Anaheim Ducks prospect awards showcase balance, talent of prospect pool

By Chris Phifer

Frederik Andersen - Anaheim Ducks

Photo: Originally called up to Anaheim due to injuries, Frederik Andersen won 20 games in 28 appearances as an NHL rookie in 2013-14 (courtesy of Chris Williams/Icon SMI)

The Anaheim Ducks organization enjoyed success not only at the NHL level, but nearly across the board in terms of their prospects as well. While most predicted the Ducks would make the playoffs, few could have expected a 116-point season to finish atop the Western Conference.

Anaheim's top affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL, entered the season with a young line-up but managed to slip into the playoffs in the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, and preceded to knock off the farm team of their California rivals, the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles).

The Ducks' success in 2013-14 did not stop at just team accomplishments. Most of their highly rated prospects within the organization lived up to expectations and made solid contributions at all different levels (NHL, AHL, CHL, NCAA, and Europe). If that were not enough, a few late round picks from the past few drafts have been exceeding expectations and its made what was a strong group that much stronger.

Prospect of the Year: John Gibson, G, Anaheim/Norfolk (NHL/AHL)

This was a very tough award to pick, and John Gibson just edged out Kevin Roy and Frederik Andersen, mainly due to his late season push and strong finish in the playoffs with the Ducks. Gibson came into the AHL as one of the most highly touted prospect goalies in the world and lived up to the hype. He spent the majority of the season in Norfolk where he continuously kept his team in the game despite being outshot on a lot of occasions.  Once in the playoffs with Norfolk, Gibson showed his ability to play in big games as the Admirals defeated the top seeded Monarchs in just four games. Gibson had started the semi-finals in net for Norfolk and had helped his team to a split in the first two games against St. John's, but he was then called up to Anaheim and Norfolk was ultimately eliminated by the IceCaps.

Gibson played in three regular season games with Anaheim late in the season and won all three games with a shutout and only four goals against on 87 shots. When the Ducks ran into problems early into their series against Los Angeles, Bruce Boudreau made a bold move by starting Gibson in game four and it paid off with the young goaltender responding with a 28-save shutout. Gibson then won game five as well with an incredible 39-save performance giving his team their first lead in the series. Unfortunately for Anaheim and Gibson, the Kings reeled off two straight wins to advance to the next round. Gibson's emergence really gives management a tough decision to make as to who will be their goaltenders next season. Gibson's size, relaxed demeanor and ability to win big games are very reminiscent of Carey Price.

Hardest Worker: Nicolas Kerdiles, C, University of Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)

Nicolas Kerdiles is a two-way forward with good speed, an above average shot and strong work ethic. In 2012-13 he showed good resolve by not being too bothered by an early suspension from the NCAA that forced him to miss the first 10 games for the Badgers. In fact, Kerdiles was a force once in the line-up and finished the season with 33 points in 32 games to finish second in scoring for Wisconsin, and tied for eighth amongst all rookies in the NCAA. Returning to the college ranks in 2013-14, Kerdiles was looking to elevate his game and become one of the top players in the country and he did a very good job of making his case. 2013-14 was a busy season for Kerdiles and he was a well travelled young man by the time it was all said and done. He assumed a leadership role with the Badgers playing on the top line with seniors Mark Zengerle and Michael Mersch (LAK) and despite only appearing in 28 games, he still managed to put up a career high 38 points (15 goals) to again finish second on the team in scoring.

In December, Kerdiles was named to the American World Junior team for the 2014 edition of the tournament in Malmo, Sweden.  He was slotted on the top line alongside Dan O'Regan (SJS) and Riley Barber (WAS), and went on to lead his team in scoring with seven points (two goals) in five games despite a disappointing fifth place finish by the USA. Kerdiles showed he could be a very strong player on the forecheck by chipping pucks deep and getting on the body in the corners quickly. He has a deceptively hard shot to go along with a quick release and is also good at spotting his teammates with crisp, accurate passes. After his college season ended, he signed with the Ducks and jumped up to Norfolk to finish the season. He suited up for the final six regular season AHL games and managed four points (one goal), and followed that up with another four points (three goals) in 10 playoff games. He will likely begin next season in Norfolk and should earn a call-up or two over the course of the season.

