Strengths and Weaknesses of Anaheim’s Farm System

Photo: timesofsandiego.com

By Thomas Harrington

Now that the individual prospect updates and profiles are complete, it’s time to take a broader look at the strengths and weakness of the Ducks’ farm system: both in general and by position. 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. The following are some of the players drafted since 2011 who have had an impact in the NHL: Hampus Lindholm, John Gibson, Josh Manson, Joseph Cramarossa, Frederik Andersen, Rickard Rakell, Nick Ritchie, Shea Theodore, Ondrej Kase, Brandon Montour, 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 no longer a top 10 farm system, the Ducks still have a solid group of prospects. They are also hurt by the fact that Anaheim had no first round picks in 2017, though having two in 2016 helps to balance that out.

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. Note: for players that can play multiple positions, they’ll be listed under the position that Anaheim’s website lists them as playing. Even if I think they’re better in a different position, I’ll still go with what Anaheim lists them as in order to be consistent. Also, I’ll be listing players with the teams they are expected to be with this coming season, not who they played for last year.

The greatest strength of Anaheim’s prospect system continues to be the amount of potential NHL depth that the Ducks have. It’s the reason why a late round pick like Kase or a seemingly forgotten prospect like Cramarossa can come from almost out of nowhere and have an impact at the NHL level. 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 elite talent, although there are a couple of prospects who could turn into great players. Still, it’s doubtful that the Ducks have a Ryan Getzlaf in their farm system, and there certainly isn’t a future Connor McDavid. However, keep in mind though that 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.

For the last several seasons, Anaheim’s greatest prospect strength has been its defense, but this year, that’s no longer the case. This is partially because so many young defensemen have graduated and become NHL regulars and partially because Anaheim has focused on drafting forwards over the last couple of seasons. Still, given how young Anaheim’s defense is, they can afford to focus on young forwards for now.

Anaheim’s greatest strength in terms of prospect position is its centers. The Ducks have really focused on drafting centers in recent years and it’s paid off. Next up are the defensemen. Even though it’s not as strong a group as the last couple years, Anaheim still has a good group of defensive prospects. Third is Anaheim’s left-wing group. Anaheim has a couple of really high profile prospects here, but not as much depth as the centers and defensemen do. Fourth is Anaheim’s right-wingers. The Ducks only have a few players coming up on the right side, but I wouldn’t consider any of them a dud, though there are certainly questions. Finally, fifth is Anaheim’s goaltending prospects. Anaheim has done a great job of rebuilding its goaltending prospect depth over the last year, but there are no surefire prospects in the system and it’s the position with the most question marks around it.

Anaheim has really rebuilt their prospect center depth over the last few years. Even better, given how many centers are currently on Anaheim’s roster, the Ducks can really afford to be patient with this group and let the cream rise to the top. In the AHL, the Ducks have three rookies: Mitch Hults, Julius Nattinen, and Alex Dostie. In Canadian Juniors, the Ducks have Sam Steel, Tyler Soy, and Antoine Morand. Steel may make his NHL debut this season, but all three should spend most, if not all, of the season in juniors. In college, the Ducks have Troy Terry, Brent Gates, Jr., and Jack Badini. Terry and Gates are the closest to turning pro, but they each have at least another year in the NCAA.

I believe that Steel and Terry have the greatest potential to have long NHL careers, and both could be in Anaheim’s top six someday. Steel has the most offensive potential of any of Anaheim’s prospects. Terry can light up the scoreboard; he doesn’t quite have the offensive flare that Steel does, but he’s fantastic in the shootout. Nattinen, Morand, and Gates all have the potential to end up in a team’s top six but could work better as complimentary scorers in a team’s top nine. Dostie, Soy, Hults, and Badini look more like bottom six players right now but could turn into something more in the future.

