Anaheim Ducks pro prospects in line for impactful 2013-14 seasons

By Chris Phifer

Nick Sorensen - Quebec Remparts

Photo: Winger Nick Sorensen, Anaheim’s second round pick in 2013, recently returned to the Quebec Remparts lineup after a bout of appendicitis (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The Anaheim Ducks are starting the 2013-14 with plenty of optimism. Last season may not have ended the way the Ducks would have hoped for, but it did see plenty of prospects emerge on the NHL level and make an impact.

In addition to players such as Jakob Silfverberg, Emerson Etem, Peter Holland, Hampus Lindholm, and Sami Vatanen showing their skills on the main stage, the Norfolk Admirals will see plenty of fresh faces this upcoming season. Stefan Noesen, who was acquired in the Bobby Ryan trade, will join his Plymouth Whalers teammate Rickard Rakell on what should be a young, talented Admirals team. Max Friberg, a sniper at the World Junior Championship, will also spend his first full professional season in North America in 2013-14.

With the advancing ages of Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu a concern, the Ducks have no reason to fear the loss the of the two Finnish veterans, as depth and skill are apparent at all levels within the organization. Below is a list of players to keep an eye on for the upcoming season.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
John Gibson, G, Norfolk Admirals (AHL)

John Gibson enters his professional career as one of the most highly-touted goaltenders outside of the NHL. He spent the last two seasons with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL after a very successful tenure with the United States National Team Development Program. The big-bodied Gibson has been a winner at every level, having won a gold medal at the U17 (2010), U18 (2011), and U20 World Junior Championships (2013).

Gibson finished his OHL career posting back-to-back seasons with a save percentage of .928, while elevating his game and numbers in the playoffs with .938 in 2012 and .946 in 2013. This summer, he received an invite to attend the U.S. Sochi Olympic Team Orientation Camp, speaking volumes to how highly the USA brass thinks of the talented young netminder.

He is very mentally strong and that will help him handle the ups and downs of being in his first season of professional hockey. Often the road from top prospect, to starting goalie can be a long one, but Gibson's skill set and his ability to come up big at the right time will have him knocking on the door in Anaheim quicker than most.

Offensive Breakout
Jakob Silfverberg, RW, Anaheim Ducks (NHL)

The main piece in the Bobby Ryan trade, Jakob Silfverberg enters his first season with the Ducks looking to improve on what was a very successful rookie season in North America. Because of the lockout, Silfverberg's season began in the AHL with the Binghamton Senators, where he lit the lamp early and often with 29 points in 34 games. Once the lock-out ended, Silfverberg made the Senators out of training camp and never looked back. Often suiting up on a line with fellow Swedish prospect, Mika Zibanejad, Silfverberg managed 19 points in 48 games, while also displaying a solid two-way game.

Silfverberg was a highly-regarded player upon making his North American debut, drafted by Ottawa in the second round of the 2009 NHL Draft, he spent parts of four seasons with Brynas of the Swedish Hockey League. His best asset is his laser-like shot, which he releases very quickly. But over his time with Brynas, he also displayed an incredible work ethic and leadership qualities which led to him being named team captain for the 2011-12 season. In that season, Silfverberg finished second in scoring in both the regular season and playoffs, and was named League MVP and Playoff MVP en route to a league title.

Bounceback
Hampus Lindholm, D, Anaheim Ducks (NHL)

After being selected sixth overall by the Ducks in the 2012 NHL Draft, Hampus made the jump to the AHL as an 18-year-old. His transition to the North American game was successful in terms of his play, but injuries eventually reared their head and that is where his season seemed to go off track. He appeared in 44 games for the Admirals, scoring 11 points and finishing with a plus-5 rating, which is impressive for such a young player. He was projected to be relied upon heavily by Sweden at the 2013 World Junior Championships, but his concussion issues kept the promising rearguard out of the tournament.

A big, rangy defenseman, Lindholm possesses excellent mobility, and his hockey sense and puck skills are great in transition. He still needs to add muscle and get stronger, but considering the time he missed last season, he remains on course in his development. Adding a physical dimension to his game would be an added bonus, but he is still young and getting used to the North American style of play. The defenseman broke camp with the Ducks, and if Lindholm can avoid the injury bug this season, his game could be exactly what the Ducks need.

