Even though in 2012 the Anaheim Ducks suffered their worst regular season finish in eight years, there is a ton to be excited about moving forward for Ducks hockey. Over the years the organization has compiled a solid group of hard working, blue-collar prospects, several which are on the cusp of NHL careers. The list may be void of a true stand out "superstar" but the Ducks have compiled a plethora of solid puck-moving defenseman and gritty and talented forwards. Names like Emerson Etem, Sami Vatanen, and Nicolas Kerdiles are just a few on a long list that is filled with potential.
Here are some of the players to keep an eye on as we start the 2012-2013 AHL, CHL, European, and amateur seasons:
Top Pro Prospect
Emerson Etem, RW, Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Etem, a 29th overall pick by the Ducks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, is coming off his best season ever with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL. In 2011-2012 he accumulated 107 points over 65 games, including a league-high 61 goals. He also recorded 13 points in seven games for the Tigers in the WHL playoffs. Etem, 20, will start the year off with the Ducks AHL affiliate the Norfolk Admirals. It will be a big season for Etem as he adjusts to the speed and physicality of professional hockey and continues to fill out his 6'0 frame and get stronger. Among the Ducks prospects, Etem has the best all-around skill set to be a successful top-six forward at the next level. A full year of AHL play with the occasional call up will help him as he continues to grow and develop his game. That being said, there is nothing stopping the California native from succeeding at the NHL level in the near future.
Devante Smith-Pelly, LW, Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Devante Smith-Pelly was easily the biggest surprise coming out of camp last season for the Anaheim Ducks. The former second-round pick of the 2010 draft was so impressive that he skipped his final year of OHL availability with Mississauga and went straight on to the NHL. Smith-Pelly immediately scratched an itch with Ducks management with his physical, two-way style. He had 13 points in 49 games and played a remarkably responsible game given his age and experience. Smith-Pelly logged time in every situation for the Ducks, be it power play, shorthanded, or even-strength. With a year of NHL experience already under his belt, and a lockout currently in place, Smith-Pelly has the opportunity to learn to use his size and strength in the AHL to improve his point totals at the next level. The Anaheim Ducks have always loved big power-forwards, and if the 20-year-old Smith-Pelly can develop on the offensive side of the puck they will be looking at a solid long-term contributor in every situation.
Kyle Palmieri, RW, Norfolk Admirals (AHL)
Since being drafted 26th overall in the 2009 draft, Kyle Palmieri has patiently been biding his time and putting in solid seasons with the Ducks' former AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch. Although Palmieri stands at just 5'11 he has proven that his size does not hinder his ability. He scored at nearly a point per game pace over his first two AHL seasons with 109 points in 113 games. With only 28 games NHL experience Palmieri has not had a long-term opportunity to earn a place with the Ducks quite yet. However, this offseason the Ducks acquired no real top-six replacements for aging forwards Teemu Selanne or Saku Koivu, not to mention the newly-retired Jason Blake. A promotion from within looks almost certain, as Emerson Etem will likely get a year in the AHL, and is the only other forward available to step into such a role. However, until the eventual retirement of iron man Teemu Selanne, Palmieri could end up playing a bottom-six energy role. Either way, it looks like Palmieri's time for the NHL might be coming.
Top Junior Prospect
Rickard Rakell, RW, Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Swedish native Rickard Rakell looks to be the Ducks most prized possession in the Junior leagues this season. Starting off his third season with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, Rakell has already put together two solid seasons with a point per game pace, coupled with a strong all-situations, two-way game. The 19-year-old 2011 first-round pick of the Ducks has developed his filled out and now stands at 6'1 and 195 pounds to go along with a solid on-ice resume, which includes a gold medal at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Calgary. His future with the Ducks looks to be in good shape, as his style fits in almost anywhere in the lineup. For Rakell, a healthy and productive season will leave him in promising position moving forward to the AHL next year and beyond. He is off to a solid start with six goals and nine points in his first 10 games of the season.
New Team in 2012-13
Joseph Cramarossa, C, Belleville Bulls (OHL)
Centerman Joseph Cramarossa begins his 2012-2013 campaign with a new team, sort of. Cramarossa started 2011-2012 in his third season with the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors of the OHL, but dealt with a rash of injuries. He was subsequently traded in January to the OHL Belleville Bulls where he played 29 games, and participated in a first round playoff loss to the Ottawa 67's in six games. Cramarossa will not be a complete stranger to his "new team" but he will have a fresh, healthy start as an alternate captain with Belleville. His physical style, leadership, and work ethic should quickly endear him to fans and teammates alike if it has not already. It is a new day and a new opportunity for Cramarossa to shine in 2012-2013, but he will have to puck up the pace after four points in his first 11 games of the season.
