Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2014 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) and 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 2014 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 2014-15 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 (including playoffs) or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
It was another impressive regular season for Bruce Boudreau and the Anaheim Ducks as they finished in first place in the Western Conference again, and Ryan Getzlaf had a career year, emerging as a Hart Trophy candidate. However, there is a feeling in Anaheim that the season ended prematurely as the Ducks fell in the second round to their cross-town rival, the Los Angeles Kings in seven hard fought games.
The off-season has brought change in Anaheim. Gone are franchise superstar Teemu Selanne, who retires after a hall of fame NHL career; long-time starting goaltender Jonas Hiller, who left for Calgary as a free agent; Daniel Winnick and Stefan Robidas, who are off to Toronto; and Saku Koivu, who remains an unrestricted free agent. Coming in are defenceman Clayton Stoner, reclamation project Dany Heatley, and last but certainly not least Ryan Kesler who was acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Vancouver Canucks, with Nick Bonino and Luca Sbisa headed out in this move. While the Kesler move brings quality to the team, at the end of the day the Ducks have sacrificed quantity and depth this off-season in order to add that quality. This may be a smart move to get them over the hump, but in order for it to work the Ducks must find a way to replace some of the depth lost. Replacing that depth will mean looking to the team’s youngsters, and there are certainly some talented ones ready to fill voids.
2014 Draft Picks Reviewed by LWOS: Nick Ritchie, Marcus Petterson, Ondrej Kase
Graduations: Hampus Lindholm, Patrick Maroon, Sami Vatanen, Emerson Etem, Frederick Anderson (spent full season with Anaheim, 24 years old).
Top Anaheim Ducks Prospects
Top Prospect: John Gibson, Goaltender
LWOS Top Goaltending Prospect
Born Jul 14 1993 — Pittsburgh, PA
Height 6.03 — Weight 212
Drafted by Anaheim Ducks in round 2, #39 overall 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Gibson had another strong season in 2013-14, further cementing his position as the best goaltending prospect in the world. He had a .919 save percentage with Norfolk in the AHL, and earned a late season callup to the NHL. Playing in 4 playoff games, Gibson won his first two to give the Ducks a 3-2 series lead over the Kings, but would falter in the final two games as the Kings won the series. This doesn’t reflect badly on him though, as exciting a prospect as he is, Ducks fans should be prepared for the roller coaster ride that comes with a young NHL goalie over the next two or three years, as Gibson just turned 21 last month.
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.
Gibson shows poise beyond his years, and thats why the Ducks feel he is NHL ready after just one year in the AHL. He has shown to be nearly unflappable even in the most pressure packed situations such as his illustrious performance in the world juniors, or the fact that his 4th ever NHL game was a critical playoff contest in a heated series and facing Jonathan Quick at the other end of the ice. He doesn’t seem to let bad goals get to him, and carries himself with extreme confidence in all situations.
Gibson will surely be in the NHL this year, and is poised to compete with Frederik Anderson for the starting job on the Ducks. Playing behind a strong Ducks team, he’s a threat to be the first goalie to win the Calder Trophy since Steve Mason
#2 Prospect: Rickard Rakell, Centre
Born May 5 1993 — Sollentuna, Sweden
Height 6.02 — Weight 199 — Shoots Right
Drafted by Anaheim Ducks 1st round, 30th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
After getting his feet wet in 2012-13, Rickard Rakell had his first pro season this year, getting in 46 games for Norfolk in the AHL, and earning callups to the Ducks for 18 games. It was a solid start for a 20-year-old with 37 points in 46 AHL games being quite impressive for a first year player. His NHL numbers were a little lower with just 4 assists, but given his limited ice time in his callups, this shouldn’t be looked at too harshly. He did get his first NHL goal (and added an assist) in 4 playoff games.
Rackell is a very strong skater. He has good speed and decent accelaration, though his stride is a little wide. He does have a very quick first step, as well as outstanding agility and edgework. This makes him especially dangerous in eluding defenders off the rush, or getting himself open in the offensive zone. When he does get open he has a heavy shot and a very good release. He shows very good hockey sense, finding the openings in the defense, and making smart plays when he has the puck. He is willing to use his size to battle in the corners and in front of the net. His stickhandling and puck protection are good, but he’s not really a dangler, beating defenders with his skating, or making a smart pass to the open man are more of his game. This isn’t a bad thing though as the type of game he plays often translates very well to the pro game.
Rackell has a two way game, as he brings his grit and battle to the defensive zone, helping his defense with solid backpressure on the rush, and good support against the cycle. He has good reach and can steal pucks and intercept passes, but also isn’t afraid to be physical in the corners or in support. Was good in faceoffs at the junior level but will need some more experience to do so at the pro level.
Rackell will get a long look at Ducks training camp this year, and has a real chance to make the team. Even if he is sent back to the AHL, expect him to be one of the first callups in case of injury. He’s just turned 21, but he’s not far from being NHL ready.
