Anaheim Ducks system features top-end talent and enviable depth

By Chris Phifer

Jakob Silfverberg - Anaheim Ducks

Photo: Offseason acquisition Jakob Silfverberg saw action in 11 games with Anaheim, including two against his former team the Senators, before a broken hand forced him out of the lineup (courtesy of Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Anaheim Ducks' brass has done an excellent job maintaining depth throughout their prospect pool in recent years. They have done incredibly well in the past few drafts, adding players who can score, but also players capable of playing a responsible two-way game.

With a large influx of new faces in Norfolk this year, their American Hockey League affiliate, the future of the Anaheim Ducks is not far away from making an impact.

Left Wing

With only two natural left wingers in the prospect ranks, it is easily the position with the least amount of depth for the Ducks with Max Friberg and the recent graduate to the NHL Devante Smith-Pelly. Both players are playing professional hockey and are players that the Ducks drafted and developed themselves. Despite the fact there are only two players listed at left wing, it shows the kind of depth that the Ducks have been stockpiling. Both players have realistic chances at becoming full-time NHL players in the near future, should they continue to improve at the same rate that they have been in their young careers.

In his first full season in North America, Max Friberg is beginning the year with the Norfork Admirals of the AHL. Friberg has shown on the world stage (World Juniors in 2011 and 2012) that he is capable of scoring big goals, at big moments. He has a solid work ethic and will need to continue to show that he is willing to battle all over the ice to prove that he deserves to play in the NHL someday.  Devante Smith-Pelly began the season in Norfolk as well, but as the season began, so did the injury bug for the Ducks, and Smith-Pelly was recalled to Anaheim, where he has scored eight points through 11 games thus far. Smith-Pelly projects anywhere from a fourth line energy player to a complementary player in a top-six role.

Center

Center is the forward position with the greatest amount of depth within the Ducks' organization. Led by Peter Holland and Nicolas Kerdiles, they are deep down the middle and may have to give a few players a look at a wing position in the future to allow everyone the chance to play. Five of their center prospects are currently plying their trade at the professional level, while the other five continue to hone their games in either Europe or at the NCAA level.

Peter Holland is a big center, capable of playing in many different roles. Originally drafted 15th overall in 2009, Holland has had success in the AHL but has yet to find himself a permanent spot in Anaheim. With some veterans on the team in the twilight of their career, a big season in 2013-14 should help Holland secure a full-time spot in the near future.

Nicolas Kerdiles is a player worth keeping an eye on in 2013-14, and beyond. After posting an impressive 33 points in 32 games as a freshman, Kerdiles returned to the University of Wisconsin, hoping to lead the Badgers to a National Title.

William Karlsson is a slightly under-sized playmaker out of Sweden. At 6'0 and 176 pounds, he will never be an imposing physical force, but his vision and reliable defensive play make him a valuable two-way player. He chose to remain in Sweden for 2013-14, where he will play an important role for HV71. With an extra year playing against men in the Swedish Hockey League, the Ducks hope Karlsson can improve on his offensive output from 2012-13 (28 points in 50 games), while also adding much needed strength. He projects as a responsible second or third line center.

One of only a few Ducks prospects that was not drafted by the team, Antoine Laganiere brings a whole lot of size to an otherwise small group of centers. Standing at 6'4 and 214 pounds, Laganiere was signed as an undrafted free agent after a successful career at Yale University. Highlighted by winning a National Championship with the Bulldogs in 2012-13, Laganiere showed over his time at Yale that he is much more than just a big body. With 62 points in 72 games over his final two years of college, Laganiere scored timely goals for Yale and was a highly sought-after player this past season. He started the year in the AHL with the Admirals to fine tune his game and prepare him for life as an NHL player.

There may not be a bigger risk/reward player in the Ducks' prospect pool than Kevin Roy. Standing only 5'10 and 170 pounds, being small is nothing new to Roy. He has shown at every level he has played at that he is capable of producing offensively despite his lack of size. In 2012-13, he began his freshman season at Northeastern University, where he averaged over a point per game with 34 points in 29 games, earning a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie team. Now returning for his sophomore season, Roy has started the year as one of the hottest players in the NCAA, scoring at a rate of two points per game with 12 points in his first six games, including seven goals.

The Ducks' center depth, also features three more players in the same mold as Kevin Roy. Miro Aaltonen, Charles Sarault, and Steven Whitney are all undersized offensive players and are all high-risk, high-reward players. Despite the similarities in their style, they represent three very different paths to the NHL. Steven Whitney went undrafted and was signed this past off-season following a very successful four years with the Boston College Eagles. Like former Boston College standouts Nathan Gerbe and Brian Gionta, Steven Whitney will need to prove he can be an impact player at the pro level despite his lack of size.

