By Thomas Harrington
With the San Diego Gulls so close to Anaheim, it’s become easier than ever for Bob Murray and the Ducks to call up players when needed. It could be for an injury fill-in, for a sick player, or because they are producing at a rate in the AHL that they deserve the call-up. Regardless of the reason, expect to see a number of San Diego players make their way to Anaheim at some point this season. Overall, 18 players played for both Anaheim and San Diego last season; expect to see a similar number this coming season. Some, like Shea Theodore, went between the two teams several times throughout the course of the season.
Let’s start by going over the potential open spots in Anaheim’s roster to get a general idea of what kinds of prospects the Ducks could call up. I’ll then go over the junior level players who might get some NHL time this year, and then move on to rookies in San Diego who I think could get called up. I will only include players signed to an NHL contract, so recent draft picks like Maxime Comtois and Antoine Morand and NCAA players like Troy Terry won’t be included.
In net, the Ducks are pretty well set with John Gibson and Ryan Miller manning the pipes. If something happens to one of them, Reto Berra is the most likely to step in, and Dustin Tokarski is next on the depth chart. If the Ducks feel they need more depth in net, they are also likely to go out and acquire another goaltender, as they did last year when they brought in Jhonas Enroth. As a result, I don’t expect to see Kevin Boyle or Angus Redmond called up to Anaheim this season. However, if one of them can truly shine with the Gulls, they could get more of a chance in a year.
On defense, the Ducks have Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Sami Vatanen, Kevin Bieksa, Francois Beauchemin, Korbinian Holzer, and Brandon Montour manning the blueline. The Ducks brought in Steve Oleksy as a veteran for San Diego this summer, but he could also see time in Anaheim depending on how things shake out. It’s a deep group, but both Lindholm and Vatanen will miss the start of the season, leading to an opening or two for some of Anaheim’s young defenders to have a shot at.
At forward, the Ducks have Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Patrick Eaves, Andrew Cogliano, Antoine Vermette, Jared Boll, Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, Logan Shaw, Chris Wagner, and Dennis Rasmussen. Kesler is expected to miss the start of the season, and depending on how the Ducks want to fill that void, this will have a big impact on who has a chance of getting called up early in the season. The Ducks could choose to bring in a young center to replace Kesler, or move Rakell back to center and bring up a winger instead. Also, after Anaheim’s top eight or nine forwards, roster spots are much more in flux and a player with a good stretch of games in San Diego could very well earn some time with the Ducks on the third or fourth lines.
There are only two junior level prospects who I believe have a chance at seeing some NHL action this season: Sam Steel and Max Jones. As Anaheim’s two top forward prospects, a taste of the NHL could help either in their development. For either of them to have a chance at the NHL this season, a couple things have to happen. First, they have to have incredibly impressive a training camp and preseason. Second, they need to get a little lucky. It really comes down to how the Ducks want to handle Kesler’s absence. If they want to plug in another center into the lineup, then Steel has the better chance. If they want to shift Rakell back to center and bring another winger into the lineup, then Jones has a better chance. Both of them played well for Anaheim at the recent prospect tournament, with Steel leading the way with two goals and five points in three games and saw some ice time while the team was shorthanded. Jones didn’t score as much, but he had a highlight reel goal and used his body effectively.
Even if one of Steel or Jones does make their NHL debuts this season, it won’t be for the entire year. Instead, they’ll get a few games of NHL experience and then head back to juniors, like Rakell did a few years ago. As long as they play less than 10 games, the first year of their contracts will not begin, leaving them under contract for another three years after this season.
With Lindholm and Vatanen out to start the season, the Ducks will almost assuredly bring up at least one of their defensemen from San Diego, if not two. However, Beauchemin’s recent signing means the Ducks may only need one extra body. If two rookies play well enough, however, they could both get a shot. It really comes down to what Anaheim needs. Right now, the Ducks’ top four consists of Fowler, Manson, Montour, and Bieksa, with Beauchemin, Oleksy and Holzer filling out the bottom pair.
