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Anaheim’s Top 10 Prospects
By Thomas Harrington
With the prospect profiles and updates complete, along with the strengths and weakness of the Ducks’ farm system, it’s time to list the players who I believe are Anaheim’s top 10 prospects. As I’ve done previously, I will only be including players who are eligible to win the Calder Memorial Trophy this season. To be eligible to win this award, a player has to have played less than 25 games in any single season. Additionally, they cannot have played more than six games in each of the two preceding seasons. Anaheim played a number of rookies this past season, and several of them did pass that 25 game mark, so some of the Ducks’ best young players who aren’t established NHL stars will not be on this list.
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I used three sets of criteria to create this list. The first is: what is the player’s ceiling? Are they a top-six scorer or a grinder? Can they play 30 minutes a night and shut down the opposition or are they destined to be a seventh defenseman? The second question I ask is: how likely are they to reach that potential? A player may have the potential to be a top-six forward, but will they actually make it that far, or be relegated to the AHL or European leagues for most of their career? Players with bad injury histories most often fall into this category, as injuries can really hamper a young player’s career. Look no further than Nicolas Kerdiles. He was a high pick but injuries really derailed his career and now he’s not even playing hockey anymore. Finally, I look at how close I think they are to reaching their potential and making it to the NHL soon. As an example, I had Chris Wagner in the top 10 a few years ago because even though he projected as a bottom-six player, he looked like he was pretty much NHL ready, putting him ahead of some other prospects who had a higher ceiling. He was so close to being an NHL player, I felt safe putting him in the top 10, and given that he’s had a relatively successful NHL career in a bottom-six role, I think that ranking worked out.
Also, just because a player doesn’t appear on this list doesn’t mean they won’t have a successful career in Anaheim. Josh Manson entirely bypassed this list a few years ago, as did Kiefer Sherwood when he played over 50 NHL games this past season. Being an undrafted college player, I wanted to see how he reacted to the pro game before I put him among Anaheim’s top prospects. Well, he made me look foolish a year ago for leaving him off.
Before I get to the top 10 prospects, here are the players who just missed the cut: Antoine Morand, Jack Kopacka, Blake McLaughlin, and Simon Benoit. Morand was in the top 10 last year, but he struggled at times in his final season of juniors. I’m hoping he has a bounce-back season with the Gulls this season and is back on the list a year from now. Kopacka had a solid rookie season in San Diego, but a major injury really set him back. A healthy season could see him crack the top 10 next year. McLaughlin also just missed this list a year ago. He had a solid freshman season, but it wasn’t quite enough to make the top 10. Finally, Benoit had a great rookie season for the Gulls and was one of their most consistent defensemen. If Dallas Eakins gives him any NHL time this season, or he plays consistently on San Diego’s top pair, he could be on this list a year from now.
Finally, gone from last year’s list are six players: Morand, Kevin Roy, Max Jones, Marcus Pettersson, Troy Terry, and Jacob Larsson. As discussed above, Morand had a rough season and unfortunately fell off the list. Roy left as a free agent after an injury-plagued season and Pettersson was traded for Daniel Sprong. Jones, Terry, and Larsson all played in enough NHL games to no longer qualify for this list. Jones played in 30 NHL games, so he only just cleared the 25 game threshold.
Now, on to the top 10. Previous year’s rankings will be shown in parentheses and NR means not ranked the previous year.
10. (NR) Lukas Dostal
He put up some great numbers in Liiga, Finland’s top hockey league. He’s become Anaheim’s top goaltending prospect over the last season. He’ll be in Finland for at least one more season before coming stateside.
9. (NR) Jackson Lacombe
Anaheim’s second-round pick from June, he was a forward but he converted to defense a few years ago and is an excellent skater. He’s a bit of a project, but he’ll be attending the University of Minnesota this season and it should be great for his development. He’s got a lot of tools to be a future NHL defenseman.
8. (NR) Benoit-Olivier Groulx
He just missed the top 10 a year ago, and back then I said that I wanted to see his numbers improve in order to crack this list. Well, his point total went from 55 to 80, earning himself a spot on this list. He scored 31 goals and I’m hoping for big things from him in what should be his final season of junior hockey.
7. (7) Josh Mahura
Mahura looked very good in limited NHL time this past season but struggled during the Calder Cup Playoffs. That, combined with some of the new prospects that Anaheim acquired over the last year, keeps Mahura in the same spot, but I’m still very high on his future and am excited to see what he does this season. He’ll never be a top-pairing defenseman, but he will hopefully become a solid second pairing guy who puts up some points on the powerplay.
6. (NR) Brendan Guhle
Acquired for Brandon Montour, Anaheim immediately put him into their top four, and he looked great through five games until he was injured. The Ducks clearly see him as part of their defensive future and I expect him to be one of the mainstays on Anaheim’s defense this season.
5. (NR) Brayden Tracey
Anaheim’s second first-round pick from June, Tracey was a bit of a surprise pick, but the WHL’s Rookie of the Year was a fast riser on draft lists as June approached. He scored 36 goals in 66 games this past season, and I’m excited to see what he can do in his final two seasons of junior hockey.
4. (2) Isac Lundestrom
Despite making his NHL debut and looking very comfortable, Lundestrom drops a couple of spots on this list, primarily because of what the prospects ahead of him did. I’m still confident in his NHL future as a second or third-line center. Depending on what happens in Anaheim this year, we could see him with the Ducks for most of the season, or they could wait until 2020-2021 to give him a full NHL season.
3. (6) Max Comtois
Comtois had the perfect start to his NHL career. The only thing that slowed him down was an injury and other players getting healthy. After a torrid end to his junior career and a strong playoff performance for San Diego, he looks NHL ready. He’s one of several players fighting for one of the left-wing spots on Anaheim’s roster. Comtois isn’t guaranteed to get it, but if he doesn’t this season, he certainly will in the 2020-2021 season.
2. (1) Sam Steel
Steel did everything he could this past season, including making his NHL debut, getting better as the season went on, and even scoring his first career hat trick. However, he does drop one spot, but that’s no slight against him. He had a great season and I expect him to center Anaheim’s second line for much of this season, a spot that he could hold for a very long time to come. He’s got all the tools to have a successful NHL career where he may not be a superstar, but he’s going to be a productive player.
1. (NR) Trevor Zegras
Zegras was arguably the second best playmaker in the past draft, behind only the first overall pick Jack Hughes. He’s got some amazing hands and right now projects as Anaheim’s future first-line center. While he plays a very different game from Ryan Getzlaf, both are great passers and can take over games in their own way. He’s going to play in the NCAA this coming season, but don’t be surprised to see him sign a contract and turn pro for the 2020-2021 season. If he has a good enough season and training camp a year from now, he could bypass the AHL and start his pro career in Anaheim. Even though the Ducks like to give players time in the minors, he could be good enough to jump straight to the NHL.
Up next will be the rookies most likely to see time in Anaheim this season, and you can expect a number of players from above to be on that list.
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September 10th, 2019