Best Defensive Prospect: Shea Theodore, D, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

When Shea Theodore was drafted 26th overall by Anaheim in 2013, his biggest knock was that he was a bit of a gambler and it could often lead to really good scoring chances going the other way on him. 2013-14 saw Theodore do a really good job of rounding out his game, while continuing to show his dominating offensive skills. Through his first 144 games in the Western Hockey League, Theodore had an impressive 85 points from the back-end, but in 2013-14 he really raised the bar by scoring 79 points (22 goals) in 70 games to lead all WHL defensemen in scoring. He also appeared in four regular season games with the Norfolk Admirals but did not manage a point to go along with minus-two rating. He suited up in four playoff games as well, and he made a better impact during the post-season with three points (one goal).

Theodore was Mr. Everything for the Thunderbirds this season and he really displayed his two-way game in the first round of the WHL Playoffs. He contributed offensively with three assists in five games, but he also helped his team limit their opposition to just 11 goals in five games, and ultimately Seattle won the series four games to one. The Thunderbirds ran into a very good defensive team in the second round in the Kelowna Rockets, led by CHL Goaltender of the Year Jordan Cooke and defensemen Damon Severson (NJD) and Madison Bowey (WAS). Theodore managed two more assists despite a four game sweep at the hands of the Rockets. Theodore is scheduled to return to Seattle next season, but he could turn heads at the Ducks' training camp in September.

Hardest Shot: Max Friberg, LW, Norfolk Admirals (AHL)

Max Friberg played his first full season in North America in 2013-14 and he acclimated himself quickly. The 21-year-old Swede joined Norfolk late last season after two years with Timra in the Swedish Elite League and scored one goal in the final six games with the Admirals. This season he was quickly relied upon to produce offensively, especially when teammates Emerson Etem, Rickard Rakell, and Devante Smith-Pelly were called up to the Ducks. Friberg found some good chemistry with fellow Swede Rakell but was not always on that line when Smith-Pelly was also in the Admirals' line-up as both play the left flank primarily. He finished third in team scoring with 17 goals and 23 assists in 74 games.

North American hockey fans will remember Friberg from the 2012 World Junior Championships, where he scored nine goals in six games and caused a bit of a stir when he rode his stick, a la Tiger Williams and Tie Domi, after a shootout goal. Despite his lack of size, Friberg is a feisty player and does not shy away from contact. The Admirals should be an improved team next year with their team's young guys gaining some great experience this year, and ultimately returning stronger players in 2014-15. The additions of young forwards William Karlsson and Nicolas Kerdiles will only bolster the forward group, and Friberg should again be a go-to-guy offensively.

Fastest Skater: Sami Vatanen, D, Anaheim Ducks (NHL)

Sami Vatanen has always been known for his smooth skating and flashy end-to-end rushes, and this year he showed he can be an effective NHL player despite being under-sized. Vatanen spent the majority of the season with the Ducks, but also played in eight regular season and five playoff games with the Admirals. Vatanen had a decent start to the season (four points in 14 games in October), and continued near that pace for most of the season. He had a very strong finished to the season when he drew back in the Ducks' line-up in late March and put up seven points in seven games with a plus-seven rating. He finished with 21 points in 48 games to finish 10th amongst rookie defensemen.

During the time he spent in Norfolk this season, Vatanen was a catalyst offensively and his skill and skating were on full display, as usual. Through his eight regular season games with the Admirals he scored seven points and displayed poise with the puck that cannot be taught. He also appeared in five playoff games and his three points tied him for seventh on the team. Vatanen will again push for a spot in the Ducks' line-up in 2014-15 and should stick for the full season this time around.

Most Improved: Frederik Andersen, G, Anaheim Ducks (NHL)

In a year that saw young back-up goalies emerge all over the NHL, from Cam Talbot (NYR) to Carter Hutton (NAS), and Anton Khudobin (CAR), Frederik Andersen was amongst the best from start to finish. He was originally drafted by Carolina in 2010, but after re-entering the draft in 2012, he was picked up by Anaheim and immediately made the jump to the AHL the following season. He entered 2012-13 as a bit of an unknown and went on to post very solid numbers, 2.19 goals against average and .929 save percentage in 47 games as a rookie goalie. Despite that great rookie season, few could have predicted what he had in store for the 2013-14 season. He was called up early in the season when Viktor Fasth got hurt, and when he first saw game action with the Ducks, it was in relief of Jonas Hiller against the Dallas Stars, a game the Ducks came back to win on the strength of a 24-save performance by Andersen. He then went on to win six straight games, and 12 of his first 14 NHL games. He finished the season with 20 wins in 28 regular season games with a 2.29 goals against average, and a .923 save percentage. His emergence even prompted the Ducks to deal Viktor Fasth to Edmonton.

