Strengths and Weaknesses of the Ducks’ Farm System

Photo: http://www.ontariohockeyleague.com/

2015 Ducks Development Camp, Photo: http://www.ontariohockeyleague.com/

By Thomas Harrington

The Anaheim Ducks have a very strong prospect pool, arguably one of the deepest in the league. Now that the updates have been written, it’s time to examine the strengths and weakness of the Ducks’ prospect system. For more details about the prospects mentioned below, feel free to peruse any of the prospect profile and updates that have have been put up this past summer. The team’s greatest strength is the sheer amount of quality prospects who have a good chance at making it to the NHL, especially on defense. The biggest weakness is the lack of game breaking talent, especially among the forwards. The Ducks simply don’t have a Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, but there are a lot of strong prospects coming up through the AHL, CHL, NCAA, and in European leagues. In terms of position, the Ducks have the most depth of talent on defense, followed by forward, and finally in net.

Photo: NHLPA

Shea Theodore, Photo: NHLPA

DEFENSEMEN

Since it’s the Ducks’ greatest asset in terms of prospects, I’ll start off with looking at their defensive prospects. The Ducks’ number one defensive prospect is Shea Theodore. Theodore has tons of offensive potential and has become much better in his own end since he was drafted. His ceiling is as a top pairing defenseman. Helping Theodore out in San Diego this season, the Ducks have Josh Manson, Brandon Montour, Jaycob Megna, Kevin Gagne, and Andrew O’Brien. Manson has already made his Anaheim debut, and I have to think both Theodore and Montour are not too far away from doing so as well. Both Manson and Montour are likely to turn into top four players, while Megna, Gagne, and O’Brien could make it to the NHL as a bottom pairing player or seventh defenseman, although that’s far from a guarantee. Montour had an incredible rise from the USHL to the NCAA to the AHL last season and is second to Theodore in terms of offensive talent among the Ducks’ defensive prospects. Manson is more of a safe player, but he has some offensive talent as well. Of the other three, I think Megna has the best shot at making it to the NHL, as long as he can learn to utilize his large frame effectively. O’Brien improved a lot last year, but still has a long way to go. Gagne needs to have a much better season this year if he wants the Ducks to re-sign him next summer.

The Ducks have a couple of defensemen playing overseas: Jacob Larsson and Marcus Pettersson. As a first round pick, the Ducks have high hopes for Larsson’s future, and he’ll spend the next year or so in Sweden, hopefully in the SHL, improving his game before he comes to North America. Larsson is a very smart player, but will need to improve his positioning and offensive game before he joins the Ducks. Pettersson is more of a project and will probably take a little longer to come over. When he fills out, he could turn into a really solid player. If both continue to develop, either of them could be in the Ducks’ top four sometime down the road.

In the NCAA, the Ducks have Andy Welinski, Keaton Thompson, Brian Cooper, Steven Ruggiero, and Matt Berkovitz. Of them, I think Welinski has the best chance at making it to the NHL. He’s improved every year he’s played in the NCAA, and will be the captain of his team in his senior year. Look for him to turn pro and join the Gulls in a year. Thompson, Cooper, and Ruggiero could all turn into bottom pairing players. Of the three, I think Thompson is the safest bet to make it to the NHL. He strikes me as a Joe DiPenta type player: he goes on the ice and you know exactly what he will give you. Both Cooper and Ruggiero have higher ceilings, but it remains to be seen if they can reach it. Ruggiero is one of the biggest prospects the Ducks have, and size is something they don’t have a lot of coming up. Cooper is a lot like Welinski in that he plays well in most situations. However, his size is a bit of a concern going forward. Berkovitz will be starting his NCAA career at the University of Wisconsin this season. He’s a long way from turning pro, so it’s difficult to project where he will end up, but he’s at a good school that has turned out a number of quality defensemen over the years, so he’s someone to keep an eye on in the future.

