Anaheim Prospects We Could See In The NHL

Photo: NHL

By Thomas Harrington

When Anaheim made the San Diego Gulls their AHL affiliate, it became 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 such a rate in the AHL that they deserve the call-up. With the ongoing pandemic, positive cases are another reason why a player might get recalled.

Regardless of the reason, expect to see a number of San Diego players make their way to Anaheim at some point this season. Dozens of players have gone back and forth between Anaheim and San Diego ever since this affiliation started, and 13 players did this past season alone. If not for the season’s premature end, that number would likely have been higher.

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One extra wrinkle for this season is the taxi squad. Because of the ongoing pandemic, teams will be required to have a taxi squad of four to six players who will technically not be part of their lineup of 23 players. At least one of those players has to be a goaltender unless the team is already carrying three goaltenders. Teams are allowed to rotate players between the taxi squad and the AHL, so it won’t always be the same group of players.

It’s currently unclear who will be on Anaheim’s tax squad, but I’ll try to answer that question as I go through players who we might see in the NHL. I will only include players signed to an NHL contract, so recent draft picks like Sam Coangelo (2020) and Henry Thrun (2019)  won’t be included. Expect to see players selected in the 2016, 2017, 2018, and maybe even 2019 drafts make an impact this coming season.

This past season, several Anaheim prospects suited up for NHL games, including Sam Steel, Isac Lundestrom, Max Comtois, Josh Mahura, and Chase De Leo. Four of them are Anaheim picks, and De Leo was picked up in a trade a couple years ago. Of them, Steel is the only one who has become a full-time NHL player, though I’m hoping for breakout years from Lundestrom, Comtois, and Mahura.

In Between The Pipes

As has been the case for the last several years, the Ducks are very set in net. John Gibson is their starter and Ryan Miller will be his backup. However, the fact that they need a third goaltender either on the roster or on the taxi squad does make this a much more interesting battle than in years past.

Right now, Anthony Stolarz is the third goaltender on Anaheim’s depth chart. He was San Diego’s starter last year and got in one game with the Ducks as well. At first glance, it could be assumed that he’s a lock for the taxi squad, and that may ultimately be his destination. Anaheim’s top goaltending prospect is Lukas Dostal. The Ducks probably want Dostal to play as much as possible in San Diego.

As a result, I do think that Stolarz will likely be the goaltender on the taxi squad, and Dostal will be San Diego’s starter, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Dostal make his NHL debut at some point this season. Alternatively, if the Ducks opt to have Stolarz and Dostal both in San Diego, then they could go with another young goaltender on their taxi squad, Olle Eriksson Ek or Roman Durny. While I don’t think either is ready for NHL action, it’s possible the Ducks may have one of them on the taxi squad, and if that happens, then either could make their NHL debut as well.

On The Blueline

The Ducks have a strong top four on defense, arguably the strongest top four that they have had in some time with Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, and the recently signed Kevin Shattenkirk. They also have a glut of players vying for a spot on the bottom pair: Christian Djoos, Brendan Guhle, Jacob Larsson, Kodie Curran, and Jani Hakanpaa. Of those five players fighting for the bottom pair, whoever doesn’t make it could end up on the taxi squad, though some of them would have to clear waivers.

As a result, there really isn’t much room for any San Diego players to break into Anaheim’s defense this year. However, if one player is going to, I think that it’s Mahura. Depending on injuries and how the season goes, I’m also hoping that Simon Benoit makes his NHL debut this season. He was called up to Anaheim last season but didn’t see any NHL action. Both will likely see at least some time on the taxi squad.

Offense Outlook

At forward, the Ducks have Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg, David Backes, Rickard Rakell, Danton Heinen, Sonny Milano, Derek Grant, Troy Terry, Carter Rowney, Nicolas Deslauriers, and Andrew Agozzino on one-way contracts, with Max Jones and Steel also on the roster.

That doesn’t leave a lot of room for rookies, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Agozzino placed on waivers and sent to San Diego or the taxi squad, and injuries are a part of the game, so there will be space for Gulls players to come up when needed. Comtois, Lundestrom, and De Leo are probably the favorites to get called up first and all will likely spend some time on the taxi squad.

After those big three, there are only a couple of other players who I think have a chance this season. I do believe that Trevor Zegras will make his NHL debut this season. I don’t think he’s going to get a ton of time in the NHL, but I do think he’ll get some. Another player who may have a chance is Benoit-Olivier Groulx. Given that this is his first pro season, he’s definitely a longshot, but if his defensive game can successfully translate to the AHL and the Ducks need another player on their penalty kill, then he might have a chance. Zegras and Groulx both need to play as much as possible, so I don’t think they’ll spend a ton of time on the taxi squad unless it’s to then immediately be moved from the taxi squad to the NHL roster.

Dostal, Mahura, Benoit, Comtois, Lundestrom, De Leo, Zegras, and Groulx are the Anaheim prospects who I think we are most likely to see in the NHL this season. However, there are a few more players who may get a chance this season, primarily because of the pandemic. Originally, the OHL was going to start the season in February. However, that has been postponed and a new date has not been announced. Similarly, the WHL was supposed to start in January, but that league’s start date has also been pushed back and a new date has not been announced.

As a result, the season for Jamie Drysdale, Jacob Perreault, Brayden Tracey, and Mathew Hill is questionable at best. Hill is currently playing in Denmark, and the plan was for him to return to North America when the OHL started back up. However, Drysdale, Perreault, and Tracey, three of Anaheim’s top prospects, are not playing.

As a result, the Ducks may choose to keep all three on their roster, or, if possible, maybe even on the taxi squad. My hope is that an exemption is made for this season that allows junior players to play in the AHL, but if that doesn’t happen, then the Ducks may consider having one or all three in the NHL this season, in order to get them playing time.

Hopefully, this coming season will go better than the prior couple, and hopefully, Anaheim’s young players and prospects can be the catalyst for that turnaround.

The Anaheim Ducks announced their training camp roster today, which is listed below. There are a total of 44 players listed, 26 forwards, 13 defensemen, and 5 goalies. A couple of players did change their numbers. Sonny Milano will wear 12 since Kevin Shattenkirk is wearing 22. Sam Steel will wear 23 instead of 34, which was his old junior number. Kodie Curran will don 44, which was Michael Del-Zotto’s number. 

Forwards(26)
46 Trevor Zegras
50 Benoit-Olivier Groulx
54 Antoine Morand
56 Brayden Tracey
59 Jack Kopacka
64 Jacob Perreault
 
Defensemen(13)
34 Jamie Drysdale
44 Kodie Curran
86 Simon Benoit
 
Goalies(5)
1 Lukas Dostal
78 Olle Eriksson-Ek
 

Training camp will begin this Thursday, December 31st at the Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena in Irvine. Please note the camp is closed to the public. 

For a more detailed roster click below.

Graphic: Anaheim Ducks

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December 29th, 2020