Andersen started the series against the Dallas Stars and had his team going into game six with a 3 – 2 series lead, but was pulled after allowing four goals on 12 shots and did not make another appearance in the Anaheim net until game three of the Los Angeles series. He only allowed one goal on 23 shots in that game against Los Angeles and the Ducks won the game, but it was his last appearance in the Ducks' net for the season. The question of who will be Anaheim's goaltenders in 2014-15 remains, and only time will tell how the situation will unfold.

Breakout for 2014-15: William Karlsson, C, HV71/Norfolk (SHL/AHL)

William Karlsson is a strong skating, two-way center drafted in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft by Anaheim, and has been on a good development curve ever since. The Ducks have been patient with Karlsson and have allowed him time to grow in Sweden, where he spent the last two seasons with HV71 of the Swedish Elite League, leading the team in scoring in 2013-14 with 37 points in 55 games.

Karlsson joined the Norfolk Admirals when his team was eliminated from the SHL playoffs, and he wasted no time making an impact. He played nine regular seasons and averaged a point per game, while also posting a plus-six rating. He played in eight playoff games with Norfolk as well, but he was held to just three points (one goal). Next season will see him spend his first full season in North America, and Ducks fans will quickly realize just why the team is so high on this skilled, playmaking pivot.

Overachiever: Kenton Helgesen, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

When Kenton Helgesen was drafted by the Ducks in the seventh round in 2012, it was in large part due to his 6'3” frame and his solid defensive play. While his defensive game remains his strength, it is the improvement of his offensive game that has really put him on the radar. His rookie season in the WHL was in 2011-12 and Helgesen put up a modest 14 points, followed up by a slight improvement to 20 points in 2012-13. Returning to the Hitmen for his final year in the WHL in 2013-14, Helgesen was named an assistant captain and he took his game to another level, seeing his offense jump up to 51 points (10 goals), while also posting 67 penalty minutes and a plus-31 rating. Despite the huge upswing in offensive production, his future remains as a defensive defenseman, and he will be faced with his biggest test yet when he makes the jump to the professional ranks next season.

Underachiever: Charles Sarault, C, Norfolk Admirals (AHL)

This was another tough award to pick, as there were not too many players within the Ducks' prospect ranks who were overly disappointing, but given the hype Charles Sarault had after being signed as a free agent out of the OHL, more was expected of him in his first full year as a pro. He began the year with Norfolk and had a hard time securing himself a full-time spot within the line-up. He finished the season with 14 points in 43 games, but was not much of a factor offensively when their top players were up with the Ducks and finished the season in the ECHL with the Utah Grizzlies. He proved to be an offensive force with the Grizzlies and had 11 points in just eight games during the regular season, while also adding four more points in five playoff games. The former second-leading scorer in the OHL will once again start the season with the Norfolk Admirals in the 2014-15 and a bigger contribution will be expected from the slick passing playmaker.

Highest Risk/Reward: Stefan Noesen, RW, Norfolk Admirals (AHL)

Stefan Noesen came over from the Ottawa Senators in the Bobby Ryan trade. After missing all but two games in 2013-14, he is sliding a bit under the radar. Noesen played four seasons in the OHL with the Plymouth Whalers where he led the team in scoring in 2010-11 and 2011-12, while also playing with fellow Ducks prospect Rickard Rakell. Noesen possesses a solid frame, and has power forward potential written all over him. The fact that he missed an entire season because of a knee injury does raise some major concerns though, and 2014-15 will be a very big years in terms of his development. Should he be able to return to Norfolk next season and get right back on track with where he left off following his junior career, then the Ducks have yet another solid forward prospect on their hands; should his knee injury prove to be a nagging problem, then he may get lost in the shuffle that is pro hockey.