Anaheim Ducks’ system features talent on the wings and depth on defense

By Brad Johnson

Devante Smith-Pelly - Anaheim Ducks

Photo: With 54 NHL games already under his belt, Devante Smith-Pelly is the leading left wing prospect in the Anaheim prospect pool. (courtesy of Ray Carlin/Icon SMI)

The Anaheim Ducks prospect system has a solid core and the future appears to be very bright. The club features great depth with young rising stars at each position. The Ducks have a few skaters whom many believe have the ability to make an immediate impact at the NHL level.

The club has a talented crop of players at each position who will eventually get their chance to make an impact. At their immediate use are Kyle Palmieri, Devante Smith-Pelly, Peter Holland, and Sami Vatanen whom each have displayed varying degrees of success and the impressive talent level required for immediate success at the pro level. In the American Hockey League, the likes of Chris Wagner, Emerson Etem, and Hampus Lindholm have given the Ducks a peek into the potentially bright future ahead. Anaheim has several impressive players within the college ranks as well. With forwards Nicolas Kerdiles, Radoslav Illo and defensemen Kevin Lind, Josh Manson, Jaycob Megna, Nick Pryor, and Andy Welinski the Ducks clearly have a drafted a group of talented players.

The depth throughout the Ducks system provides options for the parent and farm club going forward. The defensive corps looks to be strong for the next few years, but the goaltending options could quickly become an interesting conversation. As with any prospect, key elements like practice, patience, dedication, and work ethic will go a very long way to determining their future.

Left Wing

Devante Smith-Pelly provides the Ducks with an immediate threat on the left-hand side. While some may doubt his ability this season with the teams recent struggles in Norfolk, he has previously showcased his level at the NHL ranks and there is no reason to suspect that he will not once again find his game and be headed in the right direction. The 5’11, 211-pound forward was selected by Anaheim in the second round (42nd overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. In 2011-12, Smith-Pelly registered 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists) in 49 games with the Ducks and with his size and talent level many expect that he will once again find himself a spot on the Ducks roster. In 38 games this season with Norfolk, Smith-Pelly has netted six goals and added nine helpers for 15 points.

Behind Smith-Pelly the Ducks have hard-working complimentary forwards in Luca Caputi, Josh Brittain, and Max Friberg.

Caputi already has an impressive professional resume. Originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fourth round of the 2007 NHL Draft, Caputi was acquired by the Ducks on January 3rd, 2012 from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Nicolas Deschamps. He has appeared in a total of 35 NHL games scoring 3 goals with 6 assists. In the AHL, Caputi has played in 216 career games registering a total of 57 goals and 135 points. He brings a strong veteran presence to the roster and is always a scoring threat when on the ice. He has struggled to find his game through the first half of this season, which has found him splitting ice-time between Norfolk and Fort Wayne. For Caputi to be considered for a spot in Anaheim the Ducks brass will be looking for a lot more consistency in his game.

Josh Brittain spent much of the first half in the ECHL. In 31 games with the Fort Wayne Komets he produced 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists). Brittain had a very strong training camp in Norfolk and his hard work and consistency has paid dividends as he seems to of found a home on the Norfolk roster, scoring six goals.

Friberg, just 20 years old, is expected to be groomed in Europe for at least another season before the club considers him to make the next step to professional hockey in North America. Selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the fifth round (143rd overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft, he is currently playing in his native Sweden for Timrå IK in the Swedish Elite League. Through 49 games Friberg has scored eight goals and chipped in seven helpers. Scouts believe with his speed, awareness, and puck handling skills he could became a surprise in years to come. It can be expected that within the next two years; Friberg will make his North American pro debut.

Center

The Ducks have a clear standout at center in Peter Holland, who will soon be ready to make an impact in Anaheim. Last season, Holland appeared in four games with the Ducks and while spending the season in Syracuse he was an obvious scoring threat. In 71 games with the Crunch he was second in team scoring, registering 23 goals and collecting 37 assists. Holland finished the 2011-12 campaign with a +8 rating and 59 penalty minutes. Through 39 games this season in Norfolk, Holland has recorded 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists). He has also skated in four NHL games with Anaheim and scored one goal.