Defenseman and fourth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Andrew O'Brien also starts the 2012-2013 year on a new team. This offseason, after a stellar playoff run with the QMJHL Chicoutimi Sagueneens, O'Brien was traded to the Rouyn-Norunda Huskies. Towards the end of the season with Chicoutimi, and specifically the playoffs, O'Brien showed notable improvements in production. With his move to the Huskies, O'Brien can take hold of an increased role with the team. If he continues to develop he could see an improvement upon the 29 point season he achieved last year, and a significant improvement on his +2 rating. He is currently tied for second among defensemen on the Huskies with four points through 12 games this season while maintaining a +7 rating.
Top Amateur Prospect
Nicolas Kerdiles, C, University of Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)
The Anaheim Ducks are loaded with amateur level prospects playing in the NCAA, and USHL, but left wing Nicolas Kerdiles stands out as the top player to watch this year. The 2012 second-round pick was set to start the season with the University of Wisconsin, but his future with the school is currently in limbo due to an alleged violation of amateurism with the NCAA. The California native fits the Anaheim Ducks mold as a big, physical power forward, who can punish you with his body, or with his goal-scoring. He already has a pair of gold medals to his name as well, helping the USA juniors to consecutive crowns at the IIHF U18 World Junior Championships. Kerdiles' future remains unclear after his suspension was reduced to 10 games, leaving the possibility open for a return by late November. The Kelowna Rockets hold his junior rights should he opt not to wait it out at Wisconsin.
Freshman to Watch
Kevin Roy, C, Northeastern University Huskies (Hockey East)
Kevin Roy, 2012 fourth-round pick, has slowly been on an incline over the last two years. The skilled center was a standout in 2010-2011 at Deerfield Academy at the high school level, then he racked up 104 points with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL in 2011-2012. He now, however, begins a different journey. Roy will start his first year in the Hockey East conference of the NCAA with Northeastern University. Here, Roy will have his 5'10 frame, and scoring ability put to the test as he goes up against solid programs on a regular basis. Roy has excelled at every level he has played in thus far, and he will certainly be a player to keep an eye on as he begins another level of his career. Off to a quick start in 2012-13, Roy was named Hockey East's Rookie of the Week after he tallied a pair of goals and an assist in his first two games of college hockey, including the game-winner on opening night against Merrimack.
Kevin Lind, D, University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)
Big 6'3, 223-pound Notre Dame defenseman Kevin Lind is looking to have a bounce back junior year for the Fighting Irish. Lind had a standout freshman season in 2010-2011 with 11 points in 32 games and a +7 rating. However, in 2011-2012 Lind lost a step in production registering just three points in 39 games, and falling to a -3 rating. Lind has all the tools to be a good shutdown defenseman and needs to adjust to increased responsibility and match-ups against other programs top players. If he can do that, Lind would likely return and possibly improve upon his production levels from his freshman season.
Top European Prospect
William Karlsson, C, HV71 (SEL)
The 19-year-old Swede William Karlsson has had a promising start to his professional career already. The second-round pick in 2011 by the Anaheim Ducks absolutely excelled with Vasteras of Sweden's second-teir league, Allsvenskan, last season with 45 points in 46 games, and he also has a wealth of international experience with his home country. He was so impressive that he was picked up by 2011 Swedish Elite League champions HV71 this offseason. Karlsson, a center, will be playing against grown men at the age of 19, but he will likely need to put on a little weight considering he is listed at 6'0 and only 176 pounds. However, he is in the right place to develop a solid all-around game and become physically stronger. Having success in the SEL at a young age has been a good stepping stone for other notable NHL centers like Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar, and Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg.
First Year Pro to Watch
Max Friberg, LW, Timra (SEL)
Max Friberg could end up being a diamond in the rough for the Anaheim Ducks. At first glance, the 5'10, 195-pound left wing does not seem like much, but he has the speed and skill to impact the game. There was perhaps no better example of his skill then at 2012 U20 World Junior Championships where he led the tournament with nine goals and helped Sweden win gold. The 2011 fifth-round pick split time last season with Timra of the Swedish Elite League, their youth squad, and Sundsvall of the Allsvenskan. This season he projects to transition full time to Timra and stay there. Like Karlsson before him, Friberg will benefit from playing in Sweden's top league against men, where his speed, size, and playmaking abilities will be put to the test on a nightly basis. Friberg has been quick out of the gate with three goals and seven points in 13 games for Timra, ranking second on the team in scoring.