With Theodore and Montour no longer in the farm system, Anaheim’s defensive prospect pool isn’t as impressive as it was a year ago, but it’s still a solid group of players. In the AHL, the Ducks have Jacob Larsson, Jaycob Megna, Andy Welinski, Keaton Thompson, and Marcus Pettersson. Larsson and Megna both made their NHL debuts last year and are the most likely to spend more time in the NHL this season, although any of them could suit up for a game or two this year. In the college ranks, the Ducks have Matt Berkovitz and Steven Ruggiero, while Josh Mahura is the only defensemen the Ducks currently have in juniors. None of these three are close the NHL right now.

Larsson is the most likely to have a successful NHL career. He could be a top pairing player someday, but I think he’s more likely to be a great number three guy. Mahura has some great offensive tools and could run a powerplay. If he improves defensively he could be a solid top-four player. Welinski, Thompson, and Pettersson could all turn into a fourth or fifth defensemen. Megna is a bit slow, but he could turn into a serviceable bottom pairing player or a team’s seventh defenseman. Berkovitz and Ruggiero aren’t busts, but given how their career paths have differed from most players, they are a little harder to pin down; I think they could turn into solid bottom pairing players.

Anaheim’s second best forward group are its left-wingers. In the AHL, the Ducks have Nicolas Kerdiles, Kalle Kossila, Kevin Roy, and Giovanni Fiore. Kerdiles and Kossila both made their NHL debuts last season and will likely see more NHL time this year, while Roy could make his Anaheim debut this year. In junior hockey, the Ducks have Max Jones, Jack Kopacka, and Maxime Comtois. Jones is the closest to being NHL ready of these three, but I believe he’s at least a year away.

Jones has the most potential in Anaheim’s left-wing group and could work really well next to Getzlaf someday. He’s a physical presence like Ritchie, but a better skater. Kerdiles is the closest of any of these five to the NHL and could work well in a top-nine role, maybe even in the top six. Kossila and Roy have similar ceilings to Kerdiles but aren’t as close to a full-time role in the NHL. Comtois also has top nine potential and could end up in a team’s top six someday. Fiore has some great offensive talent, but his likely ceiling is that of a top nine complementary scorer. Finally, Kopacka is more likely a future bottom six player, but he could surprise and turn into a scoring winger.

Anaheim’s weakest forward prospect group are their right-wingers, because of how few there are when compared to Anaheim’s other forward positions. Thankfully, the Ducks are deep enough on right wing that they don’t need a huge selection of right wing prospects right now. This position was also weakened by Kase developing so quickly and making it to the NHL last year. Deven Sideroff is the only right wing prospect the Ducks have in the AHL, while Kyle Olson is the only one in juniors. Neither of them will be in NHL soon, though Sideroff could be a nice surprise in the near future, similar to Kase.

Sideroff could be a future top-six scorer on Anaheim’s right side or end up as a top-nine winger. He plays with a bit of an edge and could be in the NHL in a couple of seasons. As a recent late round pick, Olson is a bit harder to judge, but hopefully, he can turn into a useful bottom six player. He’s got a great work ethic and never quits on a play.

Once again, Anaheim’s biggest prospect weakness is in net, but Anaheim’s prospect depth here is much improved over last season. In the minors, battling for playing time with the Gulls, the Ducks have Kevin Boyle and Angus Redmond. Garrett Metcalf is playing in the NCAA and the recently drafted Olle Eriksson Ek is playing in Sweden.

Goaltenders are notoriously hard to predict, but I think either Boyle or Redmond has a good chance of being in the NHL someday. Their battle for playing time in the minors this season could be a preview of their future playing careers. Metcalf has struggled in college. Hopefully, a change of scenery will help him revitalize his career, but I think his ceiling is that of a backup. As such a recent late round pick and a goalie, Eriksson Ek is incredibly hard to judge. Hopefully, he’ll develop into a future NHL goaltender, but it’s far too soon to say at this point.

While it’s not as deep a group as recent years, the Ducks still have a good farm system and it should continue to supplement Anaheim’s roster this coming season. Over the last several seasons, Anaheim’s young defensemen and goaltenders have stepped up and become NHL regulars. While some forwards have as well, there haven’t been as many. However, we can expect to see more and more of Anaheim’s prospective forwards make it to the NHL in the coming years. 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 Anaheim’s top 10 prospects.

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September 19th, 2017

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