NHL-bound
Rickard Rakell, C, Norfolk Admirals (AHL)

Rickard Rakell is the type of hard-working, versatile player that is coveted by all NHL teams. He has good size, great skating ability, and is effective at both ends of the ice. He played three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Plymouth Whalers where he scored over a point per game for his career with 151 points in 149 games. He stuck with the Ducks out of training camp last season, but was ultimately returned to Plymouth after four games in the NHL.

The fact that he played in three World Junior Championships (2011-2013) is evidence to his versatility and responsible play. His performances in those tournaments (14 points in 17 games), and a gold and silver medal, are proof that he is more than just a depth player. He has the ability to play all three forward positions and is equally adept at passing the puck, as he is at scoring a goal himself. That type of play and his work ethic will lead to Rakell being one of the first injury call-ups for Anaheim this year.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Shea Theodore, D, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

The latest Ducks first round pick, Shea Theodore is a smooth-skating, offensive defenseman. Shea made an early impact in his WHL career putting up 30 points in his rookie season. He followed that up with an incredible 19 goals and 50 points in his draft year which culminated in him being picked 26th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. Entering his third season with Seattle of the WHL, Theodore should become one of the top two-way defensemen in the league. He is already off to a fast start with three goals and 11 points in his first six WHL games to start the 2013-14 season.

At 6'2 and 175 pounds, Shea is far from being "undersized," but developing more of a physical side and using his frame more to his advantage would help his game going forward. Theodore finished the season by participating in the 2013 U18 tournament for Canada. He was a standout on what was a very impressive defense, his five points in seven games was good for second amongst Canadian defenseman and tied for third in the tournament. A potential World Junior selection camp invitation will provide early motivation for the young rearguard.

Breakout Prospect
Nick Sorensen, RW, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

Nick Sorensen has a very intriguing combination of skills. He is a great skater with slick hands and good offensive instincts. He is also a very hard worker with a formidable frame. The risk with Sorensen is injuries. Over his first two seasons with the Quebec Remparts, Sorensen suited up for 54 regular season games. He was once projected as a mid-to-late first round pick, but his small sample size, and potential injury problems allowed him to slide to Anaheim in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

Scoring 59 points over those 56 career QMJHL games, coupled with 10 points in eight playoff games shows what Sorensen can do with the puck when healthy. The upcoming season will see the Remparts lean on Sorensen for more offensive production as they are set to lose prized prospect Mikhail Grigorenko to the NHL. Avoiding the injury bug should see Sorensen breakout offensively in the QMJHL, and with his second World Junior Championship appearance (zero points in six games in 2013 for Sweden) all but a certainty, look for him to get off to a quick start. Appendicitis put him on the shelf at the start of Anaheim’s training camp, but Sorensen has three assists through two games for the Remparts since returning to the lineup.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Kenton Helgesen, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

Kenton Helgesen is the type of player that is loved by his teammates, but like most defensemen his age, his game is still very raw and there is work to be done. At 6'3, this defender is very adept at the physical aspects of the game. From laying bone-crunching hits, to sticking up for a teammate, Kenton does whatever it takes to help his team win. In his rookie season with the Hitmen, Helgesen was plus-7 with 63 penalty minutes. In his second season he increased his offense from 14 to 20 points and earned 116 penalty minutes with a plus-21 rating for a Calgary team that came within one game of the WHL finals.

Never an offensive player, Helgesen does possess the ability to make outlet passes but should not be relied upon for creating many opportunities. Improving his skating, getting stronger, and taking on more of a leadership role in 2013-14 are things that will help prepare him for the jump in competition from junior to pro. Look for Kenton to continue being a physical force on the Hitmen back end and potentially finish the year in the AHL.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Nicolas Kerdiles, C, Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)

A season that began with a lot of confusion, ended on a very high note for promising prospect, Nicolas Kerdiles. Initially deemed ineligible to participate in the 2012-13 NCAA season, an appeal reduced Kerdiles' suspension to 10 games. Once he got started, it was very hard to slow him down. Recording 33 points in 32 games as a freshman, it was easy to see why Ducks' management drafted him 36th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft.

