Thearon W. Henderson
Those Who Will and Won't Escape the AHL
In the grand scheme of things, a 48-game season is relentless. Dating back to 1995, the last lockout-shortened regular season, there were few lineup switches, and even fewer roster moves.
The prospective Ducks lineup heading into the 2013 season is marked by a forward core that has question marks, and a defense that is already solidified by veteran talent with an injection of youth. Head Coach Bruce Boudreau must already know what he likes going into training camp, but there are spots up for grabs.
Guys who had a cup of coffee with the club last season might be looked upon for a top-six role, while those who remarkably stuck with the Ducks throughout the entirety of 2011-2012 could see less time than they wish for. Below is a rundown of the Norfolk Admirals who hold the best chances of making the 2013 Anaheim Ducks.
Of the the five players listed, the one who has the best chance of stealing a spot is Vatanen, the 2009 draft pick and offensive-minded defenseman. As a Norfolk Admiral, Vatanen has worked at a terrific pace for a rookie, putting to bed almost all questions about his ability to transition from the larger European ice surface. His 21 points ranks him 14th among defenseman in AHL scoring, as well as third among rookies.
The thing is, Anaheim has solidified their defense with the two free agent signings of Bryan Allen and Sheldon Souray. So, unless Vatanen really shines in camp, he's better suited for top-pairing minutes in Norfolk instead of bottom-pairing, garbage minutes with the Ducks.
Lasch was heavily courted by the Ducks after his stint with Team USA at the World Championships, and his SM-liiga season with the Lahti Pelicans, but he's a long shot with the wings so jammed with talent.
Etem is in a similar situation. He needs more top minutes and developmental time in the AHL (some may disagree), something he'll get with the exodus of NHL-ready talent from Norfolk in the coming weeks. Interestingly enough Sexton has a one-way contract, but should not be used in the NHL, something management has to deal with. Hendry is just too far back in the depth chart to vie for a big league spot.
The Ducks defense will be very good if they can stay healthy. We won't go as far as saying Souray is injury prone, but during his time in the NHL he's had injuries that have put him out of commission for long periods of time. Not only that, but Toni Lydman played last season with a bum shoulder, and Francois Beauchemin's shoulder isn't too healthy either.
Guenin, captain of the Admirals, spent most of last year as the Ducks' insurance defenseman, something that should continue into this season. As well, Clark has developed into a serviceable shutdown guy in Norfolk, and he could serve well if one of Souray/Lydman go down.
Andersen might just be the most interesting Norfolk player. Had it not been for the signing of Viktor Fasth, he could be Jonas Hiller's backup to start the season. Although Andersen's AHL numbers aren't sterling (2.47 GAA, 0.924 SV%), he's immensely talented. With Hiller looking to start the majority, if not all, of the games this season, Andersen probably won't be called upon. But, with Hiller's injury history, we can never be too safe. [Ed. Note: Having Andersen insures that Bob Murray won't have to surf the free agent market for goalies like he did two years ago with Ray Emery and Dan Ellis. -CK]
These are the obvious three guys that should make the roster.
Holland has put together some tremendous numbers in the AHL - his 30 points ranks him 22nd in league scoring - and deserves a shot at one of the two vacant center positions on the Ducks. Even for someone like myself who has doubted his ability for a long period of time, Holland seems to be the real deal. Adding his size, scoring touch and playmaking down the middle can only bolster the Ducks lineup. My prediction: Holland will become the Ducks' second line center.
Palmieri is someone who gets a harsh response by most in the Anaheim Calling community. His motivation has been questioned, and he can disappear for long stretches of time both in games and in season. Regardless, he's the Ducks top prospect, and has proven he can play in the NHL - albeit for a little amount of games.
He should make it out of camp, but the Ducks cannot afford to have him disappear for ten games in a 48-game season. However, if he brings his scoring touch to the Ducks and adds 10-12 goals, then it's a huge boost to a club that has had secondary scoring issues for the past five-plus seasons. My prediction: third line right winger.
Smith-Pelly surprisingly (depending on who you talk to) made it onto the Ducks last season out of training camp. A second round selection the year before, DSP's tenacious game had every Ducks fan reminiscing about 2007. A broken foot limited his play last season, but he fit right in with everyone from Ryan Getzlaf to Rod Pelley.
What's confounding about DSP is that he has had a subpar AHL stint. His 13 points ranks him 236th in AHL scoring, and for someone who should be dominating at that level, it's a cause for concern. Additionally, the Ducks added two more wingers in the off-season who play a similar game to Smith-Pelly. If he's not playing with Getzlaf and Corey Perry, then DSP could find himself with low minutes, or out of the lineup. My prediction: if he stays consistent and plays hard, he's a perfect first line left winger.
UPDATE (5:04 PM): Emerson Etem, Nate Guenin, Jordan Hendry, Peter Holland, Patrick Maroon, Kyle Palmieri and Devante Smith-Pelly all scratched in Norfolk's game against the Binghamton Senators. Should be on their way to Anaheim for camp.