Behind Holland, the Ducks have the likes of William Karlsson and Joseph Cramarossa. Karlsson is a well-rounded center with tremendous potential that just needs time to mature on the ice. He is currently playing in Europe in the Swedish professional league and is projected to make his North American debut next season.

Joseph Cramarossa, a Toronto native, is a 6’1 192-pound center who is currently playing in fifth season in the OHL. Cramarossa is playing in his second season for the Belleville Bulls and continues to impress. He is having his most productive season this year, currently credited with 15 goals and 33 assists. In 222 career OHL games, Cramarossa has amassed 123 total points (47 goals and 76 assists).

Also at center, Kevin Roy, Nicolas Kerdiles, and Radoslav Illo are all showcasing their talent at the collegiate level.

Kevin Roy is a product of the 2012 draft class, selected with the 97th overall pick in the fourth round. Roy is averaging more than a point per game in his first season for Northeastern University. After 27 games, Roy has notched 17 goals and 16 assists, including five goals and the MVP award at the Beanpot tournament.

Radoslav Illo is currently in his third season with Bemidji State University while Kerdiles is in the midst of his first season playing for the University of Wisconsin hockey club. Kerdiles like Roy was also selected by the during the 2012 Draft with the 36th overall selection and after just 20 games he currently has notched 14 points.

Right Wing

Right wing is a position in the Ducks system which is quite strong, quite possibly the strongest in the organization. Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem, Rickard Rakell, and Chris Wagner are most notable on the radar screen.

Palmieri has the most proven potential on the right side within the Ducks prospect system and has already proven to be a scoring threat at both the AHL and NHL levels. In 2011-12, he registered 33 goals, 25 assists in 51 games with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. In 18 games with the Ducks, he scored four goals and added three helpers. Palmieri has again showcased his natural scoring ability this season. Before the lockout came to a close, he had recorded 13 goals and 12 assists through 33 contests with the Norfolk Admirals. Palmieri has also produced six points through 15 games with the Ducks this season.

Etem is currently playing in his first full season of professional hockey. Selected 29th overall in 2010, he has been nothing but impressive. Etem is currently playing in the AHL as a member of the Norfolk Admirals and is producing, however, there is plenty of room for improvement for the 20-year-old. In 43 games with the Admirals, Etem has only notched 15 points which is far off his production level that is expected. Etem has struggled to find the back of the net during the first half of this season; the staff in Anaheim has at least been impressed with his work ethic and style of play enough to give him a couple chances in the Ducks sweater. He has appeared in eight contests this season, assisting on two goals with a +1 rating.

Chris Wagner is another prospect playing in his first professional season. Wagner is fresh out of college, previously playing two seasons for Colgate University. He was responsible for notching 70 points (26g, 44a) in his brief collegiate career. This season with Norfolk he has scored just three goals and assisted ten times in 44 games. A member of the 2010 draft class, Wagner stands 6’0, 200 pounds and has tremendous upside. It is expected to take him a season or two of adjustment from college to professional hockey, however, with his on-ice awareness and natural skating ability there is no reason to doubt that Wagner will adjust just fine and be a threat in the Ducks system for years to come.

Rickard Rakell has appeared in 35 games for the Plymouth Whalers this season, averaging a point per game with 15 goals and 20 assists scored. He has skated at center in the OHL and that versatility could be key considering the talent at right wing already in the Ducks' pro system. Rakell is very young at just 19 years old but has a bright professional future ahead of him. He offers a beautiful blend of speed and puck awareness, while featuring a strong two-way game. Although he did not stick with the Ducks this year, Rakell is on the right path for a future in the NHL.

Matt Kennedy is the only other right wing prospect in the system. He has split time between Fort Wayne (10 games) and Norfolk (nine games) in his third pro season, registing one assist on the year.

Defense

Defense  is arguably the deepest position in the organization in terms of depth. While other positions within the organization obviously have more professional-ready players, building a strong defensive corps has clearly been a focus of management in recent years.

Sami Vatanen is just 21 years old but has been a star playing for JYP Jyvaskyla in his native Finland for the past three seasons. He notched 32 goals and 103 points in 156 games during his three years with JYP Jyvaskyla. This season he has recorded 27 points in just 36 appearances for Norfolk. Vatanen clearly has NHL-caliber talent and it is going to be just a matter of time before he becomes a mainstay on the Anaheim blue line. His hard work has already paid off this season, earning him a three game call-up once the NHL opened their doors for business this season.

