Talented forwards lead Anaheim prospect pool

By Andrew Knoll
Photo: 2011 first-round pick Rikard Rakell debuts at the 11 spot for the Ducks. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The Ducks have continued to mine the amateur ranks for offensive excellence as well as high-value selections in the late rounds. Their top six prospects feature three high-scoring forwards, a two-way standout and a pair of dynamic, offensive-minded defensemen. They have stocked their ranks under aging second-line forwards and veteran defensemen with quality talent. In this draft, the theme seemed to be players with rising stock such as Rikard Rakell, William Karlsson and Andy Welinski. Anaheim also selected goaltender John Gibson, a top-rated netminder, to add another promising player to their goaltending stable.

1. (3) Kyle Palmieri, C/RW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2009

Palmieri delivered what many thought he was capable of during a scorching finish to the AHL season. He wound up leading the Syracuse Crunch in points and his late-season surge convinced many he may be ready for a full-time slot at the NHL level. He posted six goals in four games during a single week at the height of his offensive tear. Palmieri earned AHL Player of the Month honors for March. The late-season surge spurred, in some part, modest improvement by the Crunch as a whole. It also cemented Palmieri’s status as an elite AHL player. He won the honor after a bit of a flat stint following his participation in the World Junior Championships.

Although his confidence and consistency were not where some may have expected coming off his second World Juniors appearance with Team USA, his finish to the season demonstrated a good deal of progress and some evidence he may be ready for the next level. Palmieri scored his first NHL goal in a brief call-up with the Ducks last season and their forward corps has little set in stone beyond its top line and the prominence of returning veteran Teemu Selanne.

Palmieri entered training camp as the prospect most likely to land a skill role on the main roster. While the team has sputtered to a poor start in preseason play, they will continue to evaluate the immediate potential of Palmieri to step into a roster spot if not a top-six slot.

2. (1) Emerson Etem, C/RW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2010

Etem had a strong postseason in which he registered 21 points in 15 games for the Medicine Hat Tigers en route to their elimination in the WHL Conference Finals. Those points included 15 goals, as goals have continued to account for the majority of his overall scoring. In May, he signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Ducks.

Etem has developed his defensive game as well, finishing the regular season at plus-41 and showcasing his two-way ability as a capable, dangerous penalty killer. He also played consistently on the power play and continued to be one of the WHL‘s top snipers. The biggest area for improvement remains his play without the puck.

While his skating style may be unorthodox, he has speed to spare and a very quick release on his shot. He has accepted his responsibilities in his own zone and on the forecheck. Yet he still may not quite have put together the complete offensive picture. Once he does, his playmaking ability and consistency at the next level could be become impressive. Etem could challenge for a spot on the roster this season, but it remains to be seen if Anaheim would be willing to try him in a bottom-six role in favor of gaining more experience at the junior level both with Medicine Hat and Team USA.

3. (2) Peter Holland, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2009

Holland turned in another fine season with Guelph last year, but he has always had the talent to produce points even when he does not perform up to his own standards. Last season, he not only produced but produced consistently, assumed a leadership role and excelled in a variety of spots for the Storm.

He concluded the season by enjoying a cup of coffee in Syracuse, where he posted six points in three AHL games. While it may be a small sample size, the seamless transition to the next level of competition was an encouraging sign for Holland’s development. At the junior level, he was able to get sound results from average efforts at times, something that will be more difficult as he climbs the ranks of pro hockey. Holland has responded favorably to such pressure thus far.

His commitment on the ice carried over into the offseason, where he trained with the renowned Gary Roberts. An overhaul of his weight-lifting, conditioning, and nutrition habits have produced a leaner, better-condition Holland, who appears ready to take the next step in his career as a budding big forward with hands.

Whether or not Holland emerges on top in a fierce battle for remaining forward spots on the Ducks roster in training camp, he should have the opportunity to advance within the organization quickly. He has skated with the ageless Teemu Selanne and the newly acquired Andrew Cogliano thus far in Ducks camp. If he returns to Syracuse, he should immediately step into a prominent scoring role there.

