Large group of Anaheim prospects ready for NHL duty

By Andrew Knoll
Photo: Defenseman Justin Schultz had a fantastic junior season with the University of Wisconsin, managing 16 goals and 28 assists in 37 games. (Photo courtesy of David Stluka/Icon SMI)

The Ducks have not been terribly aggressive in free agency or the trade market of late, but that may be a result of their burgeoning depth at the lower levels of the organization. Anaheim has stashed talent in many corners of the hockey world, building a system replete with skill and speed.

1. (1) Kyle Palmieri, RW, 8C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2009

Palmieri continued to even out his consistency and refine his skills this season. He had two stints with the big club, including a productive late-season stretch that likely assured him a full 82 games on the roster next season. Praised by teammates and coaches for his complete game and explosive scoring ability, Palmieri looks to head the coming generation of Ducks offensive stars. Teemu Selanne, whom he may replace in the Ducks' lineup ultimately, has said that there is no discernible weakness in Palmieri's game.

2. (2) Emerson Etem, RW, 8C
Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2010

Etem has continued to work on his physical strength and defensive skills. While he needs to continue to improve in those areas as well as his play away from the puck, Etem has become an increasingly intriguing prospect. He courted a goal-per-game season in the WHL, falling just four tallies short of the feat. His compact stance, fluid stride, swift acceleration and quick release mean he could develop into a game-breaking player at the top level. Etem seems like a solid bet to either secure a roster spot in camp next year or contend for the AHL rookie of the year.

3. (5) Justin Schultz, D, 8C
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2008

Schultz has developed into a leader at Wisconsin not only on stat sheet but in the locker room as well. He has shown tremendous commitment to rounding out his game and improving his conditioning. Schultz seems to have a pro work ethic and there exists little doubt that he has the puck-moving skills to thrive in the contemporary NHL. The Ducks had hoped he might join them after the conclusion of the NCAA season but a curious contract situation steered Schultz away from joining the club. That same situation has led to a bit of uncertainty about his future with the organization, though the Ducks will try aggressively to get him signed this summer.

4. (3) Peter Holland, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2009

Holland had an outstanding campaign in the AHL, notching 60 points in 70 games. He also had a cup of coffee with the Ducks, during which he scored his first NHL goal. Holland has begun to put his game together and even out his effort level. Few have questioned Holland's tools and now he has assembled them in one box as a shoot-first center with solid vision, passing ability, and size. The Ducks would be elated if Holland could assume a role on their roster soon, as the centers behind captain Ryan Getzlaf may not be long-term players in the Anaheim organization.

5. (4) Devante Smith-Pelly, W, 7B
Drafted 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2010

Smith-Pelly has become a favorite among coaches, teammates, and fans alike in short order. Though he missed a chunk of the season for the World Juniors, where he sustained an ankle injury, Smith-Pelly made the Ducks' roster out of camp and finished the year in Anaheim. He imposed his will physically on players up to twice his age, game up with some big offensive plays and all-around showed the potential to develop into a power forward. Coach Bruce Boudreau said he showed considerably more offensive potential than the Ducks generally expected and generally demonstrated the qualities of a winning player.

6. (6) Sami Vatanen, D, 7.5C
Drafted 4th round, 106th overall, 2009

Vatanen courted a point-per-game season from the blue line in Finland's top pro league this season. He posted career-high offensive totals across the board and played an even larger role for his club. Vatanen has speed, acceleration, vision and imagination. What he lacks is size, though speedy, puck-moving defenseman on the small side have found new life in the new NHL. If he can continue to develop elite skill, there will certainly be a prominent place in the NHL for Vatanen.

7. (8) John Gibson, G, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 39th overall, 2011

Gibson not only performed about expectations this season as an OHL rookie, he did so amid turbulent circumstances around him. He also did not fade over the course of the season and, in fact, he has turned in considerably stronger playoffs in the postseason thus far. Gibson has looked the part of a cornerstone between the pipes, playing a poised game with efficient motion and deceptive athleticism. He should gain more valuable experience next season competing again in the OHL and within the U.S. national program.