Hampus Lindholm is another blueliner that has exceptional potential. Lindholm is a product of the first round (sixth overall) in 2012, and at just 19 years old, made his North American debut this season with the AHL Norfolk Admirals. He has five points for the Admirals this season but has been limited to just 19 games due to a concussion.

The remainder of the Ducks defensive group includes Mat Clark, Brian Cooper, Tim Heed, Kenton Helgesen, Kevin Lind, Josh Manson, Jaycob Megna, Andrew O’Brien, Nick Pryor, and Andy Welinski, all of whom are expected to hone their crafts in their respective leagues over the next few seasons.

Mat Clark is a stay-at-home defenseman who has found himself a home in the AHL, having spent the past two seasons with the Syracuse Crunch and currently protecting the blue line for the Norfolk Admirals. 

Lind, Manson, Megna, Pryor, and Welinski are defenseman currently playing for their respective collegiate clubs. Nick Pryor is currently in his fourth season with the University of Maine and expected to make his professional debut next season. Megna is a prime example of an American hockey family; brother Jayson is a couple years older and currently playing within the Pittsburgh Penguins minor league system. Jaycob was taken in the 2012 NHL Draft with the 210th selection in the seventh round.

Lind is listed at 6’3 and 218 pounds and is considered by many to be a step away from the next level in his hockey career. Lind is an agile defenseman who consistently uses his size to his advantage against opponents. This young American defenseman is in the midst of his third season with Notre Dame. Manson is a 21-year-old native of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan playing in his second season for Northeastern University. Welinski is just 19 years old and he is attending the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He was drafted 83rd in the NHL draft class of 2011. 

Brian Cooper is in his first year at University of Nebraska-Omaha and is smaller than the average puck moving defenseman. He offers a good shot from the point and has a keen passing sense. Cooper is expected to add some size to his resume over the next few years without ultimately affecting his overall game. If he is able to accomplish this, he will certainly be a youngster to keep an eye on going forward.

Andrew O’Brien is a Hamilton, Ontario native selected 108th (fourth round) in the 2012 draft. He is currently playing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL. Through 56 contents this season he has registered two goals, 15 assists, and 97 penalty minutes.

Kenton Helgesen is also a product of the Anaheim 2012 draft class. Selected 187th overall, he is in his second season with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. Through 57 games this year he has turned in 14 assists while sitting in the sin bin for an impressive 108 minutes. At just 18 years old this young defender is expected to only improve over the next few seasons, and with his maturity and puck awareness gaining experience, he could be a threat for the Ducks in the coming years.

Finally, Tim Heed is a Swedish prospect that has average speed and great puck handling skills. Heed, a former a forward, is still in the midst of adjusting to completely find his defensive game. He will continue to focus on fine tuning his game and manning the blue line overseas for at least the next couple seasons.

It is safe to say that with Anaheim having this much talent stacked on the blue line that management will likely once again focus on the offensive side of their game during the 2013 draft.

Goaltending

Anaheim could be stronger between the pipes, but the organization currently has four goaltending prospects in their system, three of which are currently playing professionally.

John Gibson of the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) appeared in 32 games last season ending the year with a 21-10-0 record, 2.75 goals against average and .928 save percentage. Through 23 games with Kitchener this season he has 15-8-0 record while posting a 2.41 goals against average with a .927 save percentage.

Igor Bobkov and Frederik Andersen have been splitting time between the pipes in Norfolk at the AHL level this season. Bobkov has appeared in 24 games this season for the Admirals and as the team has struggled to find their game at times so has Bobkov. Currently he has a10-14-0 record, posting a 3.05 goals against average with a .906 save percentage. Andersen has been slightly more impressive this year with the Admirals posting ten wins while suffering 10 losses and registering a 2.28 goals against average with a .929 save percentage.

Marco Cousineau is a product of the 2008 draft class and currently playing for the Fort Wayne Komets of the ECHL. In 11 games with the Komets, Cousineau has just three victories with a 3.55 goals against average and .886 save percentage.

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