Both the Anaheim Ducks and their AHL affiliate San Diego Gulls are into their respective post-seasons, and it has been a strong year for both squads. Youth has been on display throughout the organization, as the Ducks also have a ton of tremendous talents further down in the CHL and NCAA, and overseas in Europe. As a whole it has been a pretty productive year for the Ducks pipeline, with almost too many players and not enough awards to highlight achievements! You could find multiple winners for each award, and unfortunately we could only pick one for each category.
With the year wrapping up for a number of these players, it is time to break down the Prospect Awards for the Ducks system from 2015-16 and hand out some hardware.
Hardest Worker: Ondrej Kase, W, San Diego Gulls (AHL)
It was already going to be a hard year for Ondrej Kase. The young Czech league standout was transitioning from European hockey to North American hockey for the first time, and he was doing so at a young age with a body that may not be entirely ready for it physically. For Kase, it did not last long before he suffered his first major injury at the hands of North American hockey. A concussion sidelined the winger for most of the season, and the slow and often tedious recovery from a concussion reared its ugly head. On top of that, the language barrier also proved difficult for the 20-year old in a time where communication was probably key.
However, Kase is back to health and back to being productive on the Gulls roster. With 14 points in his first 25 AHL games, people are starting to see why he was there was excitement around him in the Czech pro circuit. In an interview with Gulls coach Dallas Eakins, it was hard work and perseverance that were highlighted most in talking about the injury recovery Kase had to fight through this year.
While Besse might not have the hardest, pure overall slap shot or bomb from the top of the circles, he does have a snappy and dangerous wrist shot. As a player 5’10 and 174 pounds, there was never going to be a lot of oomph behind his shot, but there is deception, accuracy, and a sharp release. While he turned into a much more viable distributor of the puck this season with Wisconsin, Besse still has a wicked shot that he can let fly if you give him too much space. This category can maybe be re-named “best shot” instead of hardest, but it’s the goals that count. Quick reminder that the 21-year old was a two-time 40-plus goal scorer with Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in his high school days. He can certainly fire a puck with authority.
Best Defensive Prospect: Shea Theodore, D, Anaheim Ducks (NHL)
Theodore is already starting to look comfortable in the NHL and he barely has any experience at that level. The 2013 first-round selection has seen most of his skills that dominated juniors translate over to the AHL level in his rookie season. Theodore is smooth, intelligent, and altogether controlling of the flow of play and the distribution of the puck in transition. He is hands-down the best and most well-rounded Ducks defensive prospect, and may be one of the best and most well-rounded defense prospects currently in the league. He has the offensive mind and the transition game to thrive in the new and more mobile NHL. He may very well play a more prominent role in anchoring an already young Ducks blueline in the near future.
Fastest Skater: Brandon Montour, D, San Diego Gulls (AHL)
Montour has wheels. With or without the puck, this kid can move. There will be times during games where he will gather the puck on his stick and take off on an end to end rush that can make most defending players look like they are in slow motion. He is an aggressive and enterprising offensive defenseman who often plays with an inherent risk that stems from his tremendous quickness and top-end speed. He can be a nightmare for slower defensemen and wingers to keep hold of in the offensive zone and in transition.
Prospect of the Year: Shea Theodore, D, Anaheim Ducks (NHL)
Hard not to select Theodore given the relative ease of transition from CHL to AHL to NHL. On top of the platitudes in the above defensive prospect entry, it should be noted that Theodore was also a statistical demon for San Diego. He posted 9 goals and 38 points in 50 games with the Gulls, while also putting up three goals and eight points in 19 games with the Ducks. At just 20 years of age that is fairly impressive to say the least. While other players like Nick Ritchie and Troy Terry had tremendous years, no one should flashes of brilliance and dominance quite like young Theodore has.
There will always be a little bit of anxiousness when it comes to players moving from Europe to the CHL or pro level. However, Finnish forward Julius Nattinen squashed any nervousness with a marvelous debut season in North American juniors. In 52 games, the 2015 second-round pick posted 22 goals and 71 points for the powerhouse Colts. He is also having a strong playoff campaign with Barrie. On top of his good OHL year, he won gold with Team Finland at the U20 World Junior Championships in Helsinki. While he hardly saw any time in the top level of Finland (Liiga) last season, he has proven an invaluable member to the Colts team, who look poised to make an OHL title run currently. Without Nattinen, who knows where the Colts would be at currently. He has had a tremendous 2015-16 season, and it still could get better.
