Strengths and Weaknesses of Anaheim’s Prospect System

Photo: David Santa Maria

Photo: David Santa Maria

By Thomas Harrington

Now that the individual prospect updates are complete, it’s time to take a broader look at the strengths and weakness of the Ducks’ prospect system. Over the last several seasons, Anaheim has had a number of prospects come up and make their way to the NHL. Some of them have become legitimate stars, while others have merely become NHL regulars, and some have struggled to crack an NHL lineup on a consistent basis. Just a few of the players that they have played in a significant number of games in the NHL over the last few seasons include Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, John Gibson, Josh Manson, Frederik Andersen, Emerson Etem, Kyle Palmieri, Devante Smith-Pelly, Rickard Rakell, and William Karlsson. Some are still in Anaheim and some have moved on to other teams. With so many players graduating from the prospect ranks, this could have left Anaheim’s prospect pool bare. However, solid drafting over the last several seasons has kept Anaheim’s prospect system strong. While it’s probably no longer a top five farm system, the Ducks still have one of the better prospect pools in the NHL, especially when you look at Anaheim’s defensive players. For more information on any of the individual players listed below, feel free to look back at the prospect profiles and updates that have been published throughout the summer. The Ducks have prospects playing all over the world, with a large number being recently drafted out of the NCAA. Anaheim also has prospects playing in the AHL, Canadian juniors, and a few in Europe too.

While it’s probably no longer a top five farm system, the Ducks still have one of the better prospect pools in the NHL, especially when you look at Anaheim’s defensive players. For more information on any of the individual players listed below, feel free to look back at the prospect profiles and updates that have been published throughout the summer. The Ducks have prospects playing all over the world, with a large number being recently drafted out of the NCAA. Anaheim also has prospects playing in the AHL, Canadian juniors, and a few in Europe too.

Strengths

The greatest strength of Anaheim’s prospect system continues to be the amount of potential NHL depth that the Ducks have. Like the above players, the Ducks have a number of prospects who probably have a future in the NHL. Not necessarily as star players, but as solid contributors who can help a team. Their biggest weakness continues to be a lack of high-end talent, although there are a couple of defensemen the Ducks have who could turn into great players. Keep in mind, none of this is absolute. Predicting the course a prospect’s career will take is nearly impossible and something that NHL teams are far from perfect at doing. However, the Ducks do have a few prospects who I feel very confident about in the years ahead.

Similar to last year, the Ducks’ prospect strength begins on the backend. After the defense, the next group of Ducks’ prospects who are the strongest are their left wingers. Centers are the third strongest group of prospects that the Ducks have, followed by their right wingers. Finally, the Ducks’ weakest group of prospects are their goalies.

The Ducks have one of the best collections of young defensemen in the league. In the AHL, the Ducks have Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour, Andy Welinski, Andrew O’Brien, Jaycob Megna, and Keaton Thompson. Of those six players, both Theodore and Montour have a good chance to appear in some NHL games this season. The only defenseman the Ducks have playing in Canadian Juniors is the recently drafted Joshua Mahura. In the NAA, the Ducks have Steven Ruggiero and Matt Berkovitz, both of whom need a number of more years in the NCAA before they sign their professional contracts. In Europe, the Ducks have Jacob Larsson and Marcus Pettersson. It will likely be the last year both play in Europe before coming stateside and joining the Gulls.

I believe that Theodore, Montour, and Larsson all have the potential to become top pairing defensemen, and at the worst will end up as top four NHL defensemen. Theodore is the best of the three, Montour has the most offensive skill and will put up a lot of points on the powerplay, and Larsson just does everything so well. Welinski could turn into a solid third or fourth option on a team’s blueline; he doesn’t do anything spectacular but he’s solid in all three zones and is a very safe player. Mahura, Pettersson, Berkovitz, and Thompson could potentially turn into a team’s fourth or fifth defenseman. Mahura won’t put up a ton of points but is solid in his own end. Pettersson is tall and lanky, and if he can learn to use his size effectively could turn into a very good player. Berkovitz has the potential to put up some points and could do some damage on a team’s second powerplay unit. Thompson is another player who is just solid all over the ice but doesn’t quite have as much of an offensive upside as Welinski does. O’Brien, Megna, and Ruggiero will have a harder time of making it to the NHL someday, but could fit in on a bottom pair or as a seventh defenseman someday. O’Brien is more known for his defensive play in his own end than what he does in the offensive zone. Megna and Ruggiero are both large players and if they can learn to use their bodies effectively against NHL competition, they can find a home on a team’s penalty kill unit.

The Ducks used to not have a ton of left wing prospects, but over the last couple of years, the Ducks have drafted and signed a number of left wingers, bolstering a group that has historically been weak in Anaheim. In the AHL, the Ducks have Nick Ritchie, Nic Kerdiles, Kevin Roy, and Kalle Kossila. Kenton Helgesen could be in either the AHL or ECHL this coming season. Max Jones and Jack Kopacka are playing in the CHL right now.

