The Anaheim Ducks saw many of its most prominent prospects moving up a level over the offseason. The AHL’s San Diego Gulls are going to be loaded, with potential stars like Brandon Montour, Shea Theodore and Nick Ritchie joining the club for its inaugural season in San Diego. We are also looking at several make or break years at the collegiate level from players like Keaton Thompson, Kevin Roy, and Grant Besse. This makes for some rather interesting storylines heading into the year. While we will not get to all of them in our preview, here are a few of the prospects to look at heading into a huge 2015-16 for the Ducks pipeline and the organization at large.
Top Pro Prospect
Shea Theodore, D, San Diego Gulls (AHL)
After years of dominating the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Shea Theodore is heading to the AHL to put his skills to the test. The Ducks are expecting big things out of their 2013 first-round pick, and he is stepping into a pretty light system on the blueline in San Diego. After putting up eleven points in nine games for the Norfolk Admirals last season, and having a strong postseason performance for that team back in 2014, there is good reason for optimism.
John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks (NHL)
Gibson struggled to find his way into the NHL last season due to injuries and the performance of Freddie Andersen. Gibson has been a good pro in his small sample size of the NHL, but not outstanding. This year, with a newly signed extension, expect Gibson to take more of a foothold in a split starting role at the NHL level.
He has proven capable of playing goal at the pro level even in last season’s abbreviated campaign. He played just 23 games last season with a .914 save percentage with the Ducks, and he also played just 11 games with Norfolk, but put up a .935 save percentage on a struggling team. In terms of the depth chart, he now also has Anton Khudobin and Matt Hackett pressing. Either way, look for a healthy Gibson to play much more in the coming year. While the NHL starting job is within grasp should Andersen struggle, he could end up in the AHL as a quality 60-70 game starter. The experience will be beneficial as he shakes off the physical struggles of last season, moving into his expected role as one of the best young goaltenders in hockey.
Max Friberg, W, San Diego Gulls (AHL)
There is a fluid nature to the Ducks’ bottom lines currently, and while Friberg may not start the year in the NHL, he definitely plays a game that will get him a fair share of call-ups. The feisty winger ended up with 40 points in 58 AHL games last season. He even got an NHL game in late December. If he continues to perform well, the 22-year old could see an extended look with the big club. He is one of the older draftees having coming from the 2011 class, and it may be his time to make a push for a roster spot in Anaheim’s bottom six. He was tied for the goal scoring lead in Norfolk with last season’s extended call-up candidate, Chris Wagner. Friberg is not far off from securing an NHL job.
By moving from the Finnish Liiga to the OHL with the Barrie Colts starting in 2015-16, the Finnish forward becomes the most prominent forward in the Ducks’ CHL pipeline. He faces a lot of changes in the coming year, some that we will address in the next entry. Nevertheless, in terms of pure talent, the big center is a legit all-around player with plenty of tools. It is hard to ignore some comparisons to a poor man’s Anze Kopitar in terms of style. He is big and physical: a 200-foot player with excellent playmaking and vision. Nattinen is a legitimate top prospect in the Ducks system.
New Team in 2015-16
Julius Nättinen, C/W, Barrie Colts (OHL)
Normally this category is reserved for players who swap teams via trade deadline deals or offseason moves from one junior team to another, but Nättinen is making a much larger leap. He is making a leap across an ocean, from JYP in Finland to the Barrie Colts of the OHL. The Finnish center had yet to really test the top Finnish league (Liiga) – he had three assists over nine games – and was primarily playing in the Mestis (2nd division). He now takes a giant leap over from European hockey to a very competitive OHL that plays North American hockey. This will be a year of considerable learning for the 2015 second round selection. Will we see him thrive or struggle under the weight of so many changes?
Deven Sideroff, RW, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Kamloops is going to be a rather thin offensive team in 2015-16. With last season’s leading scorer Cole Ully heading off to the AHL with the Texas Stars, this leaves a pretty big void up front. Enter Deven Sideroff. The 18-year old played his first full WHL season last year, and posted 42 points in 64 games. The opportunity for him to increase that number in his second full season is ever present. Kamloops is going to need a legitimate scoring threat up front, and the timing might just be right for the 2015 3rd round selection.
Top Amateur Prospect
Kevin Roy, LW, Northeastern University (Hockey East)
The Ducks have seen their amateur pipeline diminish considerably over the past few seasons, as names like Nic Kerdiles, Josh Manson, and Montour have come and gone from the ranks of college hockey. While they add Troy Terry to the list, they still remain a bit thin in overall NCAA depth. That being said, Kevin Roy has been one of the highest scoring players in the collegiate ranks over the past three years.
With a career 124 points in 101 NCAA games, it is going to be a treat to watch what the 22-year old has in stored for his swan song in collegiate hockey. Northeastern will have their work cut out for them though in a difficult Hockey East division. Nevertheless, expect Roy to log another 40+ point season and once again be the Huskies’ most explosive and threatening forward.
Freshman to Watch
Troy Terry, C, University of Denver (NCHC)
Terry was masterful with the U.S. National U18 team, and the fiery little forward is going to be fun to watch at Denver in his freshman year. He should see a good opportunity to elevate within Denver’s lineup considering the team had five senior forwards depart from last season’s squad. While he will not immediately jump into a prominent role with the team, the opportunity to grow is certainly there. And growth will be key, with the college schedule allowing Terry time to add some muscle and bulk to his frame.
Keaton Thompson, D, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Thompson still has yet to break out in a way that Ducks fans have expected given that he was taken in the mid-third round of 2013. After two years of incremental increases in role, minutes, and production, the all-important junior year is upon the 20-year old. Thompson plays a very smooth overall game, but has yet to tap into his puck-moving ability. With his return to the UND blueline, they sport five experienced defenseman and a capable offense to go along with it. If there was ever a year in which Thompson was going to take a step offensively, this year would be the year. There is plenty of depth in the lineup, and he now has plenty of experience at the college level to establish himself as one of the better defensive prospects in the college game.
Top European Prospect
Jacob Larsson, D, Frölunda HC (SHL)
Larsson was drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft and immediately sees himself atop the Euro prospect list for Anaheim. He is as smooth as can be defensively, while possessing an outstanding skating ability and offensive game. He has already logged a decent amount of games with the Frölunda senior team, and he has already commenced the 2015-16 season in the SHL. The 18-year old is looking to make an impact in one of the best professional leagues outside the NHL on a full-time basis this year. His dynamic and explosive game is an excellent addition to the already stacked Ducks defensive pipeline.
Marcus Pettersson, D, Skellefteå AIK (SHL)
Last year Pettersson seemed to have trouble adjusting to the next level of the Swedish league. He went from the J20 team of Skellefteå to the senior team, and then down the Allsvenskan with HC Vita Hästen. It had to happen for the lanky defenseman in order for him to get more quality minutes and more playing time. With that year of learning under his belt, look for him to bounce back and potentially make a bigger impact with the Skellefteå SHL squad this season. He has already commenced his 2015-16 season and has reportedly looked much stronger in the early goings.