Note: I just want to remind everyone that I will not be updating the AC prospects list until after training camp. I did it earlier last year, but it makes much more sense to wait until the players perform and the organization executes its cuts.
When news broke in June that Stefan Warg signed, with Anaheim's blessing, to play for the Örebro Vipers of Hockey Allsvenskan in Sweden, it marked the end of an era for me. The tough 6'2" defenseman was the last of former Ducks Director of Amateur Scouting Alain Chainey's late round picks, his last attempt to steal a player in a 12 year stint running the Anaheim Draft boards.
In describing Warg after the 2008 Draft, Chainey was clear that the young Swede was a diamond in the rough, noting his toughness and his eagerness to come to America were both uncommon for the sons of Mother Svea. Warg had a great showing in camp last year, and when Anaheim Calling caught up with him in January, he emphasized that he and Chainey spoke often. Ultimately, however, when the time came to sign him, he didn't fit into the Ducks' plans.
Chainey has stayed on the staff as the Director of Player Development, but his replacement, Martin Madden, has put his stamp on two consecutive drafts. And as a scout who was poached from Carolina for his ability to spot late round talent while assigned to the QMJHL, one would expect an era of 'steals' under the Madden regime. The Ducks' chief scout certainly hasn't shied away from the words "homerun pick" to describe his draft selections for Anaheim, but we'll take a closer look at his handiwork after the jump.
This will just be a review of where the 2009 picks are now. I thought about doing the 2010 picks, especially with Chris Wagner and Kevin Lind going into the NCAA this year and it being such a late-round-heavy draft for the Ducks (with no 3rd or 4th round picks), but I can't really tell you anything new just a couple of months after their selection.
Also, I'll only look at the 2nd through 6th rounds from 2009. Obviously, Palmieri and Holland had their share of troubles last year, but they still amount to fairly by the board picks. Some will say this draft was balanced into the seventh round, but I think Madden avoided playing it safe in the 3rd, 4th and 5th rounds.
2009 2nd Round - Matt Clark
Clark is physically impressive and is probably the second example (behind Kyle Palmieri) of Martin Madden's willingness to "salt-and-pepper" the Combine Fitness results into his selection process. There's plenty to love about the 6'4" 218lb shutdown defenseman, but his top finish in Upper Body Power and his seven other top ten finishes may have sold the Ducks' scouting staff on the fact that he was already there physically.
He wasn't there offensively, however, and Clark spent this past season in Brampton quarterbacking the power play and getting more comfortable with the puck. At the end of his OHL campaign, Anaheim signed him and sent him on a seven game stint (including six playoffs games) in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose. Clark is ready to contribute to the Crunch next year, but he'll likely pick up where he left off in building his offense. A solid pick in terms of a shutdown defenseman who just needed to build some offense, Clark showed up with a steel frame and an incredibly focused work ethic. He might have been Madden's safest pick that year.
2009 3rd Round Igor Bobkov
The 6'5" Russian netminder turned heads in both the World Juniors and the Subway Super Series and parlayed those international performances into a pick by the London Knights in the 2010 CHL Import Draft. A report last week by the London Free Press says that the OHL team is on the verge of cutting through the last bit of red tape to bring the goalie stateside.
With the departure of François Allaire, the Ducks were suddenly confronted with the need to draft goaltending early and often. Bobkov represents a player that the scouting staff saw and liked, whether because of his IIHF WU18 performance or some other chance observation. And ultimately, with him moving to North America and continuing to come into his own, it was a solid pick of only the third goaltender selected in that year's draft. He'll acclimate to the North American game in London, and if he signs with the Ducks afterward, he may get to work with Pete Peeters, who spent a considerable amount of time with oversized goaltenders in Edmonton thanks to prospects Jeff Deslauriers (6'4") and Devan Dubnyk (6'6").
2009 4th Round - Sami Vatanen
In terms of risk factor, 5'9" 165 lbs kind of says it all, doesn't it? And yet, the Ducks are entering this season with a 5'10" 190 lb offensive-defenseman as their number one, so maybe Vatanen is only a minor and unexpected growth spurt away from being a blueliner who just needs a little help in his own zone. The temptation to compare the smooth skater to successful undersized NHLers is certainly there, especially his 5'8" countryman, Reijo Ruotsalainen, whose brilliant NHL career spanned much of the 80s. In fact, those making the comparison include Ruotsalainen himself.
Vatanen continues to impress, if not dazzle, in international play, but he isn't plotting a trip to North America any time soon. The 19 year-old re-upped for another two years with JYP in Finland, and as his size will likely be an issue when he comes stateside, getting here when he feels most comfortable seems paramount. Drafting players in a free development system is a two-way street.
2009 5th Round - Radoslav Illo
He flew under the radar, nursing an injury on a bad USHL team and making his international showing in April, but Madden picked him right around the time teams start thinking about an under the radar goal scorer like Illo. The 6-foot Slovakian center told McKeen's hockey in March that the Ducks wanted him to go to the CHL, but his family advisors and parents kept college hockey on the table. He settled on Bemidji State, confident in the quality of hockey in the WCHA and comfortable with the school's staff.
Illo starts at Bemidji in the fall, and with education being a primary factor in his decision, expect him to take his time. That's good time, in development terms, for a guy who still projects as a quality goal scorer.
2009 6th Round - Scott Valentine
Madden classified Valentine as an aggressive defensive-defenseman that you had to rein in a little bit, and though he'd be managing some power play time in Oshawa, the scout didn't expect any offense from him. Well, Valentine remains aggressive, sometimes out of position to drop a heavy hit, but he's actually found some offense. Five goals (only 2 on the power play) in his first full season with the Generals paint an accurate picture of the player who still loved to handle the puck and still loved to shoot from the point, but was finally managing to get his shots through.
His shots (and the occasional crunching hit) were particularly impressive at Conditioning Camp this year, and Valentine is beginning to look like a player who can offer some (maybe considerable) mileage as a 6th round selection. I expect he'll see some time in Syracuse to ply his trade to the Ducks' system before all is said and done, and he may flame out there but really any success at the pro level is gravy at this point.