Kerdiles possesses good size, is willing to play the body, and is great on the forecheck. Kerdiles has top notch puck-handling skills but is not all that fancy. He creates chances more through hard work than finesse. He will return to the University of Wisconsin for his sophomore season and will be one of the top players to watch in the new Big Ten Conference. With a hot start for Wisconsin, Kerdiles may be relied upon heavily to lead Team USA's World Junior Championship team's offense.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Radoslav Illo, C, Bemidji State Beavers (WCHA)

Radoslav Illo took a unique route to becoming an NHL prospect. Born in Slovakia, Illo brought his game to the U.S. Junior A ranks at a young age. After posting 76 points in 97 games with USHL's Tri-City Storm, he enrolled at Bemidji State University. His best asset is his hard, accurate shot which he can release very quickly. He also boasts a good set of wheels and is a hard-working player, which he showcased at the 2010 World Junior Championships with Slovakia (five points in six games).

Always considered an offensive player, through three season with Bemidji State, Illo has failed to emerge as a top point producer at the NCAA level. He showed good growth jumping from six points in his freshman season to 17 points in his sophomore season, but in 2012-13, the offense regressed as he finished the year with 14 points. Now entering his senior season, Illo will be looking to improve his offensive output while continuing to fine tune his all-around game.

Freshman to Watch
Grant Besse, RW, Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)

Grant Besse, a highly-skilled winger, has been a standout in the Minnesota High School circuit the past few seasons and is now ready to take his game to University of Wisconsin. In 2012-13 he scored an incredible 48 goals and 28 assists in just 28 games on his way to winning the Mr. Hockey Award as the best senior high school player in Minnesota. He also appeared in seven games with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL scoring four goals with a minus-three rating.

At 5'9, he is undersized and will need a few years in the college ranks to gain muscle and prove that he can withstand playing against bigger players. Besse's hands are deceptively quick and his vision with the puck is well above average and will help him to succeed at the next level. He is joining a very talented Badgers squad, led by fellow Ducks prospect Nicolas Kerdiles, where ice time can be hard to come by for a freshman, but look for Besse's talent to make an impression when given an opportunity.

Europe

Top European Prospect
William Karlsson, C, HV71 (SHL)

A second round pick in 2011, William Karlsson is a skilled playmaker who appears to be right on track in his development. The speedy, two-way player successfully made the jump to the top level in Sweden, now called the Swedish Hockey League, after dominating the Allsvenskan in 2011-12 with Vasteras with 45 points in 46 games. While he is returning for another season with HV71, Karlsson recently signed his entry-level contract and the Ducks will be hoping for him to cross the pond next summer to see how well he can adjust to the North American style of play.

Karlsson has average size, and will need to continue to add muscle if he wants to play in the NHL someday. The 2013 World Junior Championships were Karlsson's second time suiting up for Sweden in the tournament. In both tournaments, Karlsson managed two points in six games, winning gold in 2012 and silver in 2013. The 2013-14 season will see Karlsson become a key cog in HV71's offense and look for him to improve on his rookie season of 28 points in 50 games. Through his first nine games this season, Karlsson has registered three goals and an assist while averaging 19:36 of ice time per game.

Breakout Prospect
Miro Aaltonen, C, Espoo Blues (SM-Liiga)

The 2012-13 season was a year full of highs and lows for the diminutive center. Aaltonen started the season very hot, and earned a spot on Finland's World Junior Championship roster. The low point came when, one game into the tournament, he suffered a broken ankle and missed the rest of the tournament and the majority of the season. The lone game he appeared in during the 2013 WJC saw Aaltonen score a pair of goals and an assist, and losing him was too much for the Finnish team to overcome as they ended up finishing in seventh position.

The very quick, incredibly skilled forward returned to health before season's end and had an impressive playoff run with Blues' U20 squad.  Suiting up for 32 games for the men's team, Aaltonen lit the lamp 11 times en route to a 16-point season as a 19-year-old. Now that he is back to full health and is in line for another full season in the SM-Liiga, Aaltonen's skill will be back on full display. His slick hands and vision will see him quickly become one of the biggest offensive threats in the Finnish league, evidenced already by four goals and six points through his first 11 games of the season.