Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2013 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2013-14 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).
Coming off a disastrous 2011-12 season where they finished last in the Pacific Division and 13th in the Western Conference, expectations were down for the Ducks this past season. However its safe to say that the team surpassed any and all expectations in the regular season, finishing first in the Division, second in the conference, and third overall in the entire league. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry rebounded from down years in 2011-12 to be the consistent offensive threats they are expected to be, and were rewarded with big, long term contract extensions in the process. Francois Beauchemin had one of the best seasons of his career, and finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting. Jonas Fasth came out of nowhere to put up great numbers in the Anaheim net, while a healthy Jonas Hiller also had a very good season splitting time with Fasth between the pipes. Guiding the ship, head coach Bruce Boudreau restored his reputation as one of the best coaches in the NHL. However the Ducks must be a little disappointed and looking for more after a first round playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.
Top Prospect, John Gibson, Goaltender
Born Jul 14 1993 — Pittsburgh, PA
Height 6.03 — Weight 212
Drafted by Anaheim Ducks in round 2, #39 overall 2011 NHL Entry Draft
John Gibson has spent a lot of time in the shadow of Dallas Stars prospect Jack Campbell and was always seen as the United States’ second best goalie prospect at the junior levels. However he is younger than Campbell, and so with Campbell off to the AHL, Gibson was all alone in the spotlight as the starting goalie for Team USA at the World Juniors. It was there that Gibson took hold of that spotlight and didn’t let it go, with a real breakthrough performance in winning tournament MVP and leading the US to the gold medal. Add to that a solid season in the Kitchener Rangers net, and top it all off with an excellent performance in helping the US to a Bronze Medal in the Men’s World Championships (and even being the starter in the Bronze Medal Game), and Gibson has surpassed Campbell, not just as the top American Goalie Prospect, but he has emerged as the best goaltending prospect in the world. Consider that the US Olympic team has invited Gibson to their Olympic Team Orientation Camp. Now while its unlikely he’ll make the team, he’s already being thought of and developed for future tournaments.
As opposed to the traditional butterfly goalie, Gibson plays a hybrid style in net that is becoming more popular in recent years. He has excellent size, and is willing to come out of the crease to challenge shooters and cut down angles. He gives the shooter very little net to work with, especially down low, as his quick legs take away the bottom of the net. Excellent puck tracking and side to side movement are also major assets for Gibson. He ha developed very good rebound control for a goaltender his age, but like all young goalies, will need to continue developing here as he faces harder shooters, with better releases, going forward. His glove hand is also quick and takes away the top of the net.
With Fasth and Hiller manning the Ducks net this season, expect to see Gibson playing big minutes in the AHL as he tries to continue his development path towards being a number one NHL goalie.
Top Prospect #2, Hampus Lindholm, Defence,
Lindholm spent the year in the AHL and adjusted quickly to the North American game. However a series of injuries, including a concussion suffered just prior to the World Junior tournament, limited him to just 44 AHL games on the year. Still when he did play he was impressive for an 18 year old junior playing in the AHL. He will be eligible for the 2014 World Juniors as well.
Lindholm is an excellent skating defenceman. He is particularly impressive in his backwards skating which is extremely fast. He is rarely beat to the outside by forwards off the rush. Lindholm shows good agility, balance and edgework. He is equally adept and also very quick moving forwards, and this adds a lot to his offensive game as he is able to rush the puck or join as a trailer. This great mobility is a key to Lindholm’s two way game.
Lindholm is already an excellent defender. He has size and is willing to use it to hit opposing forwards. He is generally a defensively responsible player, with good instincts, and an ability to read the play, however he can make youthful mistakes, and get himself out of position looking for the big hit at times. I do however believe that any issues that he does have can be corrected with time and good coaching. He does retrieve loose pucks and dump ins quickly due to his quick skating ability and makes a good first pass out of the zone.
Lindholm has good offensive potential. He has great hockey sense and instincts. He picks good times to join the rush, and to make pinches at the blue line. He’s a good passer, with good instincts, vision and creativity. Lindholm also possesses an accurate shot from the point and good velocity, however this is something he definitely needs to utilize more often.
Lindholm is a bit of a project as he still needs time to fill out his frame as well as to further refine some aspects of his defensive game. However we do feel that these issues will be able to be corrected with some time. Lindholm has a very high ceiling and the Ducks should be patient with him, another year in the AHL wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Super Sleeper Prospect, Sami Vatanen, Defence
Born Jun 3 1991 — Jyvaskyla, Finland
Height 5.10 — Weight 163 –
Drafted by Anaheim Ducks in round 4, #106 overall 2009 NHL Entry Draft
In his first year playing hockey in North America after coming over from Finland, Vatanen showed tremendous offensive potential. He was the second leading scorer for the Ducks AHL affiliate in Norfolk. He even earned a brief call up, playing in eight games and scoring his first two NHL goals.
Vatanen is an excellent skater. He has good top end speed in both directions and excellent acceleration. His edgework and agility give him the ability to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes on the powerplay. The speed also allows him to join the rush and recover defensively.
He is an offensive dynamo, with excellent stickhandling and puck protection, great vision and passing skills, and an impressive shot arsenal including a deadly wrist shot, and great slap shot from the point. These offensive skills are Vatanen’s ticket to the NHL. He has the all the skills and ability to be a powerplay quarterback and his offensive game is already at an NHL level.
However Vatanen’s defensive game will always be his biggest weakness. He’s undersized for an NHL defenceman and as such has a tough time containing bigger NHL forwards. His positioning and skating are good though, so he is hard to beat off the rush. Overall though, he’ll need to be given limited even strength minutes and sheltered with a strong stay at home partner if he is to be an NHL player.
Vatanen is likely to get every opportunity to take a key role on the Ducks powerplay with the recent injury to Sheldon Souray. His perfomance in training camp, and proving that he can play well in enough to take 3rd pairing minutes at even strength he could be a power play specialist in Anaheim.
The Ducks have built an impressive system in recent years. They have a number of good young players up front. In addition to Etem, and Palmieri who made contributions in the NHL this year, there is Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen who were acquired in the Bobby Ryan deal. Rickard Rakell, William Karlsson, Nicolas Kerdiles, Peter Holland, and Max Friberg, highlight a system with impressive forward depth. On defence, Luca Sbisa and Cam Fowler are still young, and Lindholm and Vatanen are knocking at the door for the Ducks. The additions of Shea Theodore and Keaton Thompson further stock the blueline cupboards. In net, there isn’t much more to say about Gibson than I already have. The team has depth in all positions, and the Ducks future is bright. Consider them to be as part of the group of top systems in the NHL right now.
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