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Strengths and Weaknesses of Anaheim’s Prospect 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 weaknesses of the Ducks’ farm system: both in general and by position. 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. 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 as well.
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This past season, several rookies played a ton of games for Anaheim, including Troy Terry, Max Jones, Jacob Larsson, Kiefer Sherwood, Jaycob Megna, Marcus Pettersson, Andy Welinski, Sam Steel, Isac Lundestrom, and more. All were either Anaheim picks or signed by Anaheim after being undrafted. Some of them played enough to graduate from the prospect ranks, while some will still be rookies this year. 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, 2016, and 2017 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 14th best farm system in the league, while the Sporting News ranked Anaheim as having the 11th best farm system. Personally, I think those sound about right. Anaheim doesn’t have the best farm system, but it’s in the upper half of the league.
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 Pettersson can develop for several years in Sweden before coming to North America or a fifth-round pick like Terry can spend three years in the NCAA before turning pro. 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.
In years past, Anaheim’s biggest weakness was a lack of elite talent, and that could still be the case. However, the recently drafted Trevor Zegras could be the most highly skilled Anaheim prospect in years. He and Steel give the Ducks the kind of prospect center depth that I’m not sure this team has ever had. While there certainly isn’t a future Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews in the system, those two lead a very strong group. With that in mind, I would say that Anaheim’s biggest prospect weakness is its group of right wingers. Terry and Sherwood both graduated last year, and the Ducks didn’t draft any replacements for them in June. As a result, the Ducks’ group of right wing prospects is incredibly thin.
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 struggle greatly with. Anaheim does a good job of identifying future NHL talent, but they have struggled to find future superstars. Hopefully, Zegras, Steel, and others can turn that narrative around.
For more information on most of the individual players listed below, feel free to look back at the prospect profiles, updates, and draft reviews 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 may even be 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 with who they played for last year.
Over the last few years, Anaheim has really focused on drafting centers, and that position has easily become their deepest prospect position. I believe that Anaheim’s left wingers are their second-best group of prospects, and defensemen are third. Anaheim’s goaltenders are now their fourth-best group of prospects, and right wingers are last.
Over the last four drafts, the Ducks have drafted nine centers, and only two of those were in the most recent draft. The Ducks will have three centers playing NCAA hockey: Zegras, Trevor Janicke, and Jack Badini. There is only one Anaheim center prospect playing in Canadian juniors, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, who will be playing in the QMJHL. Finally, the Ducks will have five centers playing pro hockey: Steel, Lundestrom, Chase De Leo, Antoine Morand, and Alex Dostie. Steel should spend most, if not the entire season in the NHL, while Lundestrom could split time between the NHL and AHL, and De Leo could see time with the Ducks as well. Morand will be in his first pro season, and will likely spend the entire season in San Diego, while Dostie will hopefully spend the entire season in the AHL and stay healthy.
The Ducks only have four left wingers in their system, but half of them are two of Anaheim’s best prospects. Playing college hockey, the Ducks have Blake McLaughlin entering his sophomore season. In juniors, the Ducks have Brayden Tracey playing in the WHL, their second first-round pick made back in June. Playing pro hockey, the Ducks have Max Comtois and Jack Kopacka. Comtois will almost assuredly see time with the Ducks this season, possibly for the entire year, while Kopacka will hopefully stay healthy and be one of the Gulls’ better players.
Anaheim really rebuilt their prospect defensive core over this summer. Jaycob Megna and Andy Welinski left as free agents, Marcus Pettersson was traded, Keaton Thompson wasn’t qualified, and Steven Ruggiero was never signed and became a free agent. Ruggiero has since signed an AHL only deal in San Diego, but he is no longer a member of the Ducks organization, just the Gulls. With so many players leaving, Anaheim really focused on drafting defensemen back in June. The Ducks have three defensemen in the NCAA: Matt Berkovitz, Jackson Lacombe, and Henry Thrun, while William Francis is in the USHL and he’ll be going to college a year from now. Mathew Hill is in the OHL, and the only defenseman playing junior hockey. Finally, the Ducks have four defensemen playing pro hockey: Brendan Guhle, Josh Mahura, Simon Benoit, and Hunter Drew. Guhle was acquired before the trade deadline and the Ducks are very high on him. Expect him to get a lot of time with the Ducks this season. Mahura could see some time in the NHL, but I think he’ll probably spend most of the year in San Diego. Benoit will likely spend the entire year in the AHL, while Drew is not on an NHL deal and will only be playing for the Gulls this season.
Inbetween The Pipes
In net, the Ducks have one player in the NCAA, Garrett Metcalf, while Lukas Dostal will be playing over in Europe, likely in Liiga. Anaheim has three goaltenders playing pro hockey: Roman Durny, Angus Redmond, and Olle Eriksson Ek. The Ducks are pretty deep in net in both Anaheim and San Diego, so the three of them could be fighting for one possible spot with the Gulls, and the other two will likely spend most of the season in the ECHL. I don’t anticipate any of them playing in Anaheim this season.
Anaheim did a good job of improving their prospect system over the last couple of years, particularly at the most recent draft in June. They’ve rebuilt their defensive strength, once this team’s bread and butter, and drafted a prospect who could have the highest ceiling of any Anaheim prospect for the last several years. Even with how poorly last season went, it’s an exciting time to be a Ducks fan, and that will hopefully continue for the next few years as well as these prospects do their best to make their way to Anaheim.
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September 3rd, 2019