By Thomas Harrington
The Anaheim Ducks drafted Julius Nattinen in the second round (59th overall) last year, and he is one of Anaheim’s top center prospects. The pick the Ducks used to select Nattinen was acquired from New York in the Carl Hagelin for Emerson Etem swap. The Ducks gave up the 41st pick in that deal, and Nattinen was one of the players the Ducks were thinking of taking with the 41st pick; they were quite happy that he was still available at 59th overall.
Before being drafted, Nattinen was playing in Finland, and I expected him to stay there for a year or two before coming over to North America. However, the decision was made to bring Nattinen stateside and have him play in the OHL; he played for the Barrie Colts last year. With the Colts, Nattinen had a very strong rookie season in the OHL, posting 22 goals and 71 points in 52 games, averaging nearly an assist per game. His 71 points were third on the team and his 25 powerplay points were second on the team. Nattinen also won over 50% of his faceoffs. He struggled a bit in the playoffs, scoring only two goals and eight points in 12 games, but he still finished tied for fifth on the team in scoring.
Nattinen also played for Team Finland, helping them win the gold medal. He scored one goal and three points in seven games. His lone goal came in a win against Canada in the quarter-finals. He was relied on for more of a shutdown role in the tournament. He was on the ice, helping defend the lead, in the final minute of the one goal win over Canada. In the gold medal game, he didn’t record any points, but won eight of 11 faceoffs, helping Finland control large stretches of the contest.
This coming season, Nattinen will suit up for the Windsor Spitfires as one of their top centers. In the offseason, Nattinen was traded from Barrie to Windsor. Barrie will likely be going through a rebuild year this coming season; that, combined with a so-so playoff performance by Nattinen, led to him being dealt. After over 70 points in 50 games a season ago, I’d like to see Nattinen build on those offensive totals. He’s much more of a passer than a sniper, so I won’t expect 30 goals out of him, but 25 should be within reach for him, and 30 isn’t out of the question. I’d also like to see him average over an assist per game this season. He will likely represent Finland again, at the World Junior Championships. Asking for a gold two years in a row isn’t fair, but hopefully, he can have more of an offensive impact in the tournament.
The Ducks signed Nattinen to his entry-level contract last summer, but it won’t begin until Nattinen turns pro, which I expect to happen in a year. Depending on when Windsor’s season ends, he could join San Diego on a tryout agreement for the end of their regular season. Once he turns pro, it really depends on Anaheim’s makeup on when he will make his way to the NHL. With Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Antoine Vermette all through at least the next two seasons, and restricted free agent Rickard Rakell, there likely won’t be a roster spot in Anaheim when he first turns pro. However, him getting a full season in San Diego is a good thing. Giving him time to adjust to the professional game and learn Anaheim’s system should help him in the long run.
Once Vermette leaves in two years, Nattinen will have a chance to make the Ducks’ roster. However, he could follow a path similar to Rakell, where he plays 20ish games in his first professional season, and then joins the Ducks on a full-time basis the following season. Injuries in Anaheim could also play a factor in when he makes his NHL debut. Between Nattinen, Rakell, and the recently drafted Sam Steel, the Ducks have a trio of young centers to build around. Rakell has already made it to the NHL, and we could see both Nattinen and Soy follow over the next few seasons. Nattinen is far from an NHL lock, but right now, it looks like he’s developing nicely into a second line center.
My next prospect update will be on Andy Welinski.
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