The Ducks already have a number of young defensemen on their roster: Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, and Simon Despres are all 24 and under. So even if most of these players don’t work out, the team is still in a very good position on the backend. However, I’m confident that a number of these players will make it to the NHL in the coming years. With all the young talent coming up in the next few years, the Ducks will have some hard decisions on who to keep, but the team should have a strong, young, and mobile defense for years to come. I believe that Theodore, Montour, Manson, and Larsson have the best chance at making it to the NHL.

Photo: Aaron Bell/CHL Images

Nick Ritchie, Photo: Aaron Bell/CHL Images

LEFT WING

At forward, the Ducks’ prospect pool is deepest at left wing. Considering the lack of talent on the Ducks’ left side in recent years, this is a very good thing. The top left winger prospect is former first round pick Nick Ritchie, and he’ll be making his AHL debut this fall. Other left wingers joining him in San Diego include Nic Kerdiles, Max Friberg, and Kenton Helgesen. Ritchie, Friberg, and Kerdiles should give the Gulls a nice blend scoring, size, and speed. It wouldn’t surprise me if all three suited up in an Anaheim uniform at some point this season. Helgesen will be making his AHL debut this season as well, and will probably start out in the team’s bottom six. The other top left winger in the Ducks’ farm system is Kevin Roy. He’ll be returning to Northeastern University for his senior year of college. He has led Northeastern in scoring in his previous three seasons, and as long as he is healthy should do so for a fourth season in a row. Between Roy, Kerdiles, Friberg, and Ritchie, the Ducks should be able to fill the holes on the left side of their roster that has vexed them for so long. All four could have a future in the NHL; however, the Ducks will have to choose who they want with the team on a long term basis, especially with the recent four-year extension given to Carl Hagelin. Helgesen is a little tougher to predict, but his size and ability to play both forward and defense make him an intriguing prospect to watch. The weakness the Ducks have at left wing is that, after these five players, there is no one else. So if they do make it to the NHL in the coming seasons, the Ducks will need to restock the talent at left wing in their prospect system.

CENTERS

After left wing, it’s a bit of a toss up between center and right wing in terms of quality, but I believe the Ducks are a little bit deeper at center. The Ducks don’t have any top line centers in their prospect system, but they do have a number of quality center prospects who could become solid NHL players on the second or third line. Coming into this summer, the Ducks were looking thin at center with William Karlsson being traded and Rickard Rakell graduating from the prospect ranks. However, the Ducks did a nice job of restocking centers at the draft. Chris Wagner is currently the Ducks’ top center prospect, and he made his NHL debut this past season, and figures to be one of the leaders in San Diego this season. He should have a future as a third/fourth line center in the NHL. Joining him in San Diego will be Michael Sgarbossa, acquired for Mat Clark, as well as Joseph Cramarossa and Charles Sarault. While it’s not the deepest AHL center core, Wagner and Sgarbossa should do nicely as the team’s top two centers. Sgarbossa has good talent, but needs to work on his overall game if he wants to make an impact in the NHL. He could turn into a second or third line center, but will need to bring a much more complete game in order to do so. Cramarossa and Sarault are long shots at this point to make the Ducks’ roster, but strong seasons from either of them could put them back on the Ducks’ radar for the future. Also, Kerdiles can fill in at center if needed.

In college, the Ducks have Troy Terry and Brent Gates Jr. Both were drafted back in June and it will probably be at least a couple of years before either one of them turns pro. Terry was one of the youngest players taken back in June and is a little hard to project as a result. Gates missed a lot of time with injury last season, but he should be fully recovered and ready to go this year. The final center prospect in the Ducks’ system is Julius Nattinen, who will be playing in the OHL for the Barrie Colts. After signing his entry-level deal with the Ducks, it was decided that the Ducks wanted him playing in North America, rather than his native Finland. Nattinen could be this team’s future second line center. It would take a few seasons, but when Ryan Kesler starts to slow down, the Ducks could drop him back to the third line and see if Nattinen works out on the second line. It’s far from a guarantee, but of their center prospects, he probably has the best chance of making it there right now. Nattinen and Wagner are the two players that I see with the best chance of having an NHL future, although it is hard to make an educated guess to the future of their other recent draft picks.