Ritchie, Jones, and Kerdiles are the Ducks top three left wing prospects. All three have top-six potential, but none of them are there yet. After playing over 30 games last season, Ritchie is technically no longer a rookie, but I still consider him Anaheim’s best forward prospect. I expect Ritchie to spend a lot of time in Anaheim this season, and Kerdiles could as well. Jones will spend a year or two in juniors before turning pro and could be an ideal fit on a second line someday, or, at worst, a great option on a team’s third line. Roy, Kossila, and Kopacka are all solid prospects on the left side and could turn into top six wingers, but there are a few more holes in their game. Roy is fast but is a little on the small side. Kossila is a highly skilled forward who can play center and wing, but is also a little small. It will be interesting to watch both Roy and Kossila adjust to the AHL after finishing up their NCAA careers last season. Kopacka was drafted this past June and has shown that he can score at the Junior level at a young age, but now he needs to improve on his numbers over his next few years in Sault Ste. Marie. The Ducks’ final left wing prospect is Helgesen. Helgesen spent an injury-plagued season in the ECHL last season. He can play forward and wing, and if he makes it to the NHL, it’ll be as a bottom-six winger.

A year ago, it was a pretty close choice between centers and right wingers, but this year, it’s clear that centers are the Ducks’ second-best forward group of prospects. In the AHL, the Ducks have Michael Sgarbossa and Joseph Cramarossa. Troy Terry and Brent Gates, Jr. are currently playing college hockey. The Ducks also have a number of centers in the CHL: Julius Nattinen, Sam Steel, Alex Dostie, and Tyler Soy.

Steel and Nattinen both have the potential to be a number two center. While it’s unfortunate that the Ducks don’t have a true top line center in their prospect system, if both of these players work, the Ducks could have a nice young combination of Steel, Nattinen, and Rickard Rakell to build around going forward. Terry and Gates are both a number of years away from turning pro, but both could end up as lower end second line centers or high-end third line centers. Dostie and Soy were both drafted as 19 year-olds who had strong seasons in juniors last year. The points they put up last year show that they have the potential to play in a team’s top nine, but they have a long way to go before they are ready for the NHL. Cramarossa is a solid third/fourth line center and penalty killer and if he makes it to the NHL, that will be his role. Sgarbossa is getting old for a prospect and has a ton of pro experience, most of it at the AHL level.  He could turn into a solid bottom six center, but may end up as a career AHLer.

Weaknesses

The Ducks’ weakest forward prospect position is at right wing. This is in part because the Ducks didn’t take any right wingers at the most recent draft and only took two in the previous two drafts. In the AHL, the Ducks have Stefan Noesen, Nick Sorensen, and Ondrej Kase. Grant Besse is currently playing college hockey and Deven Sideroff is in the CHL.

Noesen is far and away the Ducks’ top right wing prospect. He’s got an NHL shot and has played a couple of games with the Ducks over the last two years. He’ll hopefully see a significant amount of time in the NHL this season. He’s got top six potential and the Ducks could use another scorer or two in their lineup. Sorensen has spent the last few years playing in Sweden and is now ready to get started in the AHL. He’s had some major injuries over the years and will hopefully stay healthy this season. He could turn into a second or third line right winger. Kase is a former seventh-round pick who missed a large chunk of last season but is a good playmaker who could fit in on a team’s bottom six. Sideroff is on pace to be a solid third line winger right now, but if he can push his development, has a shot at turning into a second line winger someday. Besse is a good player on a very bad team and is a little harder to project. He could end up as a top-six winger or a fourth line forward. Right now, I think he’ll end up as a bottom-six winger who sees some power play time.

Last year, Anaheim’s prospect depth in net wasn’t great, but they at least had Gibson. With him graduated from the prospect ranks, the Ducks are left with two goaltending prospects: Kevin Boyle and Garrett Metcalf.

Boyle had a rough start to his college career, but he was great in his final two seasons at UMass Lowell. He’ll be battling for playing time in San Diego this coming season. He’s only signed to a one-year deal, but hopefully, he lights it up in the AHL and maybe forces his way into Anaheim as Gibson’s backup going forward. Metcalf had an up and down season in the USHL and did worse when he switched teams halfway through the season. He’ll be in the NCAA this coming season and we’ll hopefully see his numbers improve. With Gibson in the fold for the foreseeable future, the Ducks don’t need a great goaltending prospect in the system. However, if the Ducks want to remain competitive long term, they will need more goaltending depth in their prospect system in the coming years.

Future Looks Bright

Strong drafting by Anaheim over the last several years have helped keep the Ducks competitive. This has been most noticeable both in net and on defense, as a number of players the Ducks have drafted have stepped up and become integral parts of the roster. With the holes on offense, it’s looking more and more like it’s time for Anaheim’s forward prospects to step up and have a similar impact, not just in the future, but this coming season. The Ducks have a number of high-end prospects who have a good chance of having solid NHL futures, but it remains to be seen if they are ready for the NHL right now.

Next up will be the Ducks’ top 10 prospects.

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