I think that Jacob Larsson is good enough to get consistent playing time in that bottom pair right now. Depending on how he plays in the preseason, he may even get time over Bieksa in the team’s top four. As a result, I think Larsson is virtually a lock to start the season in Anaheim and has a decent chance to stay up for the entire year. However, an injury that Larsson suffered last season could impact that, but as long as he’s healthy, I expect him in Anaheim to start the season. The real question is if Larsson is in the top four, do the Ducks want another rookie on the ice? Or, would the team prefer to have a young player scratched some nights and only bring them in depending on the opponent and act as the team’s seventh defenseman? If the Ducks opt to go with a sixth or seventh defenseman, then Jaycob Megna would be their likely pick. He’s a safe player whose likely ceiling is that of a bottom pairing defenseman, but he’s been in the AHL for several years and made his NHL debut last season. Given his professional experience, he’s further along in his development than many of Anaheim’s other defensive prospects, but he doesn’t have their ceiling. If the Ducks want a player with a little more upside, then they’d probably go with one of Andy Welinski, Keaton Thompson, or Marcus Pettersson. Personally, I think Welinski has the highest upside of those four, though I’ve seen little of Pettersson because he’s been in the SHL for the last couple of seasons and he could surprise. Welinski led Anaheim’s defense in scoring with a goal and three points at the prospect tournament, possibly giving him a bit more of an edge to make his NHL debut this season. It actually wouldn’t surprise me if all four of them got at least a game this season at some point, depending on how both Anaheim and San Diego are doing at the time of their potential call-up.
While there aren’t a ton of openings at forward, there are a number of players in San Diego who have a shot at getting called up this season: Nicolas Kerdiles, Kevin Roy, Kalle Kossila, Deven Sideroff, Julius Nattinen, Mitch Hults, and Giovanni Fiore. Kerdiles, Roy, and Kossila are the most likely to see the most amount of NHL action.
Similar to Larsson, I think Kerdiles is nearly a lock to start the season in Anaheim, as long as he can stay healthy. Injuries have set him back the last couple of seasons, but him getting four playoff games last season shows how close the Ducks think he is. Kossila also made his NHL debut a year ago, while Roy’s numbers almost perfectly mirrored Kossila’s. All three of these players can play both center and wing, meaning that regardless of Anaheim’s intention to fill Kesler’s spot with Rakell or a rookie center, these three all have a shot at doing it. Personally, I think that it’s Kerdiles’ job to lose. He’s shown what he can do in the AHL over the last few seasons and should be ready for the NHL this season.
If Kerdiles starts with the Ducks, when he either hits a rough patch of play or someone gets injured, I think Kossila is the next most likely to be called up. There’s a reason he made his NHL debut a year ago. Depending on how this season goes, Roy could also be the player called up after Kerdiles, but I think he’s most likely the third forward call-up from San Diego. All three have proven that they can score at the AHL level; the next step for them is to show that they can do it at the NHL level.
As for Sideroff, Nattinen, Hults, and Fiore, they are all going to be AHL rookies this year and are a little further down the depth chart than Kerdiles, Kossila, and Roy. Sideroff is a right winger, a position that Anaheim is pretty set at between Silfverberg, Perry, Eaves, Kase, and Boll. If the team really needs to call someone up from San Diego, I think veteran Corey Tropp is a much more likely candidate. However, he did score two goals and three points at the prospect tournament, and if he can keep up that kind of production, he could be in the NHL sooner than expected. Nattinen and Hults are both centers, and I think there are simply too many players ahead of them this year for them to make their NHL debut. Despite a dip in production last season, Nattinen has improved the defensive aspects of his game so the Ducks could consider him a safe option on the ice. Hults scored three points at the prospect tournament, showing that he has some offensive upside to his game. As a left winger, Fiore has probably the best chance of these four of making it to the NHL this season simply because of how weak Anaheim traditionally is on the left side. However, Anaheim’s left wing depth is solid this season. Cogliano and Ritchie are locks there, and at least one of Rakell, Kerdiles, Roy, or Kossila will be there if not two. However, if he can really light it up in San Diego, he could get his chance.
With their sites set on another deep playoff run, Anaheim doesn’t have a ton of openings on its roster for rookies to grab. However, some key injuries before the season has even started will give some of them a chance. I expect to see Larsson and Kerdiles more often than the rest of Anaheim’s prospects this season, but others will get time in Anaheim when the need arises. Of course, there could always be a surprise. A year ago, I thought that Kase had an outside shot at a couple games with the Ducks, and he ended up playing over 50 games in the NHL. With training camp in full swing, we should get some answers quite soon.
For updates on all the Ducks prospects visit: Prospect Updates
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September 18th, 2017