Anaheim Ducks 2009 NHL Draft class yielded several NHL players

By Chris Phifer

Sami Vatanen - Anaheim Ducks

Photo: The Ducks NHL lineup includes two picks from 2009, defenseman Sami Vatanen (pictured) and winger Kyle Palmieri. Anaheim’s 15th overall pick, Peter Holland, is also in the NHL with Toronto (courtesy of Warren Wimmer/Icon SMI)

Entering the 2009 NHL Draft, the Ducks were just two years removed from hoisting the Stanley Cup Finals, and with forwards such as Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan quickly becoming the face of the franchise, management felt a need to restock the cupboard offensively in the first round.

When all was said and done on draft day, the Anaheim Ducks selected seven players, including two in the first round. Anaheim addressed a need for skilled forwards at the top of the draft, while trying to shore up their defensive and goaltending depth in the mid-to-late rounds.

Thus far, the Ducks seemed to have a solid draft year. With Kyle Palmieri and Sami Vatanen currently on the Ducks' roster and making an impact, they are enjoying good short-term success from this draft class. Peter Holland also seems to have elevated his game a little since being dealt to his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mat Clark and Igor Bobkov remain long-term projects for the team, and remain NHL prospects. With Scott Valentine having moved on to the Predators organization, and Radoslav Illo's future being unclear, the Ducks still managed to come out of the 2009 draft with a few valuable assets. Palmieri and Vatanen will continue to improve and both should become top-notch contributors in Anaheim for years to come.

Peter Holland, C, Guelph Storm (OHL) – 1st Round, 15th Overall
Status: Prospect (TOR)
NHL Games Played: 60

With the 15th overall selection in the 2009 draft, Anaheim opted to draft a center with size in Peter Holland of the Guelph Storm. In Holland, the Ducks saw a sizeable force in the middle of the ice with some offensive potential to boot, and someone who could eventually become a second or third line center. Holland's draft year saw him nearly triple his offensive output from his rookie season, jumping from 23 points up to 67 points, while also adding four goals in four playoffs games in 2008-09. Holland spent the next two seasons with the Guelph Storm where he improved his offensive totals both seasons, finishing with 80 points in 2009-10 and 88 points in 2010-11. Despite having a good team in Guelph, Holland along with fellow NHL draft picks Michael Latta (WAS) and Taylor Beck (NAS) failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs from 2009 to 2011, and following Guelph's exit from the 2010-11 playoffs, Holland joined the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL to get his first taste of pro hockey.

Holland has been an impact player at the AHL level since that first end of the year stint, where he finished with six points in three games. In 2011-12, his first full season in the AHL, Holland put up an impressive 60 points in 71 games, and even earned a four game call-up to the Ducks where he managed to score his first NHL goal. In the lockout shortened season of 2012-13, Holland began the season in the AHL where he went on to score 39 points in 45 games, and earned another call-up, this time for 21 games and he made an impact with three goals, two assists and a plus-four rating. The 2013-14 season seemed to be Holland's big opportunity to crack the Ducks' lineup full-time, and despite starting the season with the big club (four games, one goal), he was demoted to the AHL's Norfolk Admirals and then traded to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, who were desperate for a center due to injuries. Upon his move to Toronto, he was given more ice time in the NHL than he was used to and made a great first impression on his new teammates and fans by scoring a goal in just his third game in a Maple Leafs uniform. He has managed to stay in the Maple Leafs lineup for a total of 31 games thus far (five goals, five assists) and his future in the NHL as a third line center remains hopeful.

Kyle Palmieri, RW, USNTDP – 1st Round, 26th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played:  122

After having nabbed a big center with their first choice of the draft, the Ducks opted for a slightly under-sized winger with lots of skill and speed with the 26th overall selection. Kyle Palmieri had just finished his career with the United States National Team Development Program when the Ducks selected him and the following year he joined the University of Notre Dame. As a rookie, Palmieri put up a respectable nine goals and eight assists for 17 points, and while many expected him to return for his sophomore season, the Ducks signed Palmieri to an entry-level contract in the summer of 2010 and with that, his pro career was set to begin. The 2009-10 season also saw Palmieri crack the United States' roster for the World Junior Championships where he scored nine points in seven games en route to winning a gold medal.

In his first season of pro hockey, Palmieri turned a lot of heads by scoring 51 points in just 62 American Hockey League contests as a 19 year old, even earning himself a 10 game call-up to Anaheim. The 2010-11 season also saw Palmieri make his second appearance for the United States at the 2011 World Junior Championships, this time around he scored six points in six games and picked up another medal with a bronze. In 2011-12, he continued to improve and in 51 AHL games scored 58 points (33 goals). He also saw an increase in his number of NHL games with 18 games and a solid seven points with a plus-three rating. With the Syracuse Crunch eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, Palmieri earned a spot on the United States' roster for the 2012 World Championships and managed four points in seven games, which was quite a feat for the then 21-year-old.

