Quality over quantity is the name of the game for Anaheim Ducks junior prospects

By Jason Lewis
John Gibson - Kitchener Rangers

Photo: Kitchener Rangers goaltender John Gibson is nearing a return to the ice after being out of the Rangers’ lineup due to injury since mid-January. (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

 
The Anaheim Ducks have been one of the more active drafting teams over the past three years and have had 23 selections since 2010. Across Europe, the NCAA, and the junior levels, the Ducks have reloaded and restocked their system with a mélange of different style players all with the same goal of reaching the NHL. The Ducks do not currently have any players in the USHL, but they do have five players playing in Canadian major junior leagues of the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL.

With great promise and attention coming from pro prospects like Emerson Etem, Kyle Palmieri, and Hampus Lindholm, and NCAA prospects like Nicolas Kerdiles and Kevin Roy, do not forget that the Ducks still have a solid albeit small group with tremendous potential playing in the many rinks across Canadian junior.

OHL

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

The top-ranked goaltender in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, John Gibson is certainly living up to the hype of his early career projections thus far. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native de-committed himself from the University of Michigan in 2011 in favor of joining the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League and the decision, albeit difficult, has looked like a solid one.

Gibson, in his two seasons with Kitchener, has posted a .928 save percentage through 55 career regular season starts, posted a 2.75 goals-against-average in 2011-12, and in 2012-13 currently has a 2.41 average. He led the OHL in save percentage in 2011-12 and is currently matching those numbers for 2012-13.

Perhaps the most exciting thing for Gibson though was his recent involvement in the 2013 Under-20 World Junior Championships. The 19-year old was an absolute standout for the United States squad and walked away from the tournament as a gold medalist, the tournament MVP, a tournament all-star, and had the tournament's best save percentage (a staggering .955) and best goals against-average (1.36).

Gibson's size and calm, collected style is one that is well-suited for the NHL. Given his impressive résumé and his real lack of any considerable weaknesses, Gibson looks to be on a fast track to professional hockey. It will be important for the Ducks to not rush the development of the young goaltender, but his potential surely has to make the Ducks' front office salivate.

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

The 2011 NHL Draft is certainly looking like a real gem of a draft for the Anaheim Ducks. Between goaltender John Gibson, center William Karlsson, and winger Rickard Rakell, the franchise might have some cornerstones to build on for the future.

The latter, 19-year-old Swede Rickard Rakell, has been quite an impressive addition to the Anaheim Ducks prospect pool. Rakell has been playing another season in the OHL under the Plymouth Whalers, and for a third straight year is scoring at a point-per-game pace. He also participated for Team Sweden in the same WJC which saw his fellow Ducks prospect Gibson win the MVP. While Rakell certainly would have trouble topping the performance of Gibson, he finished the tournament with a respectable plus-one with six assists in six games.

Early in 2013 the Stockholm native impressed enough to make the Ducks roster out of training camp to start the season. However, after four somewhat uneventful games in a limited role, Rakell did not see any more game action and was eventually reassigned in mid-February to his junior team for a final season there. Even though his stint was short, Rakell impressed Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau and his strong two-way style will fit nicely into the Ducks' system in the future. As he continues to grow in Plymouth, Rakell can round out his already solid special teams play to truly become an effective all-situations player at the professional level.

Joseph Cramarossa, C, Belleville Bulls
Acquired: 3rd round (65th overall) in 2011

Not to be overlooked by his 2011 draft-mates is 20-year-old Joseph Cramarossa, who is having a stellar year with the Belleville Bulls of the OHL.

While Cramarossa does not have the 2013 résumé that Gibson or Rakell each possess, he has certainly made a mark with Belleville as a hard-hitting, two-way center. His play in all special team situations has been impressive thus far, as well as his hard-nosed, physical style. Combining with the previous descriptions, the 20-year-old also has 49 points in 56 games which is nothing to scoff at.

Cramarossa plays a style of hockey that Anaheim Ducks management and fans have come to embrace over the years. Players like Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, and Ryan Getzlaf have made names in the NHL as big, aggressive, hard-hitting forwards who can punish you physically or on the score sheet. The Markham, Ontario native might not at all be as prolific as those mentioned on the offensive side of things, he certainly could project well as a bottom-six center who is difficult for teams to match up against and carries the identity of Anaheim Ducks hockey. He is also an alternate captain for Belleville this season and is willing to drop the gloves on occasion, which adds a level of leadership to his skill set.

WHL

Kenton Helgesen, D, Calgary Hitmen
Acquired: 7th round (187th overall) in 2012

Big 6'3 defenseman Kenton Helgesen has had an up and down 2012-13 season, but in the greater scheme of things has been quite good at his job for an 18-year-old selected in the seventh round.

Helgesen plays a very straight forward and simple game. He is a defensive defenseman who brings a very physical edge which borders on team enforcer. His 108 penalty minutes and 14 fights are among the most on the Hitmen this year. In a more between-the-whistle sense, Helgesen has done well. He had a pretty rough first two months of the year and found himself on the wrong side of the plus-minus through the months of December. However, he has adjusted well and started turning those numbers around. He currently is a plus-13 and has 14 assists through 58 games.

Calgary is one of the top teams in the WHL this year and Helgesen will be truly tested in the defensive end when the playoffs roll around. While he is solid in using his size, his skating can be a bit of a weakness, as well as his outlet passes. He is a rather low-risk, mid-reward style player for Anaheim. He is rather one dimensional at this point, but if Helgesen can become very good at that one dimension, or even add a slight offensive game, he could be a decent sixth or seventh defenseman in the NHL. He is just 18 and has a plenty of time to grow into an imposing player at the pro level.

QMJHL

Andrew O'Brien, D, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Acquired: 4th round (108th overall) in 2012

O'Brien, 20, was a bit of a surprise in the 2012 draft. He was expected to be either a very late round draft choice in 2012 or not drafted at all. However, the Ducks picked up O'Brien in the fourth round and he has been quite a nice surprise.

His toughness through the junior level on the blue line has been well documented and he is known as a hard-hitting defenseman who loves the physical element of the game. Quite frankly he excels at it and it is the best part of his game. What people did not expect was what he has been developing on the offensive side of the puck. His passing and shooting have been good in 2012-13 and he has been logging some power play minutes for the Huskies. In his own end he has also made significant strides over the last year and a half. While he still is capable of mental lapses and his play off the puck in his own end needs to improve, he has been much better in 2012-13 compared to previous seasons in his decision making. That has helped him score 17 points in 56 games to go along with 97 penalty minutes this season.

O'Brien is a classic case of having all the tools of a good defenseman but it is unknown whether he can put it all together. His physical and offensive games are solid, and if he continues to improve on his skating and defensive zone play, he might make some noise. A fourth-round pick might seem strange for a low-risk high-reward player, but in 2012 the Ducks had eight selections and must have felt that one day O'Brien would be worth the fourth. His development arc, which has had its bumps and will continue to, has looked promising thus far.