I will caveat this list by saying that the trade deadline looms and other teams are asking about the Ducks' cupboard. If Murray moves some kids around, I will update this post.
UPDATE: Pogge has been removed, Pielmeier's breakdown revised and Cousineau added.
I've only done this once before, so let me briefly explain my methodology again. Unless otherwise noted, I've seen every player play at least one game this season. Other than that, I follow them through stats and game recaps from local writers. I break down my rubric here, but essentially, I rank the Ducks' prospects based on three factors: skill, position in the development process, and relationship to the organization (i.e. organizational preference for the player and likelihood of an opening in the depth chart). The ideal number one candidate on my list would have the most impressive skillset in the cupboard, three years of dominant play at the junior/NCAA level, three years of dominant play at the AHL level, an affordable and signed entry level contract, positive performance at all conditioning or training camps, an opening for himself in the depth chart, and the favor of the coaching staff and front office.
I graduate all players who have played 25 games (considered a rookie season) in the NHL. This is why you did not see Luca Sbisa (39 GP with Philadelphia) on my last list and why you will no longer see Dan Sexton (previously 11th) or Matt Beleskey (previously 4th) on my new list. I will inject a little NCAA bias from time to time-- it's who I am --but I will also inject the bias of others. For example, the glowing praise of the front office put Brian Salcido on my last list, and it would have put Troy Bodie on this list if he didn't need just one more game to hit 25. I'm not sure why the front office and coaching staff have so much faith in these players, but they would really know better than I would. And clearly, in a situation like Bodie's, they are willing to inject him into the roster despite the fact that Big George still has two years and a clothing line on his contract.
On to the list...
The (Bob) Murray Ducks are generally GP (NHL games played) obsessed, giving players like Calder and Boynton the nod ahead of Sexton and Festerling. However, in an emergency and a tight budget situation, Murray has shown a willingness to go to the cupboard. In the next three years, barring major free agent signings or trades, the Ducks have immediate openings for affordable playmaking centers, backup goaltenders and shutdown defensemen. This list factors in those organizational needs.
Editor's Note: the name links will take you to my profile or scouting report update on the listed player, not to an SB Nation profile on the player.
6'2" 184 lbs, born 7/4/90
Acquired: 17th overall in the 1st Round of the 2008 Draft
2009-10 Team(s): Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
Truthfully, Gardiner spent the year taking a step backwards in my book. He spent much of the season working on his defense (which I observed to be little more than a converted forward clinic on hesitation), and he will likely plummet in the rankings of anyone who doesn't actually watch NCAA hockey-- the lowest point total (currently at 9) on the Badgers defense will do that to you.
And yet, it seems unfair to criticize someone for trying to become a 'more complete defenseman,' especially when you look across the Wisconsin blueline at Ryan McDonagh, who took that same pilgrimage for completeness last year and has emerged much the better for it. Still, it's a shame to see Gardiner bottle up his offense, if only because his offensive toolkit is so impressive. For now, the offensive creativity is still there, and he's a responsible member of a top pairing on a top team. A successful finish to the season could even get him talking about a transition to the next level, but in all likelihood, he will spend next season in Wisconsin, learning to be the gamebreaker the Ducks drafted.
2. Nicolas Deschamps
6'2" 195 lbs, born 1/6/90
Acquired: 35th overall in the 2nd Round of the 2008 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Chicoutimi Sagueneens and Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
He signed a three-year contract last summer. Check. He had a great camp with the Ducks in September. Check. He now leads the QMJHL in scoring. Check. The Ducks have very little competition for playmaking centers if Koivu leaves. Check.
You can argue that Deschamps isn't an NHL-level playmaker yet, or that he never will be, but the kid has done everything right this season. Despite a glut in their Top 6, the Ducks will need a playmaking center in the next two years, whether he plays on the second line or the third, and due to the aforementioned glut, they may need an affordable pivot for those 4M wingers. That may get Bonino and Deschamps an early cup of coffee in the next two seasons, with Deschamps getting the edge because, as I said, he did everything right this year.
3. Matt Clark
6'4" 218lbs, born 10/17/90
Acquired: 37th overall in the 2nd Round of the 2009 Draft
2009-10 Team(s): Brampton Battalion (OHL)
At camp this year, Matt Clark looked NHL-ready. From his work along the boards to his violent checks to covering a 2-on-1 for Scott Niedermayer, the 6'4" blueliner didn't look like a rookie until he handled the puck in the offensive zone. And since he returned to his junior team in Brampton, Clark's focus has turned to handling the puck on the power play and getting pucks on net-- well, that and being a leader on a young team.