8. (11) Rickard Rakell, C/W, 7C
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2011

Rackell was one of these Swedish standouts in the Ducks system to thrive during his country's gold-medal run at the World Juniors. Of the trio, Rakell possesses the most advanced physical development, the highest draft standing, and the most North American experience. He completed his second OHL season, improving upon nearly all his offensive numbers and producing a point-per-game campaign. Rakell is a sound player in all areas of the game with good vision and a quick release. While all three players have demonstrated high talent levels, Rakell seems to be the closest to making his mark at the top level.

9. (13) William Karlsson, C, 7C
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2011

Karlsson also performed well for Sweden's Under-20 club and gave the world a glimpse of his ability to change speeds, make plays on the rush and recognize plays quickly. He also had a very productive season in the Allsvenskan men's league. An apt playmaker and strong skater, Karlsson gives the Ducks the sort of center they have sought since the departure of Andy McDonald. While he may not step in immediately for the Ducks, with seasoning and strength condition, Karlsson could play a strong role for the team sometime in the not-so-distant future.

10. (NR) Max Friberg, W, 7C
Drafted 5th round, 143rd overall, 2011

No prospect emerged in international competition quite like Friberg, who notched 11 points in six World Junior Championship games and 26 points in 16 games overall with Sweden's Under-20 selection. A fifth-round selection, Friberg has easily identified himself as the fastest riser in the Ducks organization by demonstrating a mix of speed, skill, strength, and competitiveness that went overlooked by many front offices. Friberg clearly has a professional future as he combines the work ethic of a checker with the talent of a potential top-six winger. He battles hard, recovers pucks along the boards, is positionally sound, and forechecks aggressively. His quick acceleration and creative hockey mind may give fans more to look forward to than a dependable role player, but either way he has a strong shot at reaching the top level or excelling in Sweden, where he contributed effectively as an Eliteserien rookie this season.

11. (18) Andy Welinski, D, 7C
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2011

Welinski stands out at the next fastest riser in the Ducks organization. Although his offensive production trailed off later in the season, both his offensive numbers and confidence with the puck increased considerably this season. He went from 14 to 37 points and upped his plus/minus rating from plus-10 to plus-35. A skilled, puck carrying defenseman with a potent shot, Welinski battles hard on defense and uses his stick effectively. Welinski has good pound-for-pound strength and projects as a puck-moving defenseman with a bit of grit to his defensive game. Right now the Ducks could use the type of player Welinski projects as, but for now they must wait patiently as he continues his development.

12. (10) Patrick Maroon, W, 7C
Acquired via trade with Philadelphia, November 21st, 2010

Maroon has been a phenomenal acquisition for the Syracuse Crunch, making an immediate impact last year and leading the club in scoring this season. He fell a point shy of a point-per-game campaign and the power forward added grit to the lineup with 120 penalty minutes as well. Maroon is a big man with soft hands and the ability to find quiet ice in order to use them. While he has had some setbacks in his development, he now appears back on track at age 24. Maroon made his NHL debut this season, playing in two games for the Ducks. His conditioning has not been an issue and the question now is if Maroon can develop into an NHL power forward or if he will remain a valuable AHLer and depth player.

13. (NR) Chris Wagner, C, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 122nd overall, 2010

Wagner has proven an excellent value selection for the Ducks as he absolutely exploded in his sophomore season at Colgate. He point totals rocketed from 19 to 51 as he played and prospered in all situations. Wagner's defensive responsibility and ability to win draws kept him on the ice to put up those huge numbers. He has a quick release and an accurate wrist shot, evidence by his recording at least one shot on net in all but one game this season. As Wagner matures physically and thrives in a leadership role, he will certainly be a player to watch within the Ducks organization.