4. (5) Devante Smith-Pelly, LW, 7.0B
Drafted 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2010

Smith-Pelly has developed into an intriguing prospect in short order for the Ducks. The powerful forward has continued to develop both strength and skill, establishing a heavy presence in all three zones. A strong forechecker who moves the puck intelligently and finishes effectively in tight, Smith-Pelly’s offense improved to the point where he tied for the OHL lead in playoff goals.

That feat was part of a general trend of clutch scoring for Smith-Pelly, who figured prominently in runs to both the Robertson Cup and the Memorial Cup for Mississauga. His physical play was also equal parts consistent and timely. He became a feared body checker on defense and a formidable battler near the netfront on offense. He has been compared to rugged scorers such as Dustin Brown and Chris Stewart.

Smith-Pelly may be the best-suited young forward for a bottom-six role with the Ducks among his prospect competitors. He will not be AHL-eligible this upcoming season, so either he will be plugged into an energy role with the big club or be welcome with open arms for another season in Mississauga. Smith-Pelly has continued to train with Stewart, Wayne Simmonds and other NHL players this summer, while also impressing observers at Team Canada scrimmages in Edmonton.

5. (7) Justin Schultz, D, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2008

Schultz dominated the WCHA last season with the University of Wisconsin and promptly announced he would return for another year with the Badgers. His 18 goals and 47 points led the nation among defensemen and he captured the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Not only has Schultz gained a reputation as a fluid skater, a slick puck-handler and an astute igniter of rushes, his defensive play has improved considerably. Another year of development should do wonders for his complete game and another season performing at this level should continue to bolster his confidence.

While Schultz has NHL height, his frame is still slight. If Schultz will succeed at the pro level, he will need to develop elite-level skills and a bit more strength. A rapid riser in the Ducks organization, he may just do both those things and become a top-four defenseman down the line.

6. (4) Sami Vatanen, D, 7.5C
Drafted 4th round, 106th overall, 2009

Vatanen is another undersized, skilled defenseman who burgeons with promise. He has represented Finland at both the World Juniors and, on the senior level, at the World Championships. Even in tightly controlled systems, he has found a way to display his stunning array of offensive abilities.

His arsenal consists of blazing speed, supreme confidence carrying the puck, uncommon poise in the offensive zone, and silky passing skills that make him one of the more dynamic defensive prospects in the world. A knee injury limited his participation in key late-season action-the SM-Liiga playoffs and 2011 World Championships-but he has already made a healthy return to JYP where he will compete again this season.

Vatanen remains a marquee name among a crop of smaller young defensemen that seek to break the mold of the successful pro rearguard. If he can develop strength and continue to refine his explosive skill-set, Vatanen could one day become an electrifying NHL blueliner.

7. (6) Brandon McMillan, LW/C, 7.0B
Drafted 3rd round, 85th overall, 2008

McMillan finished with 21 points in 60 games for the Ducks last season, placing him on the verge of graduation. The ostensibly undersized McMillan plays bigger that his stature, combining grit and speed to make a solid contribution to the big club.

Versatility has remained a selling point for McMillan, a three-position forward who can play in all situations when called upon. He logged over two shorthanded minutes a night and played sporadically on the power play as well.

Despite heavy competition, McMillan’s spot on the Anaheim roster seems firm. He has succeeded largely on effort and determination, a pair of qualities that could lead to an expanded role this season in the event of an injury or underperformance by a veteran forward.

8. (NR) John Gibson, G, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 39th overall, 2011

Gibson was the top-ranked North American goaltending prospect in the 2011 draft. The Ducks, who dealt down in the first round to acquire an extra second rounder, pounced on him at 39th overall, the highest selection they have ever used on a netminder.