With the lockout in 2012-13, Palmieri was forced to begin the season in the AHL for a third straight season and though his point-per-game totals decreased, his 25 points in 33 games were still impressive enough for him to join the big club following the conclusion of the lockout. Along with other young players for the Ducks, Palmieri enjoyed a breakout season with 21 points (10 goals) and suited up for all seven of the Ducks' playoff games (five points). Now in his first full NHL season in 2013-14, Palmieri picked up where he left off last year by scoring 22 points in 52 games thus far (plus-seven rating) and has helped provide the Ducks with a potent secondary scoring option. Look for Palmieri's role to continue to increase in the years to come as he becomes a staple within the Ducks' offense.

Mat Clark, D, Brampton Battalion (OHL) – 2nd Round, 37th Overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 2

When Anaheim drafted Mat Clark in the second round of the 2009 draft, they saw a defenseman with great size who had made a successful jump to the Ontario Hockey League with 23 points and a plus-21 ranking as a rookie with Brampton. With a late birthday, Clark only had one more season in the OHL before being eligible to move on to pro hockey, which saw his offense remain the same with 23 points while his plus/minus rating dropped to a plus-1.

The fact remained that Clark was drafted due to his defensive capabilities and he was signed to entry-level contract by the Ducks. Starting the year with the Syracuse Crunch in 2010-11, Clark established himself as a player capable of using his size to his advantage and even racked up 128 penalty minutes as a rookie pro, to go along with 16 points. Returning to Syracuse in 2011-12 as a sophomore pro, Clark averaged near the same pace while improving on his plus/minus totals from the year before, going from minus-18 to minus-1. He even earned himself a two game call-up to the Ducks, going pointless with a minus-2 rating. In the season and a half since then, he has remained entirely in the AHL and has failed to breakthrough as that dependable shutdown force for which the Ducks hoped. Defensemen typically take longer to develop, especially the bigger players, and his hope of one day becoming a full-time NHL player remains in the balance. With this being the final year of his entry-level contract however, he needs to show Ducks' management that he is worthy of receiving another contract.

Igor Bobkov, G, Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2 (Russia-3) – 3rd Round, 76th Overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The 6'5 goaltender Igor Bobkov has been a difficult player to get a good read on as he tends to have had periods of highs and lows thus far in his career. In his draft year, he was playing in Russia's third league for Metallurg Magnitogorsk and only suited up for nine games that season. The following year he played in Russia's junior circuit where he played 14 games, while posting respectable, but unspectacular numbers, yet when he represented his country at the World Juniors, he seemed to elevate his play and finished with a .930 save percentage in six games.

In 2010-11, Bobkov made the jump to the OHL with the London Knights and it was assumed that he would take over the starter's role on a deep team. Unfortunately, he failed to live up to expectations and lost the starting role to the younger Michael Houser (FLA). Although he was having a less than stellar season, Bobkov managed to nab a spot on the Russian World Junior team for a second season, but even though he was the starter the previous season, he took a backseat to Dmitri Shikin for most of the tournament. During the gold medal game against Canada, Russia fell into a 3-0 hole early in the second period and opted to pull Shikin and replace him with Bobkov. He went on to shut the door against the high-powered Canadian offense while his teammates created havoc in the opposition’s zone and came storming back with five unanswered goals in the third period to claim the Championship. He returned to London and appeared in three playoff games, but the Knights failed to advance past the Conference Quarterfinals. The following season, Bobkov was dealt to the Kingston Frontenacs to bring stability in net to a young team. He started the majority of the games with Kingston that year, but with a 3.64 goals against average and .902 save percentage and a failure to make the playoffs, he left much to be desired in his last year of junior hockey.

He made the jump to pro hockey in 2012-13 with the Norfolk Admirals and appeared in 28 games in a back-up role, posting a 3.13 goals against average and .903 save percentage behind Frederik Andersen. With Andersen, Bobkov, and newcomer John Gibson all battling for ice-time to start the 2013-14 season, Bobkov was sent down to the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL where he would be able to play in a lot more games. He got off to a great start with a .923 save percentage in 13 games and once the injuries mounted in the Ducks' goal, Bobkov was recalled to the Admirals to make up for Andersen being promoted to the NHL. Bobkov has provided solid goaltending for an improving Admirals team this season in just eight games played, his 2.45 goals against average and .919 save percentage both represent improvements over last year's totals. Bobkov's potential remains a question mark. His size and ability to elevate his game are really helping his case, but periods of inconsistency coupled with him being part of one of the deepest goaltending pools in the NHL will make it hard for him to succeed within the Ducks' system.

Sami Vatanen, D, JYP J20 (Finland Jr) – 4th Round, 106th Overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 49

With the 106th overall selection in the 2009 draft, the Ducks took a true risk/reward type in undersized defenseman Sami Vatanen. What Vatanen lacked in size (5'10), he made up for in skill and speed. In his draft year, he spent much of the season with JYP's U20 squad, while also having brief stings with their U18 team. With the U20 team, scored 10 points in 20 games and was named the captain of Finland for the Under-18 championships, where he managed a goal and an assist in six games en route to a bronze medal. The 2009-10 season saw Vatanen make the full-time jump to Finland's top pro league, the SM-Liiga and he went on to enjoy a breakout season scoring 30 points in 55 games as a rookie. He likely would have been a top candidate for the rookie of the year award if it were not for the fact that young phenom Mikael Granlund (MIN) also skated in his first season of professional hockey in Finland that year. Vatanen also once again donned the jersey of his home country in the 2010 World Junior Championships where he brought his flashy end-to-end rushes to the world stage, scoring five points (two goals) in six games.

