7,500 people poured into the Honda Center in Anaheim, California on Saturday night to see the Ducks host the Kings in an exhibition match with rosters made up entirely of both team’s hottest prospects.
Right from the opening minutes, it seemed that the last few years of Anaheim’s picks were poised to take the game handily through a game built on sheer speed, fast touches, and a whole lot of dangling. Ultimately, it was the strong system of play and the consistency of Los Angeles’s top lines that led the Kings to a trouncing 6-1 victory over the Ducks at the Honda Center.
While some players impressed, others failed to show their value in a matchup that was long anticipated for many depraved hockey fans.
Here’s who sizzled, and here’s who fizzled in a disappointing incursion for Anaheim:
Rickard Rakell: 20 year-old Rakell looks like the Ducks top player of the future, hands down. He made Anaheim’s opening night roster in the last shortened NHL season, and not once did he give the impression that he was uncomfortable handling the puck; a skill he certainly exhibited in this prospect game. Rakell’s lone goal saw to it that Anaheim didn’t leave empty handed and it was a goal that he definitely earned. Speed and puck handling are the cornerstones of his game and it’s a game he’s grown a great deal upon since last season. While sometimes known for being easier than most to get thrown off the puck, he turned up the physical presence this time around. With the departure of David Steckel, expect to see him challenging for a roster position come October.
Steven Whitney: Whitney, acquired as a Free Agent signing by Anaheim this year, certainly made his unknown name stick in the heads of fans tonight with a speedy, physical performance. A rather small center at only 5’ 7”, Steven showed that he’s not to be discounted, getting into gritty areas on the ice and making some amazing pass connections with his fellow prospects. While it’s likely that Whitney won’t be a major contender for the Ducks roster this coming season, I have no doubt that he’ll perform well for the AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, while still getting acclimated to the professional schedule.
Hampus Lindholm: Anaheim’s first rounder in the 2012 Entry Draft certainly earned his keep in several offensive pushes by the visitors. Lindholm looked versatile and lived up to his reputation as a deadly two-way defenseman, contributing heavily to the PP. Physicality in and around the blue line was rewarded with an Anaheim possession time and time again, not only due to his body, but due to the way that the 19 year old Swede read the game and was able to anticipate offensive movements. Also respectable was the way he sacrificed the body on several occasions, defensive play that’s certainly admirable and reminiscent of the style of play you expect to see of the New York Rangers’ Ryan Callahan. Although the game was ultimately a blow out, Hampus looked determined for the duration of the game, at one point single handedly shutting down a 3-on-1. Definitely a player to make a strong challenge for a slot in October.
Emerson Etem: Emerson, the local boy coming out of Long Beach, California, has certainly dazzled Ducks fans in games past, turning out important goals when needed in last year’s regular season, as well as putting 3 through the pipes in the series against Detroit in the playoffs. In this matchup however, Etem seemed a bit sluggish to react, and certainly didn’t display the same explosive speed that he’s known for. While he did connect for the assist on Rakell’s goal, Etem’s own efforts at net were met with only disappointment. While Emerson certainly performed at a high level, creating chances and showing off some great moves, the level shown in comparison to other games was slightly sub-par.
Sami Vatanen: Another pick who made the Ducks opening night roster in the previous season, Vatanen didn’t look in touch with the flow of play that Anaheim was using at all. Making poor and dangerous passes in the neutral zone and ultimately contributing to the squandered 5-3 man advantages that the Ducks wasted against the King’s superior PK, Vatanen struggled to make an impact. While it seemed that he had the vision to make strong defensive maneuvers for his line, he struggled in situations where he had to use his body and was outmuscled by Los Angeles’ offense in multiple situations. With the injuries inflicted upon first-teamers Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray, players need to step up and fill their skates and Vatanen looks poised to lose his spot to other defensemen like Hampus Lindholm and Mark Fistric.
Frederik Andersen: As if Anaheim didn’t have enough depth to its goalie selections: enter Frederik Andersen. Big goalie, and he plays a big game. His presence in the crease was certainly looming for Los Angeles, stopping 25/27 shots with ease. His size coupled with his agility makes it easy to see why he had a fantastic first professional season with the Admirals last season, and on the off chance that both Hiller and Fasth become incapacitated, (2010-2011 anybody?) I believe that Andersen could be called up in a pinch. Certainly a man to be feared in the pipes.
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