Anaheim Ducks 2011 draft review

By Andrew Knoll
Photo: In Rikard Rakell the Anaheim Ducks get a hard-working forward with some goal-scoring acumen. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The Anaheim Ducks finished 2010-11 with a late-season surge powered by Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry and an early playoff exit despite a Herculean effort from the ageless Teemu Selanne. The Ducks leaned heavily on an explosive sextet of forwards and the NHL’s second-ranked power play.

Anaheim entered the draft lacking physical defenders, a clear future in net as Jonas Hiller battled ongoing symptoms of vertigo, and depth at center. General manager Bob Murray hinted he might pursue pivots early, but instead opted to trade down for a versatile winger in the first round.

A deal with Toronto netted the Ducks the 30th and 39th overall selections. They kept relations friendly with former GM Brian Burke, now in Toronto, by swapping a 2012 sixth-rounder for the Maple Leafs’ 2011 sixth-round selection. Anaheim also owned the Islanders’ third-round pick from the James Wisniewski trade, affording them five selections in the first three rounds and seven picks overall.

The Ducks ultimately had balance in their draft choices as they grabbed a goalie, two wingers, two centers, and two big defensemen.

Rikard Rakell, RW – Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
1st Round, 30th Overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 191 lbs

Rakell played his rookie season in the OHL with the Whalers after spending his developmental years in Sweden. Like No. 2 overall selection Gabriel Landeskog, a workout partner of Rakell’s, the Swedish winger wanted to acclimate himself to the minutes, schedule, style, ice surface and competitiveness of the North American game.

At the draft, he said he viewed himself as a goal-scorer within the framework of a versatile, two-way forward that was not limited to a single position. With room to fill out, Rakell said becoming physically ready for the NHL had been an ongoing challenge for him. He credited Landeskog with showing him what it takes to prepare oneself physically and pushing him in their workout sessions.

Lower-body injuries limited Rackell’s participation and production to some extent. He netted 19 goals and set up 24 more in 49 regular-season games and one playoff contest. The impressions of scouts mirrored Rakell’s description of his game. He earned a reputation as an energetic and defensively responsible player with scoring touch that had yet to be cultivated.

John Gibson, G – USA U-18 (USHL)
2nd Round, 39th Overall
Height: 6’3 Weight: 205 lbs

Gibson said he was uncertain about Anaheim’s level of interest after a combine interview and some brief contact, however the Ducks were quite confident in Gibson. They made him the highest selection for a goalie in franchise history at 39th overall.

Though he narrowly missed being the first goalie taken in the draft, he was the first North American selected and will appropriately hone his skills at a top U.S. program, the University of Michigan. Gibson said at the draft that he was looking forward to becoming a part of the history and tradition of the prestigious Wolverines program. He also praised the Ducks organization and, without getting ahead of himself, said he relished the situation he could be in within a relatively short period of time in Anaheim. Gibson competed for the U.S. under-18 team and performed well throughout a wide variety of circumstances during the tournament.

Widely regarded as the most bankable goaltending prospect, the large and long Gibson swallows up space in the net and moves powerfully yet economically in net. He is a hybrid goaltender who can be extremely stingy in the butterfly position. Not only does Gibson bring athleticism in a large package, he is also a mentally strong and consistent performer between the pipes. Few who assessed his game mentioned any major flaw beyond the ubiquitous need for repetition and experience. Though he may not have the game-stealing ability of Hiller or the departed J.S. Giguere, Gibson may well have an NHL future with a club in flux in goal currently.

William Karlsson, C – Vasteras Jr. (Sweden-Jr.)
2nd Round, 53rd Overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 163 lbs

Karlsson made a quiet ascent up the draft boards with strong showings for both his junior club and the Under-18 team in Sweden. A solid skater with an uncommon feel for space and positioning, Karlsson may be the type of speedy, heady center the Ducks have come to value in their top nine.

He and winger Gustav Bjorklund formed a formidable tandem this season on both the Swedish junior and international stages this year. Both players are undersized; strength and conditioning surely head the list of “must improve” comments for Karlsson.

An apt defensive player who excels in the faceoff circle and demonstrates respectable hands, Karlsson’s potential remains as high as his development curve is steep. Though he may not make an immediate impact, the Ducks are one of several teams who believed Karlsson had a nice mix of quantifiable skills and intangibles that could make him a solid center at the NHL level.

