By Thomas Harrington
Now that I’ve gone over all of the Ducks’ individual prospects, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of Anaheim’s farm system, it’s time list the players who I believe are Anaheim’s 10 best prospects. Just a quick note: as I did a year ago, I will only be including players who are eligible to win the Calder Memorial Trophy this season. To be eligible to win this award, a player has to have played less than 25 games in any single season and they cannot have played more than six games in each of the two preceding seasons. As a result, despite him being Anaheim’s top forward prospect, I won’t be including Nick Ritchie since he isn’t eligible.
I used two sets of criteria to create this list. The first is: what is their ceiling? Are they a future top pairing defender or a bottom pairing defender? Are they top line material, or more suitable for a bottom six role? The other thing I looked at is: how likely are they to reach their NHL potential? A player may have the potential to be a top six forward, but will they actually make it that far, or be relegated to the AHL or European leagues for most of their career? As an example, I had Chris Wagner in the top 10 last year because even though he projected as a bottom six player, he looked like he was pretty much NHL ready, putting him ahead of some other prospects who had a higher ceiling.
Before I get to the top 10 prospects, first, let’s go over the players who just missed the cut: Kevin Roy, Marcus Pettersson, Kevin Boyle, and Nick Sorensen. I had Roy as the Ducks’ 10th best prospect a year ago, but an injury plagued senior year and not appearing in any playoff games for the Gulls kept him out of the top 10 this year. A strong rookie season in San Diego could put him back in the top 10 in a year’s time. Pettersson just missed the top 10 for the second year in a row. He’s got the potential to be a top four defenseman, but he’s Anaheim’s fifth best defensive prospect, showing how deep their defensive pool is. If he can build off of last season and play top four minutes in the SHL, he could force his way back on as well. Boyle had a fantastic senior season in the NCAA, but it remains to be seen how much time he’ll get in the AHL this season when the Gulls already have Dustin Tokarski and Matt Hackett. He can make it to the top 10 if he can become San Diego’s starter and put up some great numbers this season. After an injury plagued 2014-15 season, Sorensen rebounded nicely last year, but it wasn’t enough to get him back in. A strong rookie season in the AHL will go along way to having Sorensen getting back on the list.
Finally, gone from last year’s top 10 are five players: Max Friberg (traded), Wagner (no longer a rookie), John Gibson (no longer a rookie), Roy, and Ritchie (no longer Calder eligible). While it’s surprising to see such a high turnover, the fact that three of those were because they are no longer rookies does show how deep Anaheim’s farm system is. Now, on to the top 10. Previous year’s rankings will be shown in parenthesis.
Anaheim’s Top 10 Prospects (In Descending Order)
10. (NR) Andy Welinski – The Ducks’ fourth best defensive prospect is solid in all three zones and just does everything well. He won’t ever be a top pairing player, but he could turn into a solid top four defenseman who sees time on the second powerplay unit and the penalty kill. It will be really interesting to watch him next year as he plays in his first full professional season with the Gulls.
9. (NR) Kalle Kossila – An undrafted free agent, Kossila figures to be one of San Diego’s top scorers this season. He had 40 assists in 41 games in the NCAA last season. If he can have that kind of production in the AHL, the Ducks might have found their next great college free agent. He could turn into a top six forward who can play wing and center.
8. (6) Stefan Noesen – A slow start to the season drops Noesen a couple of notches from where he was last year, but he’s still got one of the best shots in Anaheim’s prospect pool. Also, he was San Diego’s third best scorer in the playoffs. He’s played in two NHL games over the last two seasons and I’m confident he’s going to see more NHL action this season. Depending on how the lines shake out, he could end up in a bottom six role to start the season, and hopefully he works his way up through the lineup as the season progresses.
7. (NR) Julius Nattinen – He’s got future second line center written all over him. He played for Barrie in the OHL last season and will be on Windsor this coming season. A natural playmaker, he had 49 assists in 52 games last season. A strong season in the OHL should lead to him making his way to San Diego in a year’s time.
6. (7) Nic Kerdiles – A nasty injury marred his season, but he was one of San Diego’s best forwards in the second half of the season. His second half production, along with being able to play both center and wing, and spending time on the powerplay and penalty kill, bumped Kerdiles up a spot in this year’s rankings. Expect the California native to make his NHL debut this season. He’s got top six potential, but should at least fit in on a team’s third line.
5. (NR) Sam Steel – The Ducks’ second first round pick in 2016 helped bolster Anaheim’s center prospect ranks. He’s fast, good defensively, a strong puck puck handler, and is an excellent playmaker; essentially, he could turn into an ideal second line center. He and Nattinen could be battling for that spot in the coming seasons, just as Rickard Rakell and William Karlsson did a couple years ago.
4. (8) Jacob Larsson – Larsson had a fantastic season as an 18-year-old in the SHL last year. He saw top four minutes on one of the best teams not in the NHL. When he does come stateside, there’s a chance he’ll push for a spot in Anaheim and bypass the AHL completely. However, given the amount of depth on Anaheim’s roster, he’ll probably spend at least a little bit of time in San Diego. He’s got all the tools to be a top defensemen in the NHL someday.
3. (NR) Max Jones – The Ducks’ top pick from this past draft, Jones was a bit of a surprise at 24th overall. A number of mock drafts had him going in the top 15. The biggest concern with him is his maturity level and discipline as he received a 12 game suspension during the playoffs. Jones deserved the suspension, as it was a blindside hit to the head. As long as he can mature and put those kinds of actions behind him, he could turn into an excellent power forward. He was on a stacked London team last year that had Matthew Tkachuk, Christian Dvorak, and Mitch Marner. On a team with so much talent, Jones didn’t get a ton of time on the top powerplay unit, but still finished sixth on the team in scoring and saw a lot of time on the penalty kill. If he works out, he could turn into a great two-way power forward who scores a lot of gritty goals.
2. (5) Brandon Montour – Montour had an eye popping rookie season in San Diego last season and was one of the best rookies in the AHL. He’s going to be running an NHL powerplay in the very near future. His game isn’t quite as complete as the Ducks’ top prospect, but his future is incredibly bright. Factor in that he’s a right handed shot and the odds are good that he’s got a long NHL career ahead of him.
1. (1) Shea Theodore – For the second year in a row, Theodore is Anaheim’s top prospect. If not for a glut of NHL defensemen on Anaheim’s roster right now, there’d be little question of him spending the entire season playing for the Ducks. However, even if he doesn’t start the season in Anaheim, he’s going to get playing time with the Ducks next season. I’ll be shocked if he’s still eligible for this list next year and I expect big things from him in the years to come. Besides being NHL ready, his potential is that of a top two defender. He’s a great skater, reads the play well, has a cannon of a shot, and is an excellent passer. He’s not overtly physical, but he doesn’t need to be because of the rest of the tools that he has.
Up next will be the prospects most likely to see time in the NHL this season.
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