Gardiner, Schultz notable members of Anaheim Ducks disappointing 2008 NHL Draft class

By Jason Lewis

Josh Brittain - Anaheim Ducks

Photo: Bruising winger Josh Brittain is one of only four Anaheim draft picks from 2008 that is still part of the Ducks system (courtesy of Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Drafting is not always an exact science, and scouting is indeed one of the toughest jobs in the world. In 2008, the Anaheim Ducks had a draft you could describe as disappointing. While the franchise hit big with talented blueliners in Jake Gardiner and Justin Schultz, neither would ever don an Anaheim uniform, instead breaking into the NHL with Toronto and Edmonton respectively. The rest of the draft was a mixed bag of busts, project players, and depth acquisitions. While every draft is going to have the aforementioned group, the Ducks had very little to take away from a 2008 NHL Draft class that has produced many NHL players across all rounds.

Six of the team’s 10 selections are no longer with the organization, and of the remaining four, none have played an NHL game or been AHL regulars at this point. Even with a few late round low-risk, high-reward choices still waiting to perhaps have that breakout moment, the Ducks, a normally strong drafting team, had a year to forget at the podium.

Jake Gardiner, D, Minnetonka Skippers (MN HS) – 1st Round, 17th overall
Status: NHL Player (TOR)
NHL Games Played: 87

Gardiner was one of the many solid defensive prospects that came out of the 2008 NHL Draft. That first round included many quality blueliners including high picks Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, and Zach Bogosian, as well as a plethora of mid-to-late first round picks like Erik Karlsson, Michael Del Zotto, and John Carlson. While Gardner has developed a little more slowly than some of his first round counterparts he is still a very talented player who is starting to hit his stride in Toronto.

Shortly after his draft Gardiner went back to Minnetonka High School and completed his senior year, and from there he signed to play for the University of Wisconsin in the WCHA. While Gardner had respectable rookie and sophomore years with the Badgers, he broke out his junior year and tripled his sophomore production and finished the season with 41 points, a point-per-game pace.

It was about that same time however that the Anaheim Ducks constructed a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs which included Gardiner and Joffrey Lupul for veteran defenseman François Beauchemin. Gardner would immediately sign an entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs, and was assigned to the Toronto Marlies. Since joining the pro level Gardiner has had considerable success, including a 2011-12 year with the Maple Leafs that saw him accumulate 30 points in 75 games and an NHL All-Rookie team honor. While his playing time has been limited in 2012-13, Gardiner is still one of the more intriguing offensively gifted defensemen in the Maple Leafs system. His strong offensive presence and skating ability make Gardiner a valuable asset moving forward into a more stabilized NHL role.

Nicolas Deschamps, C, Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL) – 2nd round, 35th overall
Status: Prospect (WAS)
NHL Games Played: 0

One of the more intriguing centers in the mid to early rounds was Nicolas Deschamps, a QMJHL stand out with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. In the second round the Ducks jumped on the LaSalle, Quebec native. However, as many scouts will tell you, CHL success does not immediately equal professional success.

After some good seasons in Quebec through 2010, Deschamps got his chance with the Ducks AHL affiliate at the time, the Syracuse Crunch. While his offensive numbers were there in his rookie season, in 2011-12 Deschamps really struggled to find consistency in his game. Seeing that a change of scenery might help, the Ducks dealt him for prospect Luca Caputi later that season. The move sparked Deschamps but he fell into a similar habit of having a poor second year with the Marlies and again was dealt, this time to Washington in exchange for gritty defensive prospect Kevin Marshall.

Like many players before him, Deschamps suffered from a lack of strength and consistency. While his speed and vision are NHL caliber, the physical aspect of the game seemed to get away from Deschamps. He has a chance at revival in Hershey again, but if he cannot find that consistency and grit then the European leagues might fit his style best.

Eric O'Dell, C, Sudbury Wolves (OHL) – 2nd round, 39th overall
Status: Prospect (WPG)
NHL Games Played: 0

Just four picks after selecting Deschamps, the Ducks went with another center in playmaker Eric O'Dell. O'Dell, like Deschamps, was an early standout in the OHL, and an OHL All-Star in 2009-10.

