Anaheim Ducks 2011 draft preview

By Andrew Knoll

Photo: Physical two-way defenseman Joe Morrow would make a nice complement to the more offensively inclined blueliners in the Ducks system. (Photo courtesy of WHL)

Top 10 prospects

1. Emerson Etem, RW
2. Peter Holland, C
3. Kyle Palmieri, RW
4. Sami Vatanen, D
5. Devante Smith-Pelly, LW
6. Brandon McMillan, LW
7. Justin Schultz, D
8. Nick Bonino, C
9. Igor Bobkov, G
10. Patrick Maroon, LW

Team Needs

In the four seasons since their Stanley Cup championship, the Ducks have transformed into a much more offensive-minded team. Gone are the future hall of fame defensemen Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermeyer along with goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere and most of their formidable checking line. Arrived are the primes of their top-line forwards and the resurgence of several 30-something players who were huge contributors this past season.

After sifting through the clearance bin for veterans like Andy Sutton, Andreas Lilja, and Paul Mara, the Ducks ultimately settled in with a decent defense corps last year. Their bottom six also underwent a good deal of deck-shuffling before it came into a bit better focus late in the season. Nevertheless, the Ducks sat firmly in the bottom half of penalty-killing teams last year and still need to add grit both on defense and on their third and fourth forward lines. Players like Brandon McMillan, who played 60 games as a rookie, and Devante Smith-Pelly, a 2010 second-round selection who excelled in the OHL this year, may fill those bottom-six holes effectively. On defense, the Ducks will have to continue to look for size and toughness, although Scott Valentine of the OHL has shown promising development in those areas thus far.

Goalie Jonas Hiller signed a contract extension and appeared to be in the midst of a breakout season before he was sidelined with mysterious dizziness and headaches. The subsequent scramble for a netminder saw the Ducks ultimately go with Ray Emery in goal, although both his own health and current contract status present cause for concern as a replacement for Hiller should his symptoms persist.

Organizational Strengths

Anaheim boasted one of the elite top-six forward groups in the NHL last season as well as the league’s top-scoring defenseman, Lubomir Visnovsky. They ranked second in power-play conversion percentage, trailing only to the Presidents-Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks. Despite the advanced age of Anaheim’s second line–Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Jason Blake were all 36 or older–the Ducks seem to be in excellent shape up front. The Maurice Richard Trophy winner Corey Perry, their team captain Ryan Getzlaf, and the former second overall pick Bobby Ryan are each under contract for at least the next two seasons.

The Ducks’ offensive strength runs deep in their organization. The gifted major-junior prospects Emerson Etem and Peter Holland have notched a combined 149 goals in the past two CHL seasons while Kyle Palmieri has emerged as legitimate offensive force in the AHL. On the blue line, the well-rounded Luca Sbisa, the rookie standout Cam Fowler, the NCAA‘s top-scoring defenseman Justin Schultz, and the freewheeling Finnish sensation Sami Vatanen all promise to deliver some pop from the back end.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Ducks’ wild ascent to a top-four spot in the Western Conference astonished even Head Coach Randy Carlyle last season. Carlyle’s biggest obstacle in propelling his team upward was the loss of his starting goaltender Hiller to vertigo issues that have not yet been resolved. The team leaned heavily on HIller to steal games and pull out 40-save wins as their defense muddled through the early part of the season. Although Anaheim solidified their blue line a bit with the midseason acquisition of former Duck Francois Beauchemin, their defense remained a work in progress.

With higher selections like Mark Mitera and Matt Clark not having demonstrated immediate main-roster potential, the Ducks continue to lack a strong defensive presence. The acquisition of the veteran two-way defenseman Toni Lydman gave them a start in that area, but a shutdown rearguard to stabilize Anaheim’s defense corps would be an immense addition. In net, the Ducks have been incredibly resourceful when it comes to snagging goalies. They got the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner Giguere in a reasonable trade and they signed Hiller as an undrafted free agent. This season, they acquired Dan Ellis for the struggling Curtis McElhinney and signed the former CHL Goaltender of the Year Emery to a lean $500,000 contract. Emery came off an essentially unprecedented recovery from major hip surgery. He is currently an unrestricted free agent. Ellis’s performance has been mixed and Hiller’s future remains uncertain, although both players are under contract for coming season.

Draft Tendencies

Anaheim’s draft tendencies have been well-balanced with some solid value picks coming in the later rounds. They have not been skewed toward any particular source of prospects, plucking a blend of players from the CHL, USHL, NCAA and European talent pools. Though they have not had much success with NCAA prospects of late, Wisconsin’s Schultz and Notre Dame’s Kevin Lind may change that. Their 2010 draft was likely the best top-end draft they had since 2003 when they selected Getzlaf and Perry in the first round.

Anaheim’s early selections have ranged from speedy forwards to stout defensemen in recent years, but one area where they have seldom invested high picks has been in net. Ilya Bryzgalov, the 44th overall selection in 2000, remains their highest-selected goalie in franchise history by a wide margin. Current prospect Igor Bobkov, taken 76th overall in 2009 was the second-highest pick ever among Anaheim goalies.

In 2011, the Ducks may wind up with very few picks in the late rounds but they have retained selections in the first three rounds and added a top pick in the third round.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:

No. 22: Joe Morrow, D

Hailing from a WHL team loaded with NHL prospects in the Portland Winterhawks, Morrow would bring a stabilizing defensive presence to the Ducks. He has good enough mobility and puck-distribution ability to jump into the play or create offense from the blue line, but is also strong and physical, willing to lay punishing body checks and drop the gloves.