Most Improved Prospect: Nick Sorensen, RW, Linköping HC (SHL)
It is amazing what a season of good health can do for a player. This was exactly the case for Nick Sorensen. It was easy to be concerned about the young Swede after his decision to head to Europe fell flat with a year of struggles in 2014-15. Injury and inconsistent playing time saw Sorensen dress for just 14 games and score a solitary goal over the course of a year.
However, with a summer of needed recovery, the 2013 second-round pick dug in with a new squad this year in Linköping HC and had 23 points and 10 goals in 37 games. He was ninth in the team in scoring, seventh among forwards, and led the team in points among U-24 players. While the excitement cooled upon his Europe departure, things are back to a positive realm as he returns to San Diego from his loan spell. He should figure into the team prominently in 2016-17.
Overachiever: Michael Sgarbossa, C, San Diego Gulls (AHL)
Sgarbossa saw immediate dividends when he came across from Colorado’s Lake Erie affiliate to the Norfolk Admirals last season. This season again showed that a change of scenery has helped the undrafted centerman in rekindling his form. His goal and point totals took a jump this year, and he even earned a call-up with the Anaheim Ducks. However it should be noted that Sgarbossa’s 40-plus point season with San Diego has come in a position where succeeding might be easier than most other situations.
The 23-year old has seen plenty of time centering the Gulls top line and top power play unit alongside the likes of Stefan Noesen, Nick Ritchie, and the defensive terrors of Montour and Theodore. He plays a pretty well-rounded game, and you should take nothing away from his solid year, but to say he has done so without some huge help from teammates and usage would be an oversight.
Metcalf was an unfortunate victim of circumstance in his final year of USHL. While the 2015 sixth round pick was playing regularly, putting up some modest to average numbers with the Madison Capitols, a mid-season trade to Waterloo saw his overall playing time dry up. The netminder was dealt to Waterloo on February 9th and has played just nine out of 23 possible games with the Black Hawks. He did himself no favors in the games he did get into, posting a 3.26 goals against average and an .883 save percentage. He enters the NCAA realm next season with UMass-Lowell. The River Hawks are losing senior goaltender Kevin Boyle, and Metcalf will likely be in a heated battle for playing time with Finnish sophomore-to-be goaltender Christoffer Hernberg.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Brandon Montour, D, San Diego Gulls (AHL)
That same speed and quickness that was highlighted earlier is Montour’s greatest strength but also his biggest weakness. You live by the sword and you die by it if you are Brandon Montour. While his tremendous speed makes him an outright terror going up ice and in transition, but it is not uncommon to see his recovery speed also challenged if a mistake happens or a read is wrong. This might end up being the biggest knock on the mobile defenseman, and something that makes coaches hesitate. He is bordering on offensive specialization with the amount of risks he takes. A better and more thorough reading of the game is needed to channell his tremendous offensive abilities. He is a mid-second round pick to boot, so that price tag does come with a little weight if he does fail to pan out.
Prospect of the Month
The NCAA tournament is over, and North Dakota were crowned national champions over Quinnipiac in the final (helping earn standout junior Keaton Thompson his entry-level contract from the Ducks). However, the University of Denver Pioneers had an outstanding tournament that saw them get to the Frozen Four before falling at the hands of eventual champions North Dakota. En route to playing UND, Denver had victories over Boston University and a surprising Ferris State team. It was in these games that Ducks prospect Troy Terry excelled, earning him Prospect of the Month honors.
Against BU in the first round, Terry logged three assists (two secondary, one primary) in the 7-2 rout. He followed that up with a two assist game in the 6-3 victory over FSU (both secondary). Despite not logging a point in the semi-final game against UND, it should be noted that Terry also had a great NCHC tournament. He had two goals and an assist in the series against Nebraska-Omaha. He also had a goal and an assist against St. Cloud State in the next game of the NCHC tournament. Even though his team did not take home a national title, Denver and Terry have to be very pleased with his performance at the end of the season. Mind you, Terry is only a freshman and is already coming up huge for the Pioneers.