However, it was before his all-star season, and very shortly after his draft that the Ducks traded him to the Atlanta Thrashers, now Winnipeg Jets, for forward Erik Christensen. O'Dell spent two more seasons in the OHL as an overeager, partly due to a scary heart defect that required surgery. However, since recovering O'Dell has fit nicely with the St. John's Ice Caps of the AHL, and has at times been called up to the Winnipeg Jets but has never dressed for a game. After playing an abbreviated 2011-12 season with St. John's, O'Dell turned in a solid near point per game 2012-13 season with the team, and it looks like he might be challenging for a roster spot on the Winnipeg Jets as early as next year. His hockey sense and playmaking ability is already top notch, and he has started to unleash his quick wrist shot more, which is finding twine at the AHL level regularly.

Justin Schultz, D, Westside Warriors (BCHL) – 2nd round, 43rd overall
Status: Prospect (EDM)
NHL Games Played: 48

Of all the talented prospects the Anaheim Ducks lost in the 2008 draft, there was no bigger loss than that of defenseman Justin Schultz. With an offensive upside that no one saw coming, Schultz was selected in the middle of the second round in 2008.

From there though, Schultz became a dominant force in his final year with Westside, and in his three seasons with the University of Wisconsin where he scored at a point per games pace every year except for one. During his time in the NCAA Schultz was a Hobey Baker finalist twice, an WCHA All-Star twice, Defensive Player of the Year twice, and an All-American in his senior year. He is among the WCHA's highest goal-scoring defenseman in history, as well as being one of the most decorated players in history.

The rest is a bit strange, as Schultz utilized a controversial loophole in the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, forgoing his final year at Wisconsin and not signing an entry-level deal with the Ducks. At this point Schultz was a free agent and opted to sign with the Edmonton Oilers instead. While Schultz has drawn the ire of some, his quality of play has been impressive nonetheless as a rookie NHL player with 27 points in 48 games. The offensive skill set and hockey sense he brings is perhaps the best of any young defensive prospect out there today and it looks like he is going to be a bright talent in the league, much to the dismay of the Anaheim Ducks organization.

Josh Brittain, LW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) – 3rd round, 71st overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

A player that fits the mold of Anaheim Ducks hockey is 6'5 Josh Brittain. Brittain is a big physical power forward who had respectable numbers in the OHL with Kingston and Barrie playing a third line role most of his career.

Brittain has often kept his game simple. He plays hard, gritty hockey, tries to impose himself physically, and chip-in offensively from time to time. While he struggled to find himself consistently in the AHL since 2010 and more often he has been an ECHL player, Brittain has had a solid 2012-13 with the Norfolk Admirals. His 19 points and 69 penalty minutes in 42 games speaks to the style Brittain has carried through his years. It is just now starting to come around at the pro level. At the ECHL Brittain has been no slouch, as his 78-game career has been accompanied by 43 points.

Marco Cousineau, G, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL) – 3rd round, 83rd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

As with many goaltending prospects, Cousineau, at age 23, has yet to really get a sniff at the AHL and beyond. After being drafted by the Ducks he had some solid success in his final two years in the QMJHL, leading both the Drummondville Voltigeurs and the Saint John Sea Dogs on deep playoff runs, the former ending in a Memorial Cup and the award for most outstanding goaltender of the tournament. Past being a CHL standout though Cousineau has had very limited success at the professional level. Goaltenders, especially of the butterfly style, are generally slow developers given how they must adjust their positioning more than any other part of their game. As players get bigger and stronger as they move up in leagues the shots become harder, more accurate, and the pace is overall much faster thus making positional adjustments a true challenge. Cousineau has all the signs of being a good solid butterfly goaltender even though his career numbers in the ECHL have been mediocre at best. He has not been given a significant amount of playing time and has generally been relegated to a backup role except for his first season in the ECHL with the Elmira Jackals in which he played 44 games. He has made small steps forward since being relegated as far down as the Allen Americans of the Central Hockey League in 2011-12, but it appears he could be on the cusp of being with Norfolk more steadily in the near future.

