‏Anaheim Ducks rely on both Europe and US colleges to maintain the pipeline

By Jason Lewis
Grant Besse - Anaheim Ducks

Photo: Anaheim Ducks prospect Grant Besse has had few celebrations in his career with the Wisconsin Badgers, but a new coach next season brings new opportunity (courtesy of David Berding/Icon Sportswire)

While the Anaheim Ducks have always had an affinity towards the European style of player, in recent years they have invested heavily in the NCAA via the USHL. No better example of that can be found than the most recent 2015 Draft where the Ducks, with their seven selections, drafted two players from Europe and four players from the USHL.

The year before that, with five picks, they took two players from Europe and two players out of the USHL and U.S. High School circuit (the Peterborough Petes’ Nick Ritchie being the other). It seems to be a direction the organization is comfortable with, and they have a plethora of players nearing the end of their collegiate careers, with several others just breaking in. Check out how they have done as many wrap up 2015-16 and head toward the playoffs and end of the year tournament.

NCAA

Grant Besse, LW/RW, University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)
‏Drafted 5th round, 147th overall, 2013

‏The Wisconsin Badgers had a rough season. They were eliminated from the Big Ten tournament by Penn State, their coach was fired, and they finished at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Besse, nevertheless, was a bright spot once again. He led the Badgers in points and assists with 33 and 11 respectively. The junior saw top-line minutes as well as top power play minutes. He is undersized but does play with a bit of jam which is nice to see. However, it remains to be seen how good of a defensive player he is, considering Wisconsin’s overall struggles. The Ducks have a decision to make on whether or not they want to offer him a contract, and get him out of what will likely be a struggling Wisconsin squad in 2016-17 as well.
 
Andy Welinski, D, University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC)
‏Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2011

‏It seems like forever ago that 22-year old Andy Welinski was taken in the third round of the NHL entry draft. After two years in the USHL, and four years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the consistent puck mover will see his ride come to a close shortly. Welinski has been one of Duluth’s most consistent defensemen over the years, and this year was no different. While he did not shatter any personal records, he again contributed to another solid year, leading the Bulldog’s defensive corps in scoring. His team next meets with defending national champions Providence in the  Division I Hockey Championships. It is hard to imagine the Ducks do not tender him a contract at the end of his collegiate career. He seems to have earned it.

Kevin Roy, C/W, Northeastern University (Hockey East)
‏Drafted 4th round, 97th overall, 2012

‏His final year was tumultuous. The normally high-scoring Kevin Roy had to endure injuries that caused him to miss the first portion of the year, and then he had what was likely the longest cold streak of his NCAA career. He missed the entire month of December and almost all of January, which led to him not scoring a goal in his first 16 games of the year. But once he broke the seal on February 12th, it was back to status quo for the Lac-Beauport, Quebec native. He scored 10 goals and 17 points in the final 12 games of the year.

While his season was statistically lower than normal, it is hard to fault him given the struggles he had. Northeastern’s huge turnaround this season – starting 1-10-2 but eventually clinching the team’s first Hockey East title since 1988 and first NCAA Tournament berth since 2009 – is one of college hockey’s best stories this season, and Roy is central to it. Despite his size, Roy should earn himself a contract with the Ducks once his season is completed.

Brian Cooper, D, University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCHC)
‏Drafted 5th round, 127th overall, 2012

‏Senior Brian Cooper’s season ended with a sweep at the hands of fellow Ducks prospect Troy Terry and Denver in the NCHC playoffs. The small, yet feisty, defenseman never saw his offensive game flourish much in the NCHC with Nebraska-Omaha, but he still possesses an offensive and puck-moving flash to him. Whether the Ducks offer him a contract now that his college career is over remains to be seen.

Troy Terry, C/W, University of Denver (NCHC)
‏Drafted 5th round, 148th overall, 2015

‏Terry has had an excellent freshman season with the Pioneers, including a three point, two goal series against Nebraska-Omaha to get Denver into the end of the year tournament. Denver had a scoring committee this year, and despite being just seventh on the team in scoring, he was the second highest scoring freshman on the squad. He should be a fun forward to watch develop with Denver, as he is already making an impact early in his collegiate career in a limited role.

Keaton Thompson, D, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
‏Drafted 3rd round, 87th overall, 2013

‏Despite being with the squad for several years, Keaton Thompson’s position on the UND blueline corps has changed little. From his first taste of college hockey to now, the low-flash blueliner has been a bottom-pairing or seventh defenseman with a fairly deep North Dakota group. He has, if anything, been a responsible option to eat minutes on a bottom pair while allowing his partners to take hold of some more offensive plays. He has made incremental improvements year after year, but has yet to have a big breakout season.