14. (17) Matt Clark, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2009

Clark continued to make strides this season. He has improved his decision-making, confidence and concentration both offensively and defensively over the past two seasons. The Ducks even rewarded him for his labor with a late-season NHL debut as some of their veterans nursed injuries during an academic stretch of the season. While Clark will still need to better define his game, refine his instincts, and tone his body to excel in the NHL, he has come a long way in a short period of time and may become a steady option as a depth defenseman in the near future.

15. (14) Kevin Lind, D, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 177th overall, 2010

Lind's physical development has been impressive and he combines size and mobility that few if any other Ducks prospects do. He has also played at the highest level of college competition during his Notre Dame career, establishing himself as a strong battler with competitiveness to spare. Lind excels in one-on-one battles and could be a shutdown defenseman with the right tutelage and development. All that said, his offensive confidence has not developed and his production has regressed. In a way, this spot could be reserved for a handful of bigger NCAA defenseman-including Ryan Hegarty and Nick Pryor at Maine as well as Northeastern's Josh Manson-whom the Ducks hope can develop enough to fill an important defensive role.

16. (NR) Brett Perlini, W, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 192nd overall, 2010

Perlini has produced and competed consistently over his four-year career at Michigan State, where he has established himself as a strong leader and an excellent teammate. He possesses above average skill and speed with the grit, persistence, and drive to maximize his gifts. Perlini will probably never be a 30-goal guy in the NHL but he could develop into a winning player who recovers pucks, wins battles, excels in races to the puck and generally busts his behind on every shift in pursuit of a victory.

17. (NR) Radislav Illo, C/W, 7D
Drafted 5th round, 136th overall, 2009

Illo seems to be hitting his stride in the North American game, playing an expanded role at the NCAA level and picking up his contribution accordingly. Illo left Slovakia at a young age to explore his hockey prospects in North America and a measured path to his development may be paying off now. Illo has sharpened his instincts, rounding into a player with solid hockey sense and a quick release on an accurate shot. Illo has also added some weight and strength, although he still has plenty of room for improvement there. While his future remains a bit hazy, Illo has followed a bold path to where his game stands today and appears to be a promising talent with a solid work ethic.

18. (12) Igor Bobkov 7D
Drafted 3rd round, 76th overall, 2009

Bobkov spent the bulk of his season as a rare overage import in the OHL, playing for a horrendous Kingston Frontenacs squad that acquired him in the hopes of stopping some defensive hemorrhaging. For the second straight year, Bobkov performed adequately at the AHL level, posting better numbers in a late-season cup of coffee there then he did against his junior peers during the year. Bobkov takes up a lot of nylon and, in addition to his size, is a solid athlete with excellent battling skills. That said, he has remained raw and being in relatively instable situations may have inhibited his development of good habits. It remains very difficult to evaluate the real Bobkov, but until he has consistent success at some level, he will be trailed by the "project" label.

19. (NR) Tim Heed, D, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 132nd overall, 2010

Heed has established himself as an offensive force on the blue line in Sweden's second-tier Allsvenskan men's league. A converted forward, Heed has all the speed, skill and offensive bravado one might expect from a winger turned rover. Heed will need to either round his physique and defensive game or develop into an elite offensive player to get a strong look at the NHL or perhaps even a top role in the Eliteserien. With a more promising undersized European defenseman in the organization and no immediate prospect of Heed coming to North America, an NHL career might be a fanciful at this point, despite his skill.

20. (NR) Luca Caputi, LW, 6.5D
Acquired via trade with Toronto, January 3rd, 2012

Caputi has an outside chance of being another outstanding reclamation project in the mold of Maroon. Caputi hit dead ends in his last two stops as the Penguins traded him while he still had value and he feasted on his own fame as a local boy competing for the Toronto Marlies. Caputi also had a quick start with Syracuse once the Ducks acquired him. While he did not keep up the torrid pace of his first half dozen games, he finished with a respectable 22 points in 39 games and a plus-five rating, marking the first time he was a plus player at the AHL level. While Caputi may never develop into the power forward his biggest supporters figured, he seems to have effectively redirected what had been a meandering career.