RIGHT WING

Finally, the position at forward where the Ducks are weakest in terms of prospects is at right wing. In some ways, that’s not a huge issue, as the Ducks have Corey Perry and Jakob Silfverberg locked up long term on the right side, so being shallow at this position isn’t as detrimental as it could be, but the Ducks will probably seek to improve their right wing prospect depth in the future. Even though the Ducks are weakest at right wing, that does not mean that the Ducks have no quality prospects coming up on the right side. The top prospect here would be Stefan Noesen, who made his NHL debut this past season. He’s dealt with two brutal injuries these past two seasons, but is one of the best goal scorers the Ducks have in their prospect ranks. I’m expecting to see him get more time in Anaheim this season, and if healthy, to lead the Gulls in scoring. Joining him in San Diego is Matt Bailey, who will probably be used in more of a bottom six role and on the penalty kill. In Europe, the Ducks have Nick Sorensen, who is coming off a difficult season where he missed a lot of time because of injury, but is hoping to get back on track this year. A strong season from him should lead him to San Diego in a year’s time. The Ducks also have Ondrej Kase, who signed his entry-level-contract back in May. Kase played in Europe last year, and could do so again. He could also start the year off in San Diego, but I have not seen any official confirmation as to where he is playing yet.

In the NCAA, the Ducks have Grant Besse playing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He had a strong sophomore season on a terrible team. He’s a little small, but could become a useful top nine forward if he continues to develop as he has this past season. Finally, Deven Sideroff is currently playing in the WHL and is known for being a smaller player with good hands who is good defensively. Of these players, the only one I truly feel confident about making it to the NHL is Noesen, with Sorensen being the second most likely.

Photo: Tim Sharp, Associated Press

John Gibson, Photo: Tim Sharp, Associated Press

GOALIES

The weakest position for the Ducks’ prospect pool is definitely in net. The Ducks only have two prospects in that position right now, John Gibson and Garrett Metcalf. Gibson is one of the top goaltending prospects in the NHL right now, and should have a bright future. Metcalf is big and lanky and has a lot of room to grow. He will be in his freshman season at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He’s definitely a project, and it would be nice if the Ducks could have another prospect somewhere in between these two, as Gibson is ready to play in the NHL right now, although maybe not as a starter, and Metcalf is several years away from turning pro. Teams don’t need a ton of goaltending prospects, but only having two is on the low side. I would expect the Ducks to draft at least one more goaltender next June, if not bring one in via trade sooner than that.

FINAL THOUGHTS

With all this young talent coming up, the Ducks have some hard decisions to make in the next few seasons. Some of these players will be with the team for a long time, or are far enough away from having a shot where it’s not a big issue right now. However, some of these players will be traded away to try and upgrade the roster right now as the Ducks chase after the Cup. Also, some of these prospects, even some of the highly rated ones, won’t work out. A high level prospect is far from a guarantee, and every team has had prospects who looked like they had a good future, only to not make it to the NHL or do so and not live up to expectations. However, the Ducks have enough talent and depth in their prospect pool that even for those who don’t work out, there are other players who will be able to step up and fill that role instead.

The two players who I believe have the best chance at making it to the NHL are Theodore and Gibson. While neither is a guarantee, they are as close as a sure thing as the Ducks currently have in their prospect system and could turn into NHL stars. The next group of players likely to make it to the NHL are Ritchie, Wagner, Manson, Montour, Larsson, Kerdiles and Noesen. It’s doubtful any of them will be the Ducks’ top player in the future, but they all have a solid chance of becoming very good NHL players. While the Ducks don’t have any elite talent among their forwards, they have enough depth where they should be able to plug future holes in their roster.

Up next will be my list of the Ducks’ top 10 prospects.

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