Charles Sarault, another undrafted free agent signing who was acquired following the completion of the Sarnia Sting's 2012-13 season, joined the Admirals and chipped in with 6 points in 11 games. Now entering his full season as pro, Sarault has five points in 13 games.

Miro Aaltonen was a sixth round pick of the Ducks in the 2013 draft, who was having a very impressive season last year with the Espoo Blues of Finland's Liiga before a broken ankle at the World Juniors derailed him. Returning to Finland for 2013-14, Aaltonen will look to regain the form he showed at the beginning of last year and should emerge as a real scoring threat in Finland's top circuit.

Joseph Cramarossa is not the biggest player on the ice, but where he lacks in size, he makes up in effort. A hard-working, two-way player, Cramarossa showed in the Ontario Hockey League that he is capable of playing an energy type role, while also contributing to the offensive side of the game as well. Joining a young Admirals team in 2013-14, it may take some time for Cramarossa to really make an impact, but his tenacity will be present from the first time he hits the ice.

Radoslav Illo was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL Draft by Anaheim and was projected as being an offensive player in the future. Now entering his senior season at Bemidji State, Illo has failed to become an elite point producer at the NCAA level, and will need a big season to prove to the Ducks' brass that he is worthy of receiving an entry-level contract to play at the professional level.

Right Wing

An already solid group of right wing prospects was given a considerable boost when the Anaheim Ducks dealt Bobby Ryan to the Ottawa Senators for wingers Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen, and a first round pick. They are now very deep on the right side, with plenty of skill, size, and two-way play.

Jakob Silfverberg comes in atop the list of right wingers in the Ducks' prospect pool. He completed his rookie season in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators in 2012-13 with 19 points in 48 games, and four more points in 10 playoff games. He began the year on the Ducks' second line and got off to a hot start, scoring seven points in his first 11 games before an injury sidelined him. He has the two-way play that makes him a player a coach can lean on late in games, and he also has a laser-like snap shot that he likes to put in the top half of the net.

Emerson Etem's calling card has always been his speed and his shot, both of which have been on display this year in Anaheim. After scoring 61 goals in 65 games in 2011-12 with the Medicine Hat Tigers, Etem made his pro debut last season and did not fail to impress Ducks' brass. He began 2012-13 with Norfolk and managed 13 goals in 45 goals for the Admirals. When the lockout ended, Etem earned a called up to the Ducks and promptly put up three goals and seven assists in 38 games. This year, Etem began the year with the Ducks in an energy role, and he has impressed with four goals and four assists, and has helped provide depth to a Ducks team that is off to a very hot start.

Rickard Rakell will be happy to bring an OHL teammate along with him to the pro ranks in 2013-14, and bringing in Noesen via trade allows Rakell to do that this season with Norfolk. The two spent the past three seasons together playing for the Plymouth Whalers where they enjoyed a lot of success. Noesen, a power forward, racked up 220 points over 215 career OHL games. Rakell, a responsible and versatile playmaker, registered 151 points over 149 OHL games. They both began their pro careers with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL. Noesen had a bit of bad luck early in the season, suffering an injury after appearing in two pointless games. Rakell on the other hand, got off to a good start, registering six points in 11 games with Norfolk before earning and call-up to Anaheim.

Chris Wagner returns to Norfolk for his second season of pro hockey in 2013-14, after an impressive debut at the AHL level last season. Wagner possesses average size, but is a tireless worker and has some skill to go along with the jam. He has spent time playing center as well as on right wing, and that type of versatility will help him over his career. At the college level, Wagner's second season saw a huge increase in point production, and he could be in line for the same type of improvement this year in Norfolk.

When he is healthy, he has shown that he can be a dominant offensive player with great size, but staying healthy has been an issue for Nick Sorensen over the past two seasons. He made his QMJHL debut with the Quebec Remparts in 2011-12 but suffered a serious injury that limited him to only eight games (nine points). In 2012-13 Sorensen managed to stay healthy for the majority of the season, suiting up for 46 games with the Remparts and posting 47 points, while also playing six games with Sweden at the World Junior Championships. With a few key players moving on to pro hockey, the Remparts will lean on Sorensen more than they have in the past, and he is eligible to once again suit up for Sweden at the WJC, and with this year's edition being held in Malmo, it will be that much more special for him.