Brandon McMillan, C/LW, Kelowna Rockets (WHL) – 3rd round, 85th overall
Status: Minor League Player (PHX)
NHL Games Played: 91

A forward on the smallish side, Brandon McMillan was never highly regarded for his offense but more so his aggressive play and skating ability. Unlike many small forwards, McMillan did not put up a plethora of points in the WHL with Kelowna. He instead prided himself on a two-way game that saw him earn well less than a point per game in his WHL career, but a plus-12 rating over 251 career games. An attendee for Team Canada twice in the World Junior Championships with the under-20 and under-18 team, McMillan progressed from a solid WHL player to a somewhat streaky AHL player in 2010-11. The defensive minded game that got him so much praise at the junior level was put to the test against bigger and stronger competition. Despite his relative inconsistencies to start the year in Syracuse of the AHL, McMillan was moved into the NHL with the Ducks in his first pro season in late November of 2010-11, a place he would stay the remainder of the year. He finished up with a respectable 21-point rookie season, but could not keep it going as he opened up 2011-12 with just four assists in 25 games. McMillan's minutes fell along with his role as a third line player to a fourth line player and he finished up the season with a solid 30-point, 55-game season in Syracuse. Despite a pretty solid start to his NHL career McMillan quickly lost the shine that came in with him in the Ducks system and after a season of struggle in the AHL he was traded at April's trade deadline to the Phoenix Coyotes for Matthew Lombardi.

Ryan Hegarty, D, U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) – 4th round, 113th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

It was tough going from the start for University of Maine defender Ryan Hegarty. Selected in the fourth round, Hegarty was trying to cut it at the pro level as a 6'0 stay-at-home defenseman. In the modern game there are few who can play such a physically grueling position without being of significant stature. It is possible, with examples like Rob Scuderi and Stephane Robidas coming to mind, but the talent has to be significant. After his draft selection Hegarty committed to University of Maine, where he did not do quite enough over the four years to prove size was not an issue. His play did not warrant any interest from the Ducks and he was not offered an entry-level contract. He signed an AHL contract as a free agent with the Syracuse Crunch/Norfolk Admirals, the Ducks affiliate, but is still considered a free agent capable of being signed by any NHL team willing to take a chance on him.

Stefan Warg, D, Västerås J18 (J18 Allsvenskan) – 5th round, 143rd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Unlike the Ducks previous round selection in Hegarty, Stefan Warg was a stay-at-home specialist who brought a 6'3, 200-plus pound frame along with him. Warg, a hard-nosed intelligent defenseman was playing in the junior levels of Sweden upon being drafted and subsequently moved to the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds after that. After two years of varying success at the CHL level, Warg returned to Sweden to play with Örebro in the Allsvenskan. Since his return to Sweden Warg has been a very effective player, with a career plus-36 with 31 points and 211 penalty minutes in the Swedish second division. While it is always a risky move for players to go back to Europe for development, Warg has rounded out well and turned into an everyday defenseman in the league.

While he has been almost completely under the radar among Ducks prospects thus far, Warg has maintained a solid level of play, development, and a desire to play in the NHL and North America. His wish may become reality soon as rumors have been swirling since mid-April of 2013 that the big Swede and only European drafted by the team in 2008 is going to commit to North America for next fall. However, nothing at this point has officially been released.

Nick Pryor, D, U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) – 7th round, 208th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

All three of the U.S.-born prospects selected by the Anaheim Ducks were products of the United States National Team Development Program and/or the NCAA. Pryor, the team’s last selection in the draft was considered an intelligent two-way puck mover a bit on the raw side of development. A low-risk, high reward pick to start, Pryor went from the USNTDP to the USHL with Des Moines the following season, where despite 18 points in 31 games, he was a minus-24. Pryor then committed to the University of Maine where his freshman and sophomore season he saw a total of 11 games over the two seasons and was mostly a healthy scratch. However in 2011-12 Pryor got his shot at being an everyday defenseman and proved he had talent. He put up 13 points in 36 games and was a minus-two rating on the season. However, in 2012-13 Pryor had a season marred by injuries and was only able to play 17 games, with a minus-12 rating. Pryor still has a lot of developing to do and is still an incredibly raw talent. His time at the University of Maine is now complete, and whether he fits in at Norfolk or the AHL moving forward has yet to be determined.