He has very good size, lateral movement and poise, billed by many as at once a safe bet to reach the NHL and a high-ceiling player with star potential. He may be the heir apparent to Jack Campbell in the U.S. national program. Gibson has already shown the wherewithal to compete in big games, showing composure on and off the ice. Like Campbell, it appears Gibson is headed for the OHL where he is property of the Kitchener Rangers.

Given the Ducks’ uncertain situation in net, Gibson may have the best shot at seeing pro ice soon among the three goalies selected in the 2011 second round. Still, his time in Ducks camp has shown that he is understandably raw. He surrendered three goals in under 30 minutes and earned a loss in his first preseason appearance. Spending at least one season in Kitchener, a program that alumnus Mike Richards called "a pro organization," should give both Gibson and the hockey world a better look at his potential.

9. (8) Nick Bonino, C, 7.0C
Acquired via trade with San Jose Sharks, March 4th, 2009

Bonino had some ups and downs last season, literally and figuratively. A stint with the Ducks was hampered by injuries, inconsistent play and varied ice time. In 26 regular-season games and four playoff contests, he failed to register a single point in Anaheim.

While his time in Syracuse offered him a more regular role, his play there was also a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Nevertheless, Bonino had a strong finish to his AHL campaign, totaling 45 points in 50 games. That was good enough to earn him the lead in points-per-game for the Crunch, although he finished fifth in total scoring behind players who spent less time at the NHL level.

Bonino remains a playmaker by trade, the young pivot has refined hockey sense, outstanding vision and beautiful touch on his passes. Although he does not possess remarkable speed, Bonino is a high-energy player. The acquisition of Andrew Cogliano may crowd the big club’s center picture a bit, but thus far the Ducks have experimented with some of their centers at wing positions. Even if he does not make the roster, a full season in Syracuse with some finishers on his wings could further the progress of Bonino.

10. (10) Patrick Maroon, LW, 7.0C
Acquired via trade with Philadelphia Flyers, November 21st, 2010

After the Philadelphia Flyers cut ties with Maroon, he proved to be a treasure for the Syracuse Crunch by bolstering their anemic power play and even-strength offense. Maroon finished with 21 goals and 48 points in 57 games with the Crunch, forming a formidable tandem with veteran Josh Green up front on the power play.

Maroon’s conditioning was solid in terms of both strength and endurance. His physique has never been in question, the 6’4, 225-pound forward has always offered an attractive mix of a hard body and soft hands. He operates between the high slot, where he has a potent shot, and the net front, where he uses his size effectively. He has also improved his competitiveness along the boards and in puck battles.

While it remains to be seen if Maroon has an immediate pro future, his experience and ability were huge assets to the Crunch last season. Depending on how things shake out in Anaheim training camp, Syracuse could be one of the more improved teams in the AHL this year, particularly with Maroon manning the front of the net.

11. (NR) Rikard Rakell, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2011

The Ducks moved down from 22 to 30 and snagged Rakell, an under-the-radar Swedish import from the OHL. Rakell presents an intriguing mix of above-average speed, a projectable frame and maturity beyond his years. He posted 43 points in 49 contests for the Plymouth Whalers last year and figures prominently into their forward mix for this season.

A fastidious worker, Rakell has demonstrated sound positioning, intelligent decision-making, a willingness to throw his body around and strong composure. He trains with countryman and top prospect Gabriel Landeskog (COL), whom he credits with showing him what it takes to be a NHL-ready player both physically and mentally.

Rakell could be a nice find at the very bottom of the first round for the Ducks. He seems like a safe bet to at least reach the NHL. Thus far, he has not quite shown the offensive explosiveness to project confidently into a top-six role. That said, injuries reduced his opportunities and hindered his performance at times during the 2010-11 season, which was also his first in North America. Rakell opens with a low spot in a deep Ducks organization, but could easily climb its ranks with a solid 2011-12 campaign in Plymouth.

