Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf NHL Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). 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 this year. 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 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. 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.
TSP: Anaheim Ducks Prospects
A slow start turned into a mighty fine season for the Anaheim Ducks. Despite all the October and November troubles, the Ducks would go on a tear, ending the season with 103 points. It was enough to given them the Pacific Division crown. However, familiar playoff troubles cropped up. Despite being a heavy favorite, the Ducks lost yet another seven game series. They fell in the first round to the Nashville Predators.
The off-season brought change. The Ducks fired head coach Bruce Boudreau. They replaced him with a familiar face. New coach Randy Carlyle starts his second stint with the Ducks. Goaltender Frederik Andersen joins the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs traded goalie Jonathan Bernier to the Ducks in a separate transaction. They also signed Mason Raymond, Jeff Schultz and Jared Boll. The team also added Antoine Vermette. Free agents David Perron, Jamie McGinn, Mike Santorelli, Shawn Horcoff, Brandon Pirri, Chris Stewart, Shane O’Brien and Anton Khudobin were allowed to leave. The Ducks will look to replace some of their contributions with the youth in their prospect system.
Anaheim Ducks Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Shea Theodore
Defense — shoots Left
Born Aug 3 1995 — Langley, BC
Height 6’2″ — Weight 195 lbs [188 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in round 1, #26 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Theodore had an excellent first pro season. He scored nine goals and 37 points in 50 games for the San Diego Gulls at the AHL level, and added three goals and eight points in 19 games at the NHL level. He impressed the Ducks enough to allow him play six playoff games. After going back to the AHL, he scored two goals and five points in seven 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 edge work, and pivots which really allows him to cover a lot of ice. Theodore improved his lower body strength, giving him better balance and helping him to be stronger on the puck. However, there are still steps to be taken in this area.
Theodore is developing into an excellent offensive producer. In addition to his skating ability, he has great stick handling and excellent poise. Couple this with very good vision and passing abilities and Theodore is a key play maker. He can set up teammates both off the rush, and when quarterbacking the power play. On top of it all Theodore has developed an excellent slap shot and one timer and can score from the point on the power play. He gets the puck on net, even through traffic. Theodore understands that keeping the puck low can provide his teammates opportunities for rebounds, tip-ins and screens.
Theodore has plenty of size. Since being drafted he has improved the physical aspects of his game. 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 gambles offensively from time-to-time, which can get him caught at the defensive end of the ice.
Theodore did not look out of place during his time with the Ducks last season. Don’t be surprised if he earns a full-time job on the Ducks roster coming out of training camp.
#2 Prospect: Nick Ritchie
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Dec 5 1995 — Orangeville, ONT
Height 6’2 — Weight 232 lbs [188 cm / 105 kg]
Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in round 1, #10 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Nick Ritchie had an excellent rookie season in the AHL. With 16 goals and 30 points in 38 games, he met all expectations and showed his offensive skills. A 33 game call-up to the Ducks wasn’t quite as productive. He scored just two goals and four points in 33 games.
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 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 as well as having the quick, soft hands necessary to score on rebounds and deflections.
Ritchie has one of the best wrist shots in the AHL. 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. His wrist shot is already NHL ready. He is powerful in board battles due to his ability to overpower defencemen and win pucks. While plenty of youngsters need to add muscle to their frames before going to the NHL, Ritchie is already built like a truck.
Ritchie shows his physical game in all three areas of the ice. He loves to hit. Ritchie back checks hard. He is involved with the physical game in his own zone and supports the defence down low. Sometimes this can get him into trouble. He needs to be disciplined to ensure he doesn’t take penalties. Ritchie also must avoid getting out of position looking for that hit. Still he’s a committed defensive player, and appears to be improving over time. He shows 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.
The Ducks have had a lot of turnover at forward. Ritchie needs to have a strong training camp to take advantage of the opportunity.