Brent Gates, C, University of Minnesota (Big Ten)
‏Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, 2015

‏The Ducks are looking for upside with the young and athletic Brent Gates. His minutes and his production (three goals and seven points over 35 games) have been fairly low this season, but he has at least been a contributing factor as a freshman. Nevertheless, the future is what is promising with Gates. He is a big and still growing athletic center, with a great shot and good hockey sense. Do not be surprised if there is a jump in production in the coming years as his minutes elevate and his role increases.

Steven Ruggiero, D, Providence College (Hockey East)
‏Drafted 6th round, 178th overall, 2015

‏The lanky rearguard has been an eighth defenseman for the deep and talented Providence squad. Thus he has only seen ten games on the season, last playing on February 20th. At age 19, Ruggiero will likely figure more into the future plans of the top-seeded Providence. That being said, the Friars have only two senior defenseman and five upperclassmen out of the 10 D on their squad. He will face stiff competition from here on out.

Europe

Nick Sorensen, RW, Linköping (SHL)
‏Drafted 2nd round, 45th overall, 2013

‏The 21-year old had a difficult time last year with injuries that held him out of the lineup most of the year. However, in 2015-16 he has been a fairly solid addition to the middle lines of his new team of Linköping HC. Sorensen was playing middle-six minutes, with power play and penalty kill time with the team known to its fans as “Cluben”. His team was knocked out of the playoffs in the early rounds, but altogether he was sixth on the team in goals, with less games played than many in front of him. He also put up plenty of shots, a few power play goals and had some fairly good defensive numbers. He is currently considered “on loan” to the SHL for the Ducks and could return at anytime.

Jacob Larsson, D, Frölunda (SHL)
‏Drafted 1st round, 27th overall, 2015

‏Frölunda is marching deep into the SHL playoffs after another good year, and Jacob Larsson has been a competent second-pairing defenseman for the squad. His 14 points rank third among the team’s blueliners, and he is playing 16:35 a night: impressive for an 18-year old. While some questioned the Ducks taking Larsson so early in the draft, that smooth-skating Euro-style defenseman is something Anaheim just could not pass up. It looks like a pretty good move thus far, as he is competing at a fairly high level and doing well. He has size, skill, speed, and is playing at a competition level above his age. He will be with Frölunda one more season having signed an extension in February of last year. It would not be surprising to see him push into top-pairing minutes in 2016-17.

Marcus Petterson, D, Skellefteå (SHL)
‏Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2014

‏With Pettersson it is all about the upside. The lanky two-way blueliner has spent almost the entirety of the season up with the Skellefteå senior squad, albeit playing just around 12 minutes a night. That is a major step for him after having split his last two season’s between the youth squad and the minor league team. That is a big accomplishment considering Skellefteå was the number one team in the SHL this year. As of March 22, he and his team were through to the semifinals of the SHL playoffs, awaiting their next opponents. Altogether it has been a successful, high-level year for Pettersson, who also had an impressive U20-World Junior Championships with Sweden.

USHL

Garrett Metcalf, G, Waterloo Blackhawks
‏Drafted 6th round, 179th overall, 2015

‏The USHL is generally a league that can be fairly difficult to score in, yet you will still see most goaltenders in the league in the .920-.900 range as they are still developing their games. Garrett Metcalf was certainly in the conversation for a top 10-15 goalie in the USHL when he was playing for the Madison Capitols and logging a .907 save percentage. However, a mid-season move to Waterloo not only hurt his numbers, but it put him in a backup role behind Cale Morris when he struggled. He has had only six starts in the last month and they have been extremely hit or miss. Nevertheless, on the year, Metcalf holds a somewhat respectable .902 save percentage and 2.81 goals against. He will need to really improve and work on his game this offseason if he is to take a significant shot at legitimate playing time over the two sophomore-to-be goaltenders, Sean Cleary and Christoffer Hernberg, at UMass-Lowell.

Matt Berkovitz, D, Green Bay Gamblers
‏Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2014

‏The Ducks have gone deep in their collegiate and USHL scouting in recent years, and Berkowitz is exactly the kind of raw and talented player they are hoping pans out over a longer development time frame. Mainly a two-way defenseman with developing size and skating, he has had an altogether strong and responsible year with Green Bay. Next year he is committed to the University of Wisconsin, where the competition will really ramp up and we will see what the Green Bay native is made of.

Prospect of the Month

Ondrej Kase - Anaheim DucksThe road to recovery has been a frustrating and tumultuous one for Ducks prospect Ondrej Kase. While no one really knew what to expect from the 2014 7th round pick and Czech-2 league standout as a first year pro, his debut run was shortlived. He was injured with a concussion back on October 21st, just three games into the season. He missed almost four months of the season trying to recover from his injury, all while getting used to a new surrounding, a new country, and a new language. Since his healthy return to the lineup, the highly skilled winger has scored eight points and four goals in his last 12 games, putting him at ten points in 15 games on the season. While there are probably players out there in the Ducks system who have had more productive months, Kase’s his fine return to form and health make him this month’s Prospect of the Month.