Grant Besse comes in as the wild card of this group. He is undersized, but has been a major offensive player in Minnesota the past few seasons, and debuted with the University of Wisconsin in 2013-14 with fellow Ducks prospect, Nicolas Kerdiles. In 2012-13 he played high school hockey for Benilde-St. Margaret's and scored 76 points in 28 games en route to winning the Mr. Hockey Award as the top high school  player in Minnesota. Moving to college can be a tough transition for some players, especially on a deep team like the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Besse has done a good job acclimating himself thus far and has managed three goals in his first six college games.

Defense

The Ducks' depth on the point is highlighted by a group of puck-movers at the top of the list with Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Shea Theodore, but it also features plenty of size and depth throughout the list. Their group of defensemen also features plenty of depth at the NCAA level, showing a recent draft trend by Anaheim in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft.

Hampus Lindholm has been one of the most positive surprises for the Anaheim Ducks this season. After concussions limited him to only 44 games with Norfolk in 2012-13, his first season in North America, it was uncertain how he would rebound this season. Showing no ill effects of his injuries from last year, Lindholm made the Ducks out of camp and has made a big impact early in his NHL career, scoring six points in 18 games thus far while posting an impressive +14 rating. He has made it easy for people to forget the fact that he is only 19 years of age, and the future looks very bright for the young Swede.

Sami Vatanen is a very exciting player when he has the puck on his stick. Standing only 5'10, the undersized Finn has explosive speed and is capable of going end to end thanks to a soft pair of hands. There will always be concerns of his defensive play, due in part to his lack of size, but his skating and hockey sense help him find open spaces and relieve the pressure. He made the Ducks full-time out of camp, and so far he has shown his offensive skills with five points through 17 games. Should his impressive play continue, he could be in line for a spot on the Finnish roster at the 2014 Olympic Games.

Shea Theodore is another impressive puck-moving defenseman with great skating ability and hockey sense. What helps set Theodore apart is his size at 6'2 and his ability to control the pace of the game. He was returned to the Seattle Thunderbirds for the 2013-14 season and has done nothing but impress early in the season. With 24 points in his first 19 games, he currently leads the Thunderbirds in scoring and ranks fourth amongst all WHL defensemen. His solid play has surely put his name into the minds of Hockey Canada brass to potentially be included on this year's World Junior roster, but as it is primarily a 19-year old’s tournament, Theodore may have to wait until the 2015 tournament to showcase his skills on the international stage.

Mat Clark is a player entering his third season in the AHL really looking to create a name for himself. Through two seasons with the Ducks' affiliate, Clark has shown his ability to be physical, but his skating remains a work in progress. At 6'3 and 212 pounds, he has pro size, and while being held pointless through 14 games to begin the 2013-14 season, he has managed a respectable plus-one rating.  Continuing to use his physicality is necessary as he has little offensive potential. He remains a potential sixth/seventh d-man in the future for the Ducks if he can fine-tune his shortcomings.

Andy Welinski is yet another defenseman within the Ducks' organization who is quite adept at moving the puck. After a successful rookie season, Welinski returned to the University of Minnesota-Duluth as a sophomore looking to pick up where he left off. With three points in eight games to start the year, his offense is not lacking, and he seems a lot more comfortable containing the larger opponents at the NCAA. His skating has always been a strength, and defensive zone positioning is something that the majority of young blueliners need to work on.

Kevin Lind has a very thick frame at 6'3 and 223 pounds and is very adept at clearing the front of the net. He returned to the University of Notre Dame for the 2013-14 season as a senior, hoping to lead the Irish to the Frozen Four. Continuing to use his size to his advantage, while developing a leadership aspect to his game should see Lind receiving an entry-level contract from Ducks at the conclusion of his collegiate career. He projects as the type of solid, physical depth defenseman that every team needs to win hockey games, especially late in the year.

Another blueliner currently learning the game at NCAA level, Keaton Thompson joined the University of North Dakota this year as a freshman. Unfortunately for Thompson, he has only managed to draw into the line-up for one game so far this season, but this is the case with many freshman every year. As the year goes on, injuries and other changes will allow other players a chance to make their mark, and that is where Thompson will really need to make the most of his opportunities and show the safe two-way game that made him a third round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.

Size and physicality is the name of the game with Kenton Helgesen. Standing at 6'3, Helgesen has a very large frame, and returned to the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL where he has made his presence felt early in the season. His previous season high for points in a WHL season was 20 in 2012-13; through 19 games in 2013-14, he has registered two goals and 12 assists for 14 points and is well on pace to eclipse his previous season high. Being given an "A" in 2013-14 speaks to his leadership qualities.