12. (9) Igor Bobkov, G, 7.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 76th overall, 2009

Bobkov earned the opportunity to make a pair of starts late in the AHL season. He won both while posting a .917 save percentage. More importantly, he appeared comfortable, used his size effectively and showed a glimpse of what may be the near future in net for the Syracuse Crunch.

He struggled a bit in London in a backup role but showed several flashes of why the 6’6 Russian could be the next big thing in net on both the CHL and international stages. He was traded to Kingston where he will almost certainly play as an overage import next season. He made a preseason start against San Jose, playing 30 minutes and stopping 16 of 19 shots he faced.

On paper, Bobkov’s CHL season was unimpressive but it was a key transition year as he made the leap to North America. His struggles also allowed him to display a pair of assets, his resilience and poise. Next season, he should have the opportunity to make considerably more starts in net with the Frontenacs. Meanwhile, on the international stage, he performed valiantly in the Subway Super Series and was the winning goalie for Russia‘s improbable comeback against Canada in the gold medal game of the World Juniors.

13. (NR) William Karlsson, C, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd Round, 53rd Overall, 2011

Karlsson had a brilliant season with Vasteras’s Under-20 squad as he notched 54 points in 38 games. He was promoted to the pro club for 14 games in which he played respectably and registered four points. He also tied Ottawa’s top pick Mike Zibanejad for the Team Sweden scoring lead with 8 points at the World Under-18 Championship.

Though he remains far from being phyiscally ready for the NHL, Karlsson has shown playmaking ability and hockey sense beyond his years already. He is an above-average skater with soft hands and a commitment to the defensive side of the game. He has some elusive moves and changes speeds well. He has compared his style to that of countryman Henrik Zetterberg.

Like many 18-year-olds, Karlsson’s biggest challenge will be readying himself physically for the grueling length and intensity of an NHL season. He will continue playing in Sweden this coming season in which he will likely play against men professionally and his top-level peers in international play as well.

14. (13) Kevin Lind, D, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 177th overall, 2010

Lind represents a unique asset for the Ducks, a physical, stay-at-home defenseman. With Scott Valentine and Mark Mitera having departed from the organization, the list of prospects fitting that bill has been shortened to Lind, Matt Clark, and the newly drafted Andy Welinski.

To this point, Lind has shown more progress than Clark and has a much more developed physique than Welinski. A big player with a smooth stride and a long reach, Lind has displayed a controlled nastiness and strong competitiveness that enable him to excel in one-on-one battles as well control the flow of opposing teams. He has shed the awkwardness of being a towering teenager and improved his coordination.

He is also a strong skater with modest but respectable offensive instincts. Lind has the speed to join the rush and the ability to make the simple play to get pucks up the ice, although his offense is still somewhat raw. Lind’s work ethic has been praised widely and his increasingly well-developed physique lets him carry some positive results around with him. If he continues to fill out his impressive frame and develop his offensive game a bit, Lind could complete the journey from sixth-rounder to career NHLer.

15. (NR) Rick Schofield, LW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 22nd, 2011

Schofield has shown the sort of steady progress that enables relative unknowns to crack the NHL ranks and even soar to new heights in the pros. He improved upon his production in each of his four seasons at Lake Superior State University, ultimately leading the team in virtually every major offensive category as a senior.

After the NCAA season, he played 11 games in the AHL, posting seven points for the Crunch. His experience and savvy have caught the eyes of observers in Syracuse, where he figures to be a regular in the lineup next season.The undrafted free agent offers yet another reason that the Crunch could make a return to the AHL playoffs next season.

Big goals were a common occurrence for Schofield, who netted five game-winners as a senior. He has shown a knack for making critical plays and a commitment to improvement. Seldom satisfied, Schofield has pushed himself to become improve his effectiveness and completeness through his entire career to this point. While he still rounding out his skill set and filling out his frame, Schofield may prove a shrewd signing for the Ducks in the not-so-distant future.

