Junior pool for Anaheim Ducks rife with high-end talent

By Andrew Knoll
Photo: John Gibson has been nothing short of impressive for the Kitchener Rangers this season, where he has a record of 11-4 and a 2.70 goals against average. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Anaheim Ducks have a small but significant group of players competing at the junior level. That assortment includes their two notable goaltending prospects, perhaps their most promising two-way defender, a potential top-six forward and arguably the most explosive goal-scorer in the CHL this season.

OHL

Igor Bobkov, G, Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired: 3rd round (76th overall) in 2009

Bobkov’s trajectory changed considerably as the Ducks built some organizational depth in net and the Kingston Frontenacs made the unlikely move to trade for Bobkov with the intention of keeping him as an overage import.

He has been the main man in goal for the struggling Fronts, posting a 7-12-3 record despite a respectable .907 save percentage. Bobkov’s numbers have not been overwhelming but at each level-the CHL, the Super Series, the World Juniors, and a brief stint in the AHL-he has piqued the interest of observers. One opposing coach has called him "an elite goalie" and last year he was part of huge wins by Russia on the international stage.

With Kingston, Bobkov has been seldom supported at either end of the ice, losing goaltending duels against the likes of Jack Campbell (DAL) and consistently facing many shots with limited offensive output from the Fronts. The 6’6 Bobkov has shown resilience and now solid conditioning as he has assumed the starter role. The hockey world will one day have an opportunity to evaluate him under better circumstances, likely next season when he will almost certainly step into a role with the AHL‘s Syracuse Crunch.

John Gibson, G, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 2nd round (39th overall) in 2011

Gibson has made a seamless transition to the OHL as he has been a rock in net for the Kitchener Rangers this season. At 11-4-0, his hot play propelled them to a phenomenal start. With loads of significant turnover, a sputtering power play and an even more troublesome penalty kill, it has been Gibson’s .927 save percentage and consistency that have buoyed the Rangers in the standings.

He keyed a five-game win streak, which ended at the hands of the Plymouth Whalers. Even in that 4-3 loss, Gibson stopped 46 of 50 shots he faced in an impressive comeback by Rikard Rakell and the Whalers.

Gibson has good size and lateral agility. He plays a conservative, technical style that emphasizes cutting down angles and effectiveness in the butterfly position. As an American that came through the USDP, he inevitably drew comparisons to Jack Campbell (DAL), whom he has outplayed to this point in his CHL career.

Rikard Rakell, C/W, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 1st round (30th overall) in 2011

A healthy 2011-12 campaign and a year of experience under his belt have catapulted Rakell from promising to producing. At over a point per game, Rakell has been a captivating offensive force for the Plymouth Whalers this season. He, Garrett Meurs (COL) and Stefan Noesen (OTT) have been a formidable line thus far, building on the chemistry they developed last season.

Rackell has been remarkably consistent offensively, posting fine totals without leaning on outbursts in a given game. He has been held scoreless in just eight of 25 games and he was riding an 11-game point streak at the time of this article’s publication.

In addition to his offensive contributions, Rakell has shown attention to detail in other areas of the game as well. He has continued to develop physically, gaining significant strength. He has taken critical faceoffs late in games. He has earned the trust of his coaches in important defensive situations. Perhaps most remarkably, he has also demonstrated a willingness to play physically without taking penalties.

WHL

Emerson Etem, C/W, Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired: 1st round (29th overall) in 2010

Stopping or even containing Medicine Hat’s Etem has seemed like a fantasy for WHL opponents this season, as he has soared around two points per contest and over a goal a game this season. The "Crouching Tiger" has terrorized opponents, turning in three hat tricks and earning the first WHL Player of the Month honors in 2011-12. His start has been one of the best in the history of the WHL and perhaps the best in recent memory.

Etem had four assists in a 5-0 drubbing of the Calgary Hitmen, he had two assists and the overtime game-winner against the Brandon Wheat Kings, and a four-point night against the Seattle Thunderbirds. All those games were among his remarkable games that did not include flying fedoras. He has had two eight-game goal streaks already this season in assembling an outright spectacular campaign.

Etem has matured physically, as he now approaches 200 pounds with deceptive strength. A quick skater with a knack for killing penalties, Etem has become more explosive as he has also inched closer to becoming a complete player.

USHL

Andy Welinski, D, Green Bay Gamblers
Acquired: 3rd round (83rd overall) in 2011

Welinski was one of the fastest-rising prospects in the 2011 Draft and this season he has shown exactly why. After a transitional year in which he posted a modest 14 points in 51 games, Welinski has exploded for 13 points in his first 14 games. He has also already surpassed his penalty-minute total from last season.

Welinski has been billed as a top defensive prospect in the USHL this season and he returns to a defense that stymied opponents regularly last year, allowing the fewest goals in the league. He figures even more prominently in the Green Bay Gamblers defense corps this season and thus far he has rewarded them with excellence in all situations.

At the draft, Welinski likened his game to that of the Los Angeles KingsJack Johnson, a rangy player who could play with an aggressive edge at both ends of the ice. While he may not have the puck-carrying capability of Johnson, he has certainly begun to tap his offensive potential this season. Defensively, Welinski could be a stronger shutdown player with a more robust physique than Johnson before all is said and done.