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Strengths and Weaknesses of Anaheim’s Farm System
By Thomas Harrington
Now that the individual prospect updates and profiles are complete, it’s time to take a look at the strengths and weakness of the Ducks’ farm system: both in general and by position. With the exception of last season, Anaheim has had a number of prospects come up and become full-time NHL players over the last several years. The following are some of the players drafted since 2011 who have had some impact in the NHL: Hampus Lindholm, John Gibson, Josh Manson, 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. Even more impressive, all of those players were drafted between 2011 and 2014. The 2011 draft in particular was strong for Anaheim, as every single player from that year has played in at least one game with the Ducks. That is the first and only time that has happened to Anaheim, though all but one prospect taken in 2014 has played in at least one game with the Ducks. 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. Expect to see players from the 2015 and 2016 drafts make an impact this coming season. While it’s no longer a top 10 farm system, the Ducks still have a solid group of prospects. The Athletic recently ranked the Ducks as having the 24th best farm system in the league, while the Sporting News ranked Anaheim as having the 15th best farm system. Personally, I feel like the 15th place ranking is about right, but I get why the Athletic has the Ducks ranked so low.
The greatest strength of Anaheim’s prospect system continues to be the amount of potential NHL depth that the Ducks have. The Ducks have done an excellent job at finding NHL talent beyond the first round of the draft. It’s the reason why a late round pick like Kase can score 20 goals or a second round pick like Marcus Pettersson can develop for several years in Sweden before coming to North America and play in more than 20 NHL games last year. 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.
Anaheim’s 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 or Patrik Laine. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons for the Athletic’s low ranking, as well as injuries costing some top prospects valuable development time over the past couple of seasons. However, keep in mind that none of this is absolute. Predicting the course a prospect’s career will take is nearly impossible and something that NHL teams can struggle greatly with. However, the Ducks do have a few prospects who I feel very confident about in the years ahead.
For more information on most 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. Some of them are even listed under different positions than they were a year ago. 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.
Anaheim’s greatest strength in terms of prospect position is its centers. Going into this past draft, the Ducks really wanted to focus on increasing their center depth, and that’s exactly what they did, drafting Isac Lundestrom and Benoit-Olivier Groulx with their first two picks. After that, I believe that Anaheim’s left-wingers are their second best group of prospects, followed closely by their defensemen. Anaheim has a number of left-wing prospects who look like they all could potentially have a shot at some time in the NHL one day. The Ducks still have high-quality defensive prospects, but they’ve had the most graduates from this group in recent years and haven’t fully restocked that lost talent yet. Fourth would be Anaheim’s right-wingers. While it’s not a particularly strong group, there’s at least one right-wing prospect who looks to be in the NHL this coming season, and hopefully for a long time to come afterward. Finally, fifth is Anaheim’s goaltending prospects. Anaheim has done a great job at rebuilding this position, especially in the past draft. However, goaltenders are notoriously hard to predict, and none of them are thought to be surefire NHL starters someday.
Between the last three drafts, the Ducks have drafted seven centers while also signing a couple of free agents, significantly increasing their prospect depth at that position. In the AHL, the Ducks have six center prospects: Sam Steel, Kalle Kossila, Julius Nattinen, Mitch Hults, Chase de Leo, and Jack Dostie. I’m expecting to see both Steel and Kossila spend time with the Ducks at various points this season. In Canadian Juniors, Anaheim has two prospects: Groulx and Antoine Morand. Both should spend the entire season in juniors, but either may have a chance to get a bit of time with San Diego at the end of the season, depending on when their seasons end and when the Gulls’ season ends. Being a year older, Morand is the closest to turning pro. The Ducks have two centers in the NCAA: Jack Badini and Brent Gates, Jr. Both will spend the entire season in the NCAA ranks. This will be Gates’ final season of NCAA hockey, while Badini likely has another two or three years ahead of him. Finally, Anaheim has one center prospect playing over in Sweden: Lundestrom. If he has a fantastic training camp, he has an outside chance of making it to the NHL this season, but he likely spends this season in the SHL, before coming over to North America a year from now.
Of Anaheim’s center prospects, I believe that Steel and Lundestrom have the best chance to have long NHL careers. Steel has the highest potential offensive upside of any of Anaheim’s prospects, and we’ll hopefully see some of that in Anaheim this year. Lundestrom isn’t the scorer that Steel is, but overall, he’s a very solid player who could be a good checking line center someday. Personally, I’m hoping he turns into Samuel Pahlsson with more skill. Kossila, Morand and Groulx have top-six potential but may end up being top nine forwards instead. De Leo, Nattinen, Hults, Dostie, Badini, and Gates look more like bottom six players, but they could surprise. Of these six, I think Hults has the most upside.
Anaheim has really strengthened its group of left-wing prospects over the past several years. While there aren’t a ton of players, there’s a number of high-quality players who could vie for a spot in Anaheim. The Ducks have four left wing prospects in the AHL: Kevin Roy, Giovanni Fiore, Max Jones, and Jack Kopacka. All three of Roy, Fiore, and Jones could see time with the Ducks this season, while Kopacka is probably a year or two away. Anaheim only has one left winger in juniors: Maxime Comtois. This will be Comtois’ final season of juniors, and he could join San Diego at the conclusion of his season. Finally, the Ducks have one prospect in the USHL: the recently drafted Blake McLaughlin. He’ll spend this season playing for the Chicago Steel of the USHL, before moving on to the NCAA in the 2019-2020 season and playing for the University of Minnesota.