#3 Prospect: Brandon Montour
Defense — shoots Right
Born Apr 11 1994 — Ohsweken, ONT
Height 6’0″ — Weight 192 lbs [183 cm/87 kg]
Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in round 2, #55 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Brandon Montour had a remarkable rookie year with the San Diego Gulls, scoring 12 goals and 45 assists for 57 points in 68 games. He played in the AHL All-Star Game. Montour was also named to post-season AHL First All-Star Team and All-Rookie Team.
Montour is an excellent skater. He has very good speed and acceleration in both directions. His edge work is crisp and clean and his agility allows him to avoid fore checkers, as well as to walk the line in the offensive zone and open up passing and shooting lanes. Montour is strong on his skates, using good lower body strength, and a low centre of gravity to fight through checks. He is a lot stronger now than when he was drafted.
Montour loves to join or lead the rush. He avoids the fore check and pushes the puck up the ice quickly. Montour has very good stick handling skills. He is an excellent play maker, with good vision, and the passing ability to start the rush or to quarterback things at the blue line. Montour makes smart plays with the puck. He likes to rush and pinches often; but he has learned to minimize the unnecessary risks. Montour also has a huge slap shot. His ability to open up shooting lanes is a real asset in getting it on net. He also has a very good wrist shot and strong release, which he uses when pressured at the point.
Montour is a smart defender. His positional play is solid, as he keeps attackers to the outside and protects the front of the net. Montour uses a quick stick to cut down passing lanes. He also reads the play well and creates turnovers, which he then transitions into quick offense.
Montour heads to training camp looking to make the jump to the Ducks. While he only spent one year in the AHL, he did everything that could have been asked of him at that level. Montour adds offensive punch, something the Ducks could use on the blueline.
#4 Prospect: Max Jones
The Ducks drafted Jones with the 24th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Jones, including a full scouting report. We will not repeat it, as nothing has changed since June. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Jacob Larsson
Defense — shoots Left
Born Apr 29 1997 — Ljungby, Sweden
Height 6’2″ — Weight 191 lbs [188 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in round 1, #27 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Larsson finished up a solid season with Frolunda in the SHL. He was part of the team winning the Champions Hockey League, and the SHL Championship. A young player in a men’s league, Larsson didn’t get big minutes, but he often took a a third pairing shift, and played in 16 playoff games. Larsson also played for Sweden at the World Juniors.
Larsson is a very good skater. He has a very smooth stride, which generates very good top end speed and strong acceleration in both directions. His edge work, pivots, and agility are all extremely good, making Larsson a very difficult defender to beat one-on-one off the rush. He is strong on his skates and has good balance, allowing him to be physical in puck battles and in clearing the crease. He is tough to knock off the puck when he has it on his stick.
Larsson is not flashy, but he has solid all-around skill. His wrist shot and slap shot are good, but not bombs. He is extremely smart though, and makes sure to get it on net, and keep it low for rebounds and tip-ins. He shows good poise with the puck on his stick and makes smart plays.
Larsson’s vision and passing skill are excellent. He makes a great first pass out of his zone, and can make the long stretch pass if a forward is open. He has not really shown the passing skills in the offensive zone though, he’s decent back there, but his ability as a “power play quarterback” seems limited. Larsson isn’t one to lead the rush and go coast to coast very often, but he can join as a trailer and let go his accurate shot.
Larsson’s defensive game is his real strength. He is gritty and willing to battle in front of the net and in the corners, but is not one to throw big hits. He could use an increase in upper body strength to play at the next level though. Larsson reads the play well and has very good positioning. He is willing to block shots and uses an active stick to cut down passing lanes. He has very good gap control and forces opposing forwards to the outside. When he gets the puck, Larsson moves it out of the zone quickly and starts the transition game. He also can skate the puck out of pressure on the fore check.
Larsson returns to Frolunda where he looks to be given a bigger role and more minutes this season. He should also play for Sweden’s World Junior Team.
