Welcome to the 2015 edition of Top Shelf Prospects. As the summer progresses, I will be featuring each NHL team’s top prospects, following the order of the first round of the 2015 NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) —you can find all the articles here.
Because we already published an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in 2015, as my reports on them will not have changed — I will, however, link you to those articles. Instead I will focus on prospects that were acquired in past drafts, examining their progress and their chances of making the 2015-16 roster of their respective NHL team. I will also choose one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the fourth round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a darkhorse to make the NHL.
For those wondering, the determining factors for defining who is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not set in stone, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Last summer, the Anaheim Ducks made a big splash when they added Ryan Kesler. Having him anchor the second line, behind the dynamic duo of Cory Perry and Ryan Getzlaf was supposed to be what was needed to get the team over the hump and back to the Stanley Cup Final. It nearly worked, but not quite. The Ducks would win the Pacific division crown, roll through the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames and advance to the Western Conference Final. However, once there they lost a hard fought, seven game series, to the eventual Stanley Cup Champs, the Chicago Blackhawks.
This off-season saw more change at the pond, as the Ducks watched Emerson Etem, James Wisniewski, Matt Beleskey, and Francois Beauchemin leave the flock. They also brought in Kevin Bieksa, Chris Stewart, Carl Hagelin, Anton Khudobin and Shawn Horcoff. Will this added depth finally take the team to the promised land? One thing is for sure, if it does not work, coach Bruce Boudreau will be on the hot seat.
Anaheim Ducks Prospects
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 came into the season looking to compete with Frederick Andersen for the number one job in Anaheim. Eventually Andersen won out, while Gibson also faced some injury issues early in the year. He ended up playing 23 games in Anaheim with a respectable .914 save percentage. He also had some time in the AHL.
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 felt he was 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.
With the Ducks grabbing Anton Khudobin, the former backup for Carolina and Boston, there is some thought that the now 22-year-old Gibson could spend the year in the AHL. He will certainly have to compete for the job in camp. With Andersen seemingly entrenched in the number one spot, its possible that the Ducks think that Gibson needs to be the starting goalie in the AHL rather than backing up in Anaheim, given his age.
#2 Prospect: Nick Ritchie, Left Wing
Born Dec 5 1995 — Orangeville, ONT
Height 6.03 — Weight 229 [191 cm/104 kg] — Shoots Left
Drafted by Anaheim Ducks in round 1, 10th overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Ritchie was a key part of an OHL trade deadline move that saw him join the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for the stretch run. During a regular season split between Peterborough and the Sault, he had 29 goals and 62 points in 48 games. However it was in the playoffs that the Greyhounds really got their money’s worth, as he had 13 goals and 26 points in just 14 games. It wasn’t enough as the Greyhounds fell to the Erie Otters in the Western Conference final. He also won a gold medal with Canada’s World Junior
Ritchie is a power forward prospect who finishes his checks, and plays a very straight line game, taking the puck right to the front of the net and not caring if he has to go through a defenceman to do it. He loves to stand in front of the net and has the quick, soft hands necessary to score on rebounds and deflections. Ritchie might have one of the best wrist shots in junior hockey. It is tremendously powerful, and features a very good release. It can be in the back of the net before the goaltender even knows that he’s shot the puck. That wrist shot is already NHL ready. He is powerful in board battles, overpowering defencemen and winning pucks. While plenty of teenagers need to add muscle to their frames before going pro, Ritchie is already built like a truck. On top of that he’s still got room to get even bigger and stronger.
Ritchie has a powerful skating stride, and excellent balance, but could stand to work on his top end speed as it is just average right now. One thing that really helps though, is that he has a very quick first step and good acceleration. This really helps him to pounce on loose pucks in all three zones. While he might not win a 100 foot race to the puck against a quicker NHL player, he is going to win plenty of 10 foot races to loose pucks.
Ritchie shows his physical game in all three areas of the ice. He just loves to hit and can back check hard and get involved with the physical game in his own zone and supporting his defence. Sometimes this can get him into trouble as he needs to be disciplined to ensure he doesn’t take penalties, and also needs to avoid getting out of position looking for that hit. Still he’s a committed defensive player, and appears to be improving over time, showing a willingness to learn this aspect of the game. Ritchie is also not afraid of dropping his gloves. He will fight to defend teammates and himself, and doesn’t care who his opponent is.
As a late 1995 birthdate Ritchie is eligible to go to the AHL this year. He should start the year in San Diego and could see some NHL action if injuries hit in Anaheim.
Prospect: Shea Theodore, Defence
Born Aug 3 1995 — Aldergrove, BC
Height 6.02 — Weight 183 — 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 had another big offensive season. He put up 48 points in 43 games in the WHL, added 9 points in 6 games in the WHL playoffs, won a gold medal as part of Team Canada’s World Junior Team, and added 4 goals and 11 points in 9 AHL 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, and has improved the physical aspects of his game since being drafted. He is better in board battles, in throwing hits and in clearing the crease. 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 start his career with the new San Diego team in the AHL this year.
Super Sleeper: Max Friberg, Left Wing/Right Wing
Born Nov 20 1992 — Skovde, Sweden
Height 5.10 — Weight 194 [178 cm/88 kg] — Shoots Right
Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in round 5, 143rd overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Note: Sleeper is not the fourth best prospect on the team, he is just an intriguing prospect who meets the 4th round or later criteria.
Max Friberg has made his way from unheralded fifth round pick to the cusp of an NHL job. In 58 AHL games last year, he had 15 goals and 40 points, and even showed enough to get a cup of coffee at the NHL level, playing his first game for the big big club.
An effective and gritty two way winger, Friberg battles on the boards and backchecks hard. He is absolutely tenacious in all zones and always right in the middle of the action. He has very good skating ability with good top end speed and acceleration. He also has the good edgework and agility to elude defenders and can be difficult to contain off of the rush. Strong balance allows him to succeed off the cycle.
Friberg has excellent offensive instincts, he finds holes in the defense and is able to get set up to accept a pass. when he gets that pass he has a very accurate shot and quick release. His shot could use more power thought. He has good vision and the passing ability to be dangerous in the cycle game. He protects the puck well with solid stickhandling ability.
Friberg will head to Ducks camp looking for a roster spot. Its a tough roster to crack though with much depth in the forward group. His two-way play and grit give him an edge, but its still likely he’s an AHL player/Injury call-up this season, rather than full-time Duck. Still, he’s just 22 and thats not bad for his age and for the fact he’s a fifth round pick.
The Ducks have spent the time building up their prospect cupboard over the last several years. The three prospects (Gibson, Ritchie, Theodore) mentioned above are the three big prospects. Behind them are some depth prospects who could be decent NHL players, but if you are looking for high upside, we’ve already listed them. On defence, Josh Manson played in 23 games for the Ducks last year, and could stick with the team out of camp this year. They also are developping Brandon Montour and added Jacob Larsson through the draft. Up front some players to keep an eye on include Nicolas Kerdiles, Stefan Noessen, Kevin Roy, Ondrej Kase, Nick Sorensen and newly drafted Julius Nattinen.
Main Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images