#3 Prospect: Shea Theodore, Defence
Born Aug 3 1995 — Aldergrove, BC
Height 6.02 — Weight 175 — Shoots Left
Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, 26th overall, in the 2013 NHL draft.
The Ducks first round pick in 2013, Shea Theodore put up 79 points in 70 games for the Seattle Thunderbirds, leading his team in scoring, and leading the WHL in scoring by a defenceman. He also joined the Admirals for the end of the season, and put up 3 points in 4 AHL playoff games.
Theodore’s skating is at an elite level and defines his game. He has excellent speed and acceleration, and this allows him to lead the rush, or to join as a trailer and then get back to the defensive responsibilities in his own end. He has great agility, and good edgework, and pivots which really allows him to cover a lot of ice. He could stand to improve his balance and strength though as he can sometimes get knocked off the puck, or pushed around in board battles.
Theodore is developing into an excellent offensive producer. In addition to his skating ability, he has great stickhandling and excellent poise. Couple this with very good vision and passing abilities and Theodore is a key playmaker. He can set up teammates both off the rush, and when quarterbacking the powerplay. On top of it all Theodore has developped an excellent slap shot and one timer and can score from the point on the power play.
Theodore has plenty of size, but he needs to learn how to use it more effectively in his own end of the rink. He needs to be more assertive in winning board battles and clearing the front of the Seattle net. He has improved this aspect of his game over last year, but there is still some more room for improvement and bulking up and adding some more muscle to his frame would certainly help. He has a tendency to be a bit of a gambler offensively as well which can get him caught at the defensive end of the ice.
Theodore can be an elite offensive producer in the NHL but is a bit of a project who needs to continue to work on his defensive game. For that reason he should be back in the WHL this year, where he should be a leader on a Seattle team that is expected to be much improved.
Super Sleeper Prospect: Kevin Roy, Left Wing
Born May 20 1993 — Lac Beauport, PQ
Height 5.09 — Weight 170 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the 4th round, 97th overall, in the 2012 NHL Draft.
There have been many critics of Kevin Roy’s size, but he just keeps scoring points. Whether its putting up over 100 points in the USHL, or being a PPG player as a freshman with Northeastern, to taking it up a notch again and putting up 46 points in 37 games this year. Yes, he’s undersized, but Roy is an offensive dynamo at the NCAA level.
Roy has incredible offensive ability. He is blessed with top notch hockey IQ and great instincts. He has the ability to slow the game down when the puck is on his stick, and draw defenders towards him, which then opens up his teammates for a pass and goal scoring opportunity. He has tremendous vision and passing abilities and can thread needles to put the puck right on the tape. Roy also has very slick hands and often leaves defenders and goalies shaking their heads as he gets them leaning one way, but Roy goes the other. His ability to “dangle” is extremely high, and he protects the puck very well. His shot has an excellent release and is deadly accurate, however it could use a little more velocity. Some increased upper body strength would help with this, and would help him in board battles.
Roy’s skating isn’t at the ideal level you’d like for an undersized prospect. Don’t get us wrong, he’s not a bad skater by any means, in fact we believe he is above average. However he doesn’t possess the blazing speed that many of the smaller, skilled NHL players seem to have. He does have good balance and agility, and uses his edges well. To succeed at the next level against bigger stronger players Roy must use his advantages in hockey sense, instincts, and pure skill rather than being a speed demon out there.
Defensively Roy quite simply lacks the size and strength to deal with bigger and stronger opponents. He works hard but does not win enough board battles or contain his man to the outside well. This is where putting on some extra muscle and core strength will really help Roy.
Roy should be back in the NCAA with Northeastern this year. Another big season and he could get Hobey Baker talk, and may be ready to sign an ELC and go to the AHL to finish the year.
Despite a lot of graduations recently, and a ton of young talent on the NHL team, the Ducks still have plenty of talent in their system. Ritchie is the highlight of an excellent 2014 draft class that adds depth both at forward and on Defence. In the system forwards William Karlsson, Nic Kerdiles, and Nick Sorenson all had solid seasons at their current level. One high end prospect missed nearly the entire year following a knee ligament tear during practice, as Stefan Noesen had played just two AHL games before getting hurt. Further down the depth chart, Max Friberg is another talented offensive player who has size issues. On defence, things are a little thinner after Theodore, but Petterson was a solid pickup in this year’s draft. Montour we wouldn’t have taken at 55th overall, but he will get the chance to develop as well. Keaton Thompson also a solid freshman season at North Dakota and Josh Manson is a solid defensive defenceman at North Dakota. While these players are a step down from what the Ducks have up front, the fact that Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Sami Vatanen are all young and part of the main club means this shouldn’t be a huge concern.
For the latest sports injury news, check out our friends at Sports Injury Alert.