16. (11) Nicolas Deschamps, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2008

Deschamps led the Crunch in scoring for much of last season, yet it was a bit of a tallest-midget achievement as Syracuse floundered offensively. Ultimately, Deschamps fell behind teammates with fewer games for the scoring lead and completed a mostly forgettable season.

Once a prolific scorer in the QMJHL, Deschamps has not shown the finish and creativity he displayed there at the AHL level yet. He has been used in a variety of situations and continued working hard, but the results are simply not there. He still possesses a quick, accurate wrist shot.

An active player with respectable speed, the 2011-12 season could tell the Ducks much more about Deschamps. Playing with a full year under his belt and a deeper team around him, the coming campaign might offer a better indication of Deschamps’ ability to carry over his CHL success into the minor pro level and, perhaps, the NHL.

17. (12) Matt Clark, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2009

Clark struggled for much of his rookie campaign in the AHL, appearing less a complete rearguard and more a complete bust at times. His play evened out late in the year, however, when he cut down on turnovers, increased production, and improved his theretofore woeful plus/minus rating.

Heralded as a big, physical defender with offensive potential, Clark’s season curbed the enthusiasm surrounding his arrival in Syracuse. Still, he played significant minutes and appeared to have learned from the mistakes he made during the first three quarters of the season.

Like Deschamps, a year could make a big difference for Clark, who fell short of expectations as an AHL rookie. He should earn plenty of minutes again this year and hopefully round into the player many believed he would when the Ducks drafted him high in the second round.

18. (NR) Andy Welinski, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2011

Welinski rose up the draft boards more than perhaps any other prospect, soaring from No. 103 overall in the CSS mid-term rankings to No. 48 in their final rankings. Over the course of his lone campaign with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, Welinski developed considerably on the physical side. His offense also began to blossom late in the season and the Gamblers. In games in which he registered a point, they were a stunning 13-2.

Next season, Welinski will compete for his hometown University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. He may very well continue growing and he already has strength beyond his modest yet respectable size. He credited his family for enabling to make his own decisions and said that his dream had always been to play college hockey.

While his arrival in Anaheim may not be imminent, Welinski addresses an organizational need and gives the Ducks yet another promising player whose stock has been on the rise. Welinski said he patterned his game a bit after the Los Angeles KingsJack Johnson as a player who can key his team offensively and play with a bit of a mean streak on defense.

19. (14) Maxime Macenauer, C, 6.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2007

Macenauer will never lose his most appealing assets, which are his strong hockey sense and willingness to pay the price to get to the right spot on the ice. His intelligence, positioning and persistence have remained exemplary.

He had his most productive stretch late in the season with Syracuse, posting nine points in his final 12 games. Although he has been considered an average athlete, he has worked hard to maintain a high level of fitness and improve his skating technique.

While Macenauer’s future may be uncertain, he has seized control of his development to the extent that he can and trusted his coaches to handle the rest. He should be back in Syracuse next season as a top penalty killer and a forward who gets regular minutes at even strength as well.

An encouraging sign for Macenauer, who can play all three forward positions, is that he has seen many reps and loads of responsibility in training camp two years in a row.  Ducks coach Randy Carlyle has lauded Macenauer’s hockey sense, his versatility and his work as a penalty killer.

20. (NR) Mathieu Carle, D, 6.0C
Acquired via trade with Montreal, July 15th, 2011

Carle now approaches prospect graduation and faces the potential of being a career AHLer. With the Hamilton Bulldogs, he proved a reliable, offensive-minded defenseman, the sort that the Crunch needed last season. His point production seemed to hit a plateau somewhere in the high 20s with Hamilton.

Size is not an issue with Carle, he has filled out his frame to around 210 pounds and does not struggle on the physical side. Still, his defense leaves much to be desired and while his puck-moving ability is strong, his offensive production does not merit ice time in the face of defensive deficiencies.

Strengthened commitment to play in his own zone, more consistent play and a reduction in unnecessary minor penalties are all requisite improvements for Carle to stick at the NHL level and realize the top-four potential many saw in his game at lower levels.