He turned 20 in October, and getting him to the pros this fall should be a primary motivation for the Ducks to work on their AHL affiliate situation. Clark's defensive toolkit feels fully matured, and as long as the Ducks don't expect too much offensive contribution out of him, a long stay in the AHL seems unlikely for the blueliner.
4. Nick Bonino
6'1" 202 lbs, born 4/20/88
Acquired: In a trade with San Jose who drafted him 173rd overall in the 6th round of the 2007 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Boston University Terriers (NCAA)
"I'm not even supposed to be here today," best sums up Bonino's season with the Terriers. He had discussed turning pro in the offseason, but without an AHL affiliate, it made sense to send him back to Boston. Upside? He got to play in the Frozen Fenway game, and he was the go-to guy on a depleted BU team. Downside? He took his first major injury (a separated shoulder) and at times, he looks like the only player trying to make things happen at even strength. He wasn't even supposed to be there this season.
Even on a struggling team, Bonino remains a strong playmaker, an active shooter and a reliable faceoff man (284/560). As far as what he's added this season, I can only point to a little more grit and the advantages related to surviving the mental rigors of leading a struggling team. Things came, perhaps, a bit too easy to him last season and a bit too hard to him this season. If he gets anything in-between at the next level, it should be a smooth transition.
5. Mark Mitera
6'3" 215 lbs, born 10/22/87
Acquired: 19th overall in the 1st Round of the 2006 Draft
2009-10 team(s): San Antonio Rampage and Abbotsford Heat (AHL), Bakersfield Condors (ECHL)
Mitera falls from number two on my last list, surrendering his spot as top Ducks' defensive-defense prospect to Matt Clark. This, for the simple reason that Clark has played more and played consistently over the last two years. Mitera, through no fault of his own, has managed only 63 games (with Michigan, three AHL teams and Bakersfield) since coming back from ACL surgery one year ago. I predicted he would suffer most from Anaheim's lack of an AHL affiliate, and he has.
Make no mistake, though. Mitera hasn't taken a step backwards, in the ECHL or anywhere else. He simply hasn't gotten the opportunity to take a full step forward after his knee injury. He's found some consistent AHL time with Abbotsford, but at this point, it looks like he'll need at least a full AHL year in a Ducks system just to get back on track.
6'2" 185 lbs, born 7/6/90
Acquired: 43rd overall in the 2nd Round of the 2008 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
I won't reiterate my previous talent breakdown of Schultz. Instead, I'll just say that he is the most confident and versatile blueliner in the Wisconsin Badgers corps, the corps that also includes Jake Gardiner, the number one prospect on this list. Gardiner's potential for gamebreaking offense gives him the edge, of course, but as far as every facet of being a defenseman, Schultz has Gardiner beat hands down. In fact, wherever Gardiner's journey for completeness leads him, he's likely to find the carved message, "Schultz was here," if not, "Schutlz was born here."
If I was really pressed for a shortcoming for Schultz, I would say that he could work on his checking, but only because I've yet to see him really line someone up. Aside from that, he's a skillful power play quarterback, an effective penalty killer and he's good with the puck in all three zones. He still has a lot of development time in front of him, but it may be more than he actually needs.
5'11" 195 lbs, born 2/1/91
Acquired: 26th overall in the 1st Round of the 2009 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Notre Dame Fighting Irish (NCAA)
I haven't seen much of Palmieri with Notre Dame, other than that first nationally televised game, but my opinion of his performance then is the same as my opinion of his performance at the World Juniors: he consistently creates chances. Statistically, he isn't having a standout season for the Irish, but his stat sheet isn't much different from much lauded Notre Dame freshman Riley Sheahan. Both players are smart and tenacious, but both players are still working on translating that into an aesthetically pleasing statline. As a small, strong forward, he still compares well to Zach Parise, even if he hasn't posted a freshman season quite as good.
