalty kill minutes.
He is arguably one of San Diego’s most active and effective penalty killing forwards. He has proven a capable two-way center, which is good news for his overall projection as a potential top 9 center. The offensive skill is there but it really has yet to have a chance to flourish this season. He has, however, proven to be a worthwhile defensive minded center. With elevated minutes and better wingers, Kerdiles could do damage at the AHL level. His seven goals and the abysmal -14 rating do not exactly do justice to what he brings to the table.
Brandon Montour, 21, D
Montour’s meteoric rise through the junior circuit has not slowed down upon entering the pro level. He currently leads the Gulls in scoring with 28 points in 30 games from the backend, and is second in the league among rookies in scoring. Overall he is slotting in at 14th in the league in points and is second amongst defensemen. His fine season is something to be excited about if you are a Ducks fan. Montour has been an all-situations defenseman for the Gulls this year, and his smooth and aggressive style is certainly noticeable. He is active on the backend in moving the puck out of his zone and jumping into the attacking play. He is also an excellent skater with good top end speed and recovery speed. It makes beating him defensively that much more difficult. He is a bit on the smallish side, but that should not diminish the overall value, or lessen the stellar season he has had thus far.
Michael Sgarbossa, 23, C
The undrafted center has had something of a revival within the Ducks system. After a worthwhile rookie season with Lake Erie of the AHL, Sgarbossa tailed off in the following two years due to injury and inconsistency. However, he has 14 points in 21 games this year and is on pace to match his rookie season totals. He has been given plenty of opportunity by Dallas Eakins and plays in almost every situation for the Gulls. He has been suited up in the Gulls top six, normally on the top line with Nick Ritchie. He is a decent face-off man as well which has helped his overall utility. Sgarbossa has been one of the surprises of the Ducks prospects. He was traded in exchange for depth defenseman Mat Clark, which now looks like a potentially solid deal for Anaheim. He is fourth on the team amongst forwards in scoring
Matt Bailey, 24, RW
Bailey has been little outside of an energy line grinder for the Gulls. He has played in all but two of the Gulls 25 games this season, posting four points and one goal. He has some sandpaper to his game and is a decent defensive forward. However, there is not much in the way of offense thus far. Despite scoring at a point per game pace in his senior year at University of Alaska, that has yet to translate to the AHL.
Max Friberg, 23, W
Traded to the Montreal Canadiens this week, and set to report to the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps, Friberg had been a buzzy little forward with the Gulls and on pace to have another solid 40 point season. He was also called up to the Ducks earlier in the season.
While he is not a big guy, at 5’10”, Friberg plays a very noticeable and energetic game. He is a strong skater, a tenacious forechecker, and should have relevance as a bottom liner if he continues his run of form in the AHL.
Prospect of the Month
It has taken a bit, but it really looks like John Gibson is starting to settle into the NHL. The 22-year old has played in 16 games this year, holds a 8-5-2 record, but has an excellent .929 save percentage and 1.75 goals against average. He also has four shutouts. While there have been hiccups game to game, overall Gibson has put in more solid performances than clunkers. Is he finally starting to figure out NHL goaltending? The Ducks certainly hope so. It looks like he is in the bigs to stay this time, as Anaheim waived goalie Anton Khudobin in order to keep him on the roster.