Joseph Cramarossa, C – Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (OHL)
3rd Round, 65th Overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 188 lbs

Cramarossa’s father Vito was a former sixth-round selection of the Washington Capitals as well as Joseph’s coach during his early life. While their paths to being drafted were a bit different—the elder Cramarossa praised the younger’s skill and finesse – Cramarossa said his father gave him a solid foundation from which to work and helped him through the turbulent periods of his development.

In Mississauga coach Dave Cameron, Cramarossa found someone who could cultivate the physical nature of his game and show him that making the NHL had everything to do with a willingness to bang bodies. He and teammate Devante Smith-Pelly, a 2010 second-round selection by Anaheim, brought a blend of grit and skill to the Majors on a spectacular run that brought them within one win of a Robertson Cup and one win of a Memorial Cup as well.

Cramarossa considers himself a power forward in the making. He will seek to add strength, fill out his frame, and better utilize his speed in his quest to become a top-nine forward with an edge to his game. He brings relentlessness on the forecheck, tenacity on defense, and a bit of toughness with the gloves off to an Anaheim organization that is seeking some regulars in their bottom six as well as younger players for their second line.

Andy Welinski, D – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
3rd Round, 83rd Overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 188 lbs

Welinski was another riser on draft boards this season. After the relatively inexperienced rearguard gained the trust of his coach and persisted through some healthy scratches, he quickly drew attention from scouts. Welinski was ranked 103rd in Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings, but rose to No. 48 in their final ranking as he earned regular playing time to display his potential.

The native of Duluth, Minn. was drafted close to home and will play right in his backyard at the University of Minnesota-Duluth next season following a successful first year in the USHL. Welinski forwent his senior season in high school and played 51 games with the Green Bay Gamblers, an experience he said helped him because of the heavy schedule. He credited his parents for his development to this point, citing their support and willingness to let him make his own decisions. Welinski always wanted to play college hockey and took a measured path in his development so that he could be an impact player immediately at the NCAA level.

He has a projectable frame with a physique that has already surpassed many of his peers. A solid skater who enjoys the physical game, Welinski said he admired Kings defenseman Jack Johnson as a player who could display a bit of nastiness in his own zone and jump into the play offensively as well. His connection to Southern California pros did not end there, growing up Welinski was a close friend of Kings 2010 first-rounder Derek Forbort, whom he said he looked forward to facing in the near future.

Max Friberg, LW – Skovde (Sweden-3)
5th Round, 143rd Overall
Height: 5’11 Weight: 185 lbs

Sticking with the ascension theme of the Ducks’ draft, Friberg went from relative obscurity to widespread notoriety with his performance at the World Juniors in Buffalo. Words like “feisty,” “gutsy” and “sparkplug” seemed to leap off the lips of observers. The smallish Friberg plays a big game. Though he has the speed and creativity expected from a prospect of his size, he remains very willing to stick his neck out to make plays both offensively and defensively. He earned a reputation as a solid penalty killer and a fearless player on the international stage.

Friberg edged out some SEL players for a spot on the WJC team despite his playing in Division I. He has a sound understanding of positioning in all three zones and possesses a quick release on a shot with respectable velocity. Upper-body strength and overall bulk remains areas of need. Nevertheless, Friberg gets plenty of strength and energy from his frame as it is, showing an ability to play beyond his size much like recent standouts such as Claude Giroux (PHI) and Brad Marchand (BOS).

While his somewhat limited body of work and size may have scared off a few teams, this pick appears to be a spectacular value for Anaheim. Friberg figures to spend a bit of time in Europe and the minors before transitioning to the NHL, but when he arrives many may wonder how he slipped all the way to No. 143. At just 17, he opted for a third-tier men’s league over top junior competition. He posted 40 in 34 games last season.

Josh Manson, D – Salmon Arm Silverbacks (BCHL)
6th Round, 160th overall
Height: 6’3 Weight: 205 lbs

An attractive project, Manson converted from forward to defense last season, a switch that yielded immediate dividends. He nearly doubled his point total by jumping from 24 to 47 points and proved a quick study at the position. Manson will play another season in the BCHL before he heads to Quinnipiac University.

At 6’3 and a reasonably lean 203 pounds, Manson’s physical development has already jumped ahead of schedule. His offensive instincts as a forward have already begun to manifest themselves on the blue line.

While Manson has not yet played against top-level competition and will likely have a bit steeper than average development curve because of the various adjustments he will have to continue to make, this could be another excellent value pick. Anaheim targeted him late and acquired the pick to select this intriguing athlete who may bear fruit for the Ducks down the line.