By Thomas Harrington
The future of the Anaheim Ducks was on the ice this weekend in San Jose for two futures games. The Ducks dropped the first game at SAP Center by a score of four to one, but got revenge the next day at Sharks Ice with a five to two victory.
Rather than give a recap of the game itself, I’ll focus on specific players and how they performed in the game. I’ll mainly be going over players who are in the Ducks’ system, and not on an ATO or PTO, but a few of those players did impress me and deserve to be mentioned.
Despite the loss in game one, the game itself was still a lot of fun and there were a lot of positives to take from it. Keep in mind, these futures games mean nothing. There were only two things that I wanted out of the games this weekend: no injuries, and for certain players to have good games. Given the lack of depth at center and in net, it’s unsurprising to see the Ducks drop one of these games. The important thing is that, even in the loss, some of the young players still played well and showed they have a shot at an NHL future.
For the most part, players that have NHL or AHL experience stood out among those who didn’t, as they had a better idea of what to do on the ice, and were more used to the Ducks’ system. However, there were some players who are coming from juniors or Europe who impressed in these two games.
The top line for the Ducks in both games was made up of Julius Nattinen, Nick Ritchie, and Stefan Noesen. Nattinen was the Ducks’ MVP for the weekend. On Saturday, he scored the Ducks’ lone goal and could have had a hat trick, as he had several good chances in the slot. The puck just seemed to find him in the right place all weekend long, and I counted at least five shots for him in the loss. He was arguably even better on Sunday, as he set up two of the Ducks’ goals and just controlled the puck really well all night. Ritchie used his body to shield the puck effectively and showed that he knew what to do with the puck with some nifty stick handling. While he didn’t score in the first game, he made up for it by potting the hat trick on Sunday. A tic-tac-toe passing play led to his first goal, he tipped a point shot for his second, and he banged home his third goal into the empty net. Besides the goals, he got more involved physically as the game went on and was hustling on the backcheck. Noesen made some nice plays but was largely contained in the first game. He was better on Sunday, as he made some real nice plays while the Ducks were shorthanded and had a nice shot block in the first period. He also made a great hustle play to get to the loose puck and set up Ritchie for his third goal. Noesen got into a fight at the start of the third period, and also wore one of the As.
In game one, the second line was made up of Irvine native Nic Kerdiles, Nathan Noel, and Bryan Moore. Kerdiles played wing on Saturday and had a very strong second period. On one Ducks’ powerplay, he recovered the puck multiple times and helped keep the attack on. While he didn’t show as much skill as I hoped for, his tenacity and ability to get to loose pucks was a lot of fun to watch. He switched to center in game two and played well there, but I think he looked more comfortable on the wing. Regardless of where he plays, his ability to play multiple positions will help him going forward. Noel is a small player who got pushed around too much and needs to get stronger on the puck. He played center on Sunday but he switched to the wing on Sunday, and played a little better, but he’ll need to add some muscle. Moore stood out a few times with some nice shifts. He hustled for loose pucks and had some good shots.
Joseph Cramarossa, Alexandre Alain, and Matt Berry made up the Ducks’ third line on Saturday. Cramarossa really impressed me in that game, especially while the Ducks were shorthanded. He’s a veteran of a couple of AHL seasons, and it was obvious in his play on the ice. His impressive play carried over into game two, as he continued to get lots of time while the Ducks were down a man. Berry made a few nice plays, while Alain never really stood out to me in this game. Alain did have a nice chance on Sunday, but ended up hitting the post. On Sunday, Charles Sarault joined this line, subbing in for Berry. Like Cramarossa, he’s a veteran of a couple AHL seasons, and he looked more polished than some of the younger players on the ice.
Kenton Helgesen, Lane Pederson, and Wyatt Johnson were on the fourth line for the Ducks in game one. Helgesen played alright but was largely invisible. I never really noticed Pederson, but Johnson was probably the best of the players who were on an ATO. He hustled for the puck in both games and had some good hits. Matt Bailey took Helgesen’s place in Sunday’s game, and played very well. He spent this past year in Norfolk, and his time in the AHL has served him well.
On defense, the Ducks’ top pairing was Jaycob Megna and Shea Theodore in game one. Megna is a big guy and I didn’t notice him a lot on Saturday, which is a good thing. It means he didn’t make a lot of big mistakes. I paid attention to him more on Sunday, and he impressed me. Megna will never be mistaken for a great skater, but his size gave him a real advantage on the ice. If he can learn to effectively use it, he could become an ideal bottom pairing player. Megna wore the other A over the weekend. This was the first time I’ve gotten to see Theodore in person, and he didn’t disappoint. A few times he was just flying up and down the ice, especially when it was four on four. He’s got amazing speed and a really hard shot. It’s easy to see why the Ducks are so excited about him. Surprisingly, he did not play in Sunday’s game. I haven’t seen anything about him being injured, so I assume it was to not risk him getting hurt in a meaningless game, and to give a few other young players a chance to shine. Also, the Ducks could have felt that Theodore simply couldn’t show anything more at Sunday’s game.
Andrew O’Brien and Brandon Montour made up the Ducks’ second pairing on Saturday. O’Brien is another big defensemen, and played really well while the Ducks were shorthanded, clearing the puck several times and getting in the shooting lanes. He was less noticeably in Sunday’s victory, but similar to Megna, that’s not a bad thing. Montour is a great skater and has a hard shot, and as a bonus, is a right handed shooting defenseman, something coveted by most teams. He looked a little shaky on Saturday, but was much better on Sunday. Besides picking up a goal, his positioning when the Sharks had an odd man rush was excellent. Between him and Theodore, the Ducks have some nice offensive options coming up on their blueline in the next couple of seasons.
Finally, the third pairing on Saturday was made up of C.J. Garcia and Josh Manson. Manson was the team’s captain for the weekend and it was obvious that he has played in the NHL. He was a very steady player on the ice and read plays well. He upped his game on Sunday, as he collected a goal and two assists. His best play came on Ritchie’s first goal, as he held the puck in at the line, and started the passing play that led to the goal.
On Sunday, Garcia and Theodore came out, and they were replaced by Eric Knodel and Kevin Gagne. Knodel is a giant and was paired Montour. Gagne didn’t have much of an impact on the game and was paired with O’Brien.
In terms of special teams in the first game, the Ducks’ powerplay faltered and allowed a shorthanded goal on Saturday. However, despite not scoring, the Ducks’ powerplay chances in the second period were great. The Ducks’ penalty kill fared much better, as it killed off every powerplay the Sharks had on Saturday. On Sunday, the Ducks’ powerplay struck for three goals, including two of Ritchie’s. The penalty kill did allow a goal, but overall it still looked very good. Besides the high end prospects, the Ducks have a few players who have a shot at being bottom six or bottom pairing players who make their living while the team is shorthanded.
Overall, it was a really fun experience, and I’m hoping the Ducks travel to San Jose again next year for at least one prospect game. While most of these players won’t make it with the Ducks, it’s still fun to watch them go out on the ice and give it their all. A lot of these players will be in San Diego this season, so if you get a chance, I urge you to check the Gulls out and get a look at the Ducks’ future.
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