6'2" 195 lbs, born 1/14/91
Acquired: 15th overall in the 1st Round of the 2009 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Guelph Storm (OHL)
Holland had a tough start this season, suffering a shoulder sprain and struggling in makeshift line combinations. He's certainly picked up the pace, but my opinion of the 6'2" center hasn't changed. He's a perimeter player in a larger player's body, the Ryan Whitney of forwards. He struggled considerably with the Ducks' power forward drills at camp in September and from what I've seen from him this year, he would struggle through them again. He likes space, he may need space and he doesn't take space away from others often enough. Unfortunately, space is something that tends to disappear at the higher levels of the game. Still, you can teach physicality; you can't teach size. Holland will need to learn to use his size to really dominate, and if he doesn't . . . RYAN WHITNEY OF FORWARDS!
9. Brandon McMillan
5'11" 190 lbs, born 3/22/90
Acquired: 85th overall in the 3rd Round of the 2008 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
I had long seen McMillan as a Swiss Army Knife type of player, with speed being his x-factor. However, after seeing him at camp and seeing him play on a dominant line at the World Juniors, I can't deny what this kid can do under the right circumstances. He's a competitor. He uses his speed to get to pucks, not just advance them, and he can bury chances when he gets them. He's a smart two-way winger who can play up to the offensive level of his linemates, even really good linemates.
10. MacGregor Sharp
6'1" 185 lbs, born 10/1/85
Acquired: As an undrafted free agent in 2009.
2009-10 team(s): Bakersfield Condors (ECHL), San Antonio Rampage (AHL)
Early in the year, Sharp received a short call up in which he proved himself more than capable in the faceoff circle but fell short of capitalizing on his scoring chances. His play with Dan Sexton in the ECHL earned both players AHL assignments, but Sexton, due to his size and speed, got the better NHL tryout on the Ducks second line. Sharp will have to get through a deep Bottom 6 center group (Marchant, Carter and maybe Chipchura) to crack the Anaheim depth chart, but his skillset and his nose for the net give him a natural edge in an organization trying to transition to a mostly offensive lineup.
11. Timo Pielmeier
6'0" 165 lbs, born 7/7/89
Acquired: In a trade with the San Jose Sharks in 2009.
2009-10 team(s): Bakersfield Condors (ECHL)
Pielmeier has relished his opportunity in the ECHL, playing 42 of the team's 54 games so far, scoring a goal and turning in a star performance at the ECHL All-Star game. He sees 23 shots per game while backstopping the Condors, and his confidence is probably the one bright spot of the Ducks' AHL affiliate problems. I've noted his tendency to be a little too active in net, but with Pogge in Carolina, and goalies who have already struggled at the NHL level in his way, he may have an easy road to the NHL backup job.
12. Stefan Warg
6'3" 215 lbs, born 2/6/90
Acquired: 143rd overall in the 5th Round of the 2008 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Seattle Thunderbirds and Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Warg had an impressive camp in September. Coach Carlyle noted the defenseman's compete level but said he probably had to work on his mobility. A big, physical blueliner with a willingness to drop the gloves, Warg turned 20 last month and can only hope that Bob Murray (who has an affinity for cheap defensive defenseman and overpaid offensive defenseman) is still in power after Warg's first year in the AHL.
13. Josh Brittain
6'5" 225 lbs, born 1/3/90
Acquired: 71st overall in the 3rd Round of the 2008 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Barrie Colts and Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
His point totals have dipped this year, but Brittain remains the only true power forward in the Ducks' cupboard. He can crash on the forecheck, and he's a Tasmanian Devil around the net. However, he will need to find his confidence and consistency to succeed at the next level, and he'll definitely need to show a lot more of what he only showed in flashes at camp. But as a solid forechecker at 6'5" 220 lb, it's hard to believe the Ducks won't find some use for him, even if he leaves his scoring in the juniors.
14. Igor Bobkov
6'4" 192 lbs, born 1/2/91
Acquired: 76th overall in the 3rd Round of the 2009 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Steel Foxes (MHL)
Boasting the best save percentage of the tournament and a solid shutout performance at the World Juniors, Bobkov is proving that his raw goaltending style is still working fine for him. He also wasn't too shabby at the Subway Super Series, holding Team Russia in it as best he could. Until someone solves him, I would give him the nod over Marco Cousineau, who recently signed a contract with the Ducks, and Mattias Modig, who appears to have fallen by the development waysides.
15. Sami Vatanen
5'9" 165 lbs, born 6/