Returning to JYP in 2010-11, Vatanen proved his breakout year in 2009-10 was no fluke, and promptly put up 31 points, while also posting a plus-30 rating,\ and taking home the Pekka Rautakallio Award as league’s Best Defenseman. He returned to the World Junior Championships in 2011 where he was named team captain and was once again the straw that stirred Finland's drink on the back-end, recording four assists in six games. In 2011-12, Vatanen's last year in his native country, he was a man on a mission. Despite playing just 49 of his team's games, he increased his offensive output to an impressive 42 points and once again took home Top Defenseman honors. To top it all off, he was influential in leading his hometown JYP to its second Championship in just four years.

With nothing left to prove in Finland, Vatanen brought his skills to North America and the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL. From day one, it was apparent that Vatanen's skating and puck skills were top notch and that he would one day become and NHL player, the only question was when. With the NHL lockout ending and regular season play returning in January of 2013, Vatanen did not have to wait long to get his first taste of the NHL. He earned an early call-up and on February 1st, 2013, he made his NHL debut finishing with 13:52 in ice-time and a plus-rating. He went on to play seven more games with the Ducks last season, scoring his first goal on April 17th versus the Columbus Blue Jackets and finished with two goals on the season. This season he cracked the Ducks' roster out of camp, and other than six games spent with the Norfolk Admirals (six points), he has been with the Ducks the whole season. His offensive play has once again been on display and his skating ability has allowed him to get out of trouble both defensively and while in possession of the puck. With 14 points in 41 games with the Ducks so far, he and fellow rookie Hampus Lindholm have been a pleasant surprise on the back-end and should represent a large part of the team's defensive core moving forward. Vatanen also continued representing Finland at the 2014 Olympic Games, scoring four assists in the team’s three preliminary round games.

Radoslav Illo, C, Tri-City Storm (USHL) – 5th Round, 136th Overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Radoslav Illo was originally passed over in his first year of NHL draft eligibility, but it was partially due to him playing in a lower league, US Junior A hockey with the Hampton Roads Whalers. In 2008-09 he moved to the USHL and the Tri-City Storm where he scored 33 points in 47 games in what is typically a low scoring league. The Ducks liked the offensive potential they saw in the young Slovak and nabbed him in the fifth round. Illo returned to Tri-City in 2009-10 and increased his offensive output by jumping up to 24 goals and 19 assists for 43 points in 50 contests. His solid play caught the eye of the National Junior Team selection committee and he was chosen to represent his country at the WJC in 2010. He posted respectable offensive totals with two goals and three assists to tie for fourth in team scoring despite an eighth place finish by Slovakia.

In 2010-11, Illo enrolled at Bemidji State University in Minnesota and posted less than stellar numbers as a rookie with only six points in 37 games. His sophomore season was a positive step forward as Illo almost tripled his output with 17 points in 30 games. In 2012-13, it was hoped that Illo would take yet another step forward and become a top offensive player in their conference but he failed to live up to expectations and saw his offensive totals dip slightly to 14 points.  Now in his senior season of college hockey, the pressure is on Illo as he is set to become a free agent this summer if not signed by Anaheim. With 12 points in 23 games thus far in 2013-14, his scoring pace is up slightly from last year, but will it be enough to earn him a contract?

Scott Valentine, D, Oshawa Generals (OHL) – 6th Round, 166th Overall
Status: Prospect (NAS)
NHL Games Played: 0

With their final selection in the 2009 NHL Draft, the Ducks took their third defenseman in seven picks by taking Scott Valentine 166th overall. Valentine was a 6'2 defenseman playing for the Oshawa Generals, after having been traded from London during the 2008-09 season. Valentine had a decent start to the year with London in 2008-09 despite not registering a point in 17 games, but was dealt to the Generals in a blockbuster deal that saw future NHL players John Tavares and Michael Del Zotto going back to the Knights. Once he arrived in Oshawa, he continued what was a decent first full season in the OHL and finished with nine points and 51 penalty minutes. In 2009-10, Valentine returned to Oshawa and more than doubled his offensive output with 19 points and 82 penalty minutes in 62 games, displaying a knack for using his frame to his advantage. His final season in the OHL saw him really amp up the offense with 36 points and he improved his plus/minus rating by jumping from minus-31 to a plus-17. Despite what seemed like a solid progression in each of his OHL seasons, Valentine was not offered a contract by the Ducks and instead accepted an invitation to training camp with the Nashville Predators. The Predators liked what they say in the rearguard and signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract on September 30th, 2011. Since being signed, he has joined their AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals and has spent the last three seasons as a regular on their blue line. He has not quite seen the year-to-year improvements that he enjoyed in junior and is now in the last year of his entry-level contract.