#6 Prospect: Sam Steel
The Ducks drafted Steel with the 30th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we took a look at Steel, including a full scouting report. We will not repeat it, as nothing has changed since June. You can check out the report here.
#7 Prospect: Julius Nattinen
Center — shoots Right
Born Jan 14 1997 — Jyvaskyla, Finland
Height 6’2″ — Weight 192 lbs [188 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in round 2, #59 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Nattinen spent last season with the Barrie Colts in the OHL. He adjusted well to North American ice, scoring 22 goals and adding 49 assists for 71 points. He also won a gold medal with Finland at the World Juniors. Nattinen did not score much in the tournament. He was mainly used in a defensive role against opponents scoring lines.
Nattinen is a a good skater. His speed and acceleration are at a very good level, and his stride is long and smooth. He’s even shown the ability to go wide on defenders and cut to the net off the rush. Nattinen has good lower body strength, allowing him to fight through checks, win board battles and establish position in front of the net. Nattinen also has the edge work, and agility necessary to slip by defenders and find open spots on the ice.
Nattinen is much more of a play maker than a goal scorer. He really works well in the cycle game. Nattinen protects the puck extremely well using his body to shield defenders, and his stick handling to keep control of the puck down low. Nattinen then makes while also being fully capable of driving to the front of the net, and having the soft hands to finish in close. He is extremely hard to knock off the puck. Nattinen makes the smart pass and finds the open man whether it be in keeping the play alive on the cycle or making the pass to a teammate for a scoring chance. He has shown the ability to drive the puck to the net and the hands to finish in tight spaces. Nattinen does have a decent wrist shot and a good release, but he doesn’t seem to use it often enough.
If there is a criticism of Nattinen’s game it is that he is not always at the same level of offensive intensity. While he is never going to be a big hitter, he can play a gritty game along the boards, and dig pucks out of corners, as well as fight for position in front of the net. When he does these things, he can dominate a shift and control puck possession for his team. However there are also times he seems to get away from those physical battles in the offensive zone and looks to play too much of a perimeter game.
Nattinen’s two way game is extremely well-developed for a player his age. He is very good at the little things, such as winning face-offs, using his long stick to break up passing lanes, and supporting his defence down low. Nattinen shows the ability to work along the boards and win battles in all three zones. He also is able to contain opponents on the cycle game and is willing to put his body on the line to block shots. While there were some criticisms of his intensity in the offensive zone, Nattinen doesn’t take shifts off in the defensive end of the ice.
The Colts traded Nattinen to the Windsor Spitfires and given an important role on one of the OHL’s best teams. The Spitfires host the 2017 Memorial Cup and Nattinen is one of the players they are looking to as they load up for a playoff run.
Sleeper Prospect: Kevin Roy
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born May 20 1993 — Lac-Beauport, PQ
Height 5’10” — Weight 170 lbs [178 cm / 77 kg]
Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in round 4, #97 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Roy finished up an impressive college career at Northeastern with an injury plagued senior year. He scored 10 goals and 26 points in 29 games but it was not the way he planned on going out. Following the year, he signed an entry-level contract with the Ducks.
Roy’s skating isn’t at the ideal level you’d like for an undersized prospect. While he’s not a bad skater by any means, in fact 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.
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. Roy has tremendous vision and passing abilities and can thread needles to put the puck right on the tape. He 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.
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 will move to the AHL this year. He must prove that he can continue to be an offensive contributor playing against bigger opponents in the pro game.
The Ducks have built and excellent young defence at the NHL level, and the pipeline shows that there are are more on the way. Theodore, Montour, and Larsson are joined by Marcus Petterson, Josh Mahura, Andy Welinski, and Keaton Thompson. The forward group includes Nicolas Kerdiles, Stefan Noesen, Nick Sorensen, Ondrej Kase, Deven Sideroff, and Michael Sgarbossa. With John Gibson graduated, the Ducks need to look to find a new goalie prospect over the next couple of years.