Roy, Fiore, Jones, and Comtois could all turn into top six forwards someday. Jones or Comtois could turn into great power forwards, while Roy and Fiore rely more on their puck skills. I think Jones and Comtois have the most potential, while Roy or Fiore might end up settling into a top-nine role. Similarly, McLaughlin and Kopacka might turn into top six wingers, but I think it more likely they end up being more top nine, complimentary players.
Anaheim’s defensive prospects are usually its bread and butter, but given the number of young defensemen on their roster, the Ducks haven’t drafted as many defensemen in recent years. It’s still a strong group, but it is lacking a Hampus Lindholm or Shea Theodore. Then again, players can always surprise; just look at Josh Manson. Anaheim has six defensive prospects who could see time in the AHL this season: Marcus Pettersson, Andy Welinski, Jaycob Megna, Josh Mahura, Keaton Thompson, and Jacob Larsson. Pettersson, Welinski, Megna, and Larsson have all spent time in the NHL in the past, and I expect three, if not all four, of them to get some games in with the Ducks this year. Thompson has spent the last two years in the minors and will be trying to get some NHL action as well this year. This will be Mahura’s first season of pro hockey and I do not expect to see him in the NHL this year. The Ducks have two defensemen in the NCAA: Steven Ruggiero and Matt Berkovitz. Both are several years away from turning pro. Finally, Anaheim has one defenseman in juniors, Hunter Drew. Drafted as a 19-year-old in June, he’s got one or two years left of juniors.
Larsson has the highest potential of any of Anaheim’s blueliners. He won’t be a top scoring blueliner, but he’s solid in all three zones and could turn into a solid second or third defenseman someday. Mahura has the most offensive potential of any of Anaheim’s defensive prospects but isn’t as well rounded as some of the other players. He could run a top powerplay someday while playing on a team’s second defensive pair. Pettersson, Welinski, and Thompson could turn into fourth or fifth defensemen, while Megna seems more suited for the bottom pair, or even as a team’s seventh defenseman. He also might end up being more of an AHL player who gets sporadic time in the NHL. Drew has similar potential to Megna, and will likely be on a team’s bottom pair if he makes it to the NHL. It’s a little harder to get a read on Ruggiero and Berkovitz, as Ruggiero only played in 17 games last year and Berkovitz didn’t play in any. Right now, I’d say the best for either would be as a team’s seventh defenseman, but we’ll see what happens with them over the next couple of years in the NCAA.
On the ring wing, the Ducks have three prospects in the AHL: Troy Terry, Kiefer Sherwood, and Deven Sideroff. Expect Terry to see time in Anaheim this year, possibly a significant amount. Sideroff will be in his second pro season, while this will be Sherwood’s first full season, after joining the Gulls for the end of last year. Kyle Olson is Anaheim’s lone right wing prospect in juniors, and Jack Perbix is their only right wing prospect in the USHL. In a year, he’ll transfer to the NCAA and play for the University of Notre Dame. Olson has one, maybe two more years of juniors before he turns pro, while Perbix probably has several more years ahead of him.
Terry is easily Anaheim’s top right wing prospect. This isn’t a deep group, but Terry is one that Anaheim fans have become excited about over the last couple of seasons, and for good reason. He may not be a top line right wing, but I think he’ll fit nicely on the second line someday. Sherwood was a scorer in college, and it remains to be seen if that can carry over to the pros. I see him as a top-nine player, but he could surprise and crack a team’s top six. Sideroff, Perbix, and Olson have some offensive upside, but I view both more as future bottom six wingers.
Anaheim only has one goaltending prospect who might be in the AHL this coming season: Angus Redmond. He could see time with the Gulls, or play in the ECHL like he did for all of last season. There are two goaltending prospects playing in Europe: Olle Eriksson Ek and Lukas Dostal. I’m hoping this is Eriksson Ek’s last season in Europe before coming to North America, while I think Dotal will play in Europe for two more years before coming stateside. Garrett Metcalf is the lone goaltending prospect in the NCAA. He’s several years away from turning pro. Roman Durny played for the Des Moines Buccaneers last season in the USHL, and I believe that’s where he will be playing this season. He’s also a number of years away from being NHL ready.
Goaltending is the hardest position in hockey to predict, which is one of the primary reasons why so few have been taken in early rounds of the draft in recent years. The good news for Anaheim, they have John Gibson signed for the next nine seasons so they can afford to be patient with their goaltending prospects and see which one ends up being the best.
While it’s not the deepest prospect pool in the NHL, the Ducks do have a large number of prospects with a solid chance at an NHL future. Over the last several years, we’ve seen a number of young goaltenders and defensemen step up and become impact NHL players. We’ve seen some of that from the forwards, most notably Kase, and we’ll hopefully see more of that this coming season.
Next up will be Anaheim’s top 10 prospects.
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September 7th, 2018