Tim Heed is a player who really needs to elevate his game if he ever wants to put himself on the NHL radar. Originally a fifth round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, Heed has toiled in Sweden the past few seasons and has had a tough time really finding his place. He will debut for Skelleftea this year, and his return to the SHL will need to see him emerge as the puck-mover the Ducks saw potential in when they drafted him if he wants to earn himself a shot in North America.

Brian Cooper entered his draft season in 2011-12 as highly touted puck-moving defenseman. His stock dropped a little bit over the course of the year and the Ducks managed to pick him up in the fifth round. Since being drafted, Cooper enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Omaha to develop his game.  Coached by Dean Blais, Cooper will be taught how to play the game fast and hard, which bodes well for him going forward. With one point in eight games to begin his sophomore season, Cooper will require more time at the collegiate level to continue to fine-tune his game.

Josh Manson has been a bit of a surprise in the Ducks prospect ranks. Drafted while playing Junior A for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the BCHL, Manson has moved over to Northeastern University and has been a very steady presence on their back end. His point production improved from his freshman to sophomore season, and with three points in the first nine games of his junior season, 2013-14 should see another improvement from the 22-year-old defenseman. At 6'3 and 205 pounds, he has a very solid frame and is another potential depth player for the Ducks in the future.

Another hard-nosed defenseman, Andrew O'Brien possesses average size but his skating ability needs some work. He was dealt to Rouyn-Noranda in 2012-13 and enjoyed a very successful year as the Huskies made it to the QMJHL semi-final before being knocked off by eventual champions, the Halifax Mooseheads. He entered 2013-14 as a rookie pro with the Norfolk Admirals, but injuries have kept him out of the line-up for every game so far. When he does return to the line-up he will need to get himself used to the quicker pro game, while shoring up his defensive zone play.

The smallest of the defensemen within the Ducks' pool, Kevin Gagne enters his rookie season in the AHL standing 5'8 and 176 pounds. Where he lacks in size, he makes up for it in spades with hard work and smart plays. He was a member of back-to-back QMJHL championship teams in Saint John (2011, 2012), while also capturing the Memorial Cup with the Sea Dogs in 2011. The undrafted Gagne has looked great early in the season, with six points in 15 games and a plus-one rating, and he is showing that he knows what it takes to be a winner.

A behemoth, Jaycob Megna weighs in at a massive 6'6 and 201 pounds. He is in need of some additional weight, and improving his skating is necessary to succeed at the next level. He is entering his junior season with the University of Nebraska-Omaha with fellow Ducks prospect, Brian Cooper. With a few defensemen having graduated to the pro ranks in 2013-14, Megna and Cooper will be leaned on more heavily this season.

Stefan Warg is a prospect who has taken a very odd development path and has trouble finding a home. Originally a fifth round pick by the Ducks in 2008, Warg has spent time in the WHL and Sweden's Allsvenskan since being selected. His play in the Allsvenskan had improved steadily over three seasons with Orebro and Vasteras, enough so that the Ducks brought him to North America for 2013-14. He appeared in one game with the Norfolk Admirals before being demoted to the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL where he has two assist through three games.

Goaltender

Goaltending within the Ducks' organization looked extremely promising entering the 2013-14 season, but few could have predicted the kind of play the Ducks have been receiving from their young net-minders.

John Gibson enters his pro career as one of the most highly touted goalie prospects in the world. After a very successful OHL career with the Kitchener Rangers, the big-bodied netminder has done nothing but impress so far in the AHL. Through 12 games in the AHL, Gibson ranks second league-wide in goals against average at 1.80 and save percentage at .943. Fellow Ducks prospect Frederik Andersen has been impressive with the Ducks, but a healthy Viktor Fasth will result in a crowded crease in Anaheim. Should Andersen be demoted back to Norfolk, ice time will be hard to come by.

Andersen entered the season as a bit of an unknown prospect. After being drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010, Andersen re-entered the draft in 2012 and was selected by Anaheim 87th overall. He spent 2012-13 where he put up solid numbers for a rookie goaltender, and with Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth in Anaheim, Andersen seemed poised to split duties with John Gibson in Norkolk again in 2013-14. However, with Fasth sustaining an injury early in the year, Andersen was given an opportunity, and with a 6-1-0 record, 1.66 goals against average and .943 save percentage, he has been nothing short of spectacular. His emergence creates a real question mark for the team going forward.

Igor Bobkov has been over-shadowed by the performances of his teammates, but he is a good goalie in his own right, and still possesses the potential to contribute at the NHL level in the future. He won a gold medal with Russia at the 2011 World Junior Championships, and performed well in a back-up role to Frederik Andersen in 2012-13. Unfortunately, Gibson's arrival meant his ice-time would be scarce, and he was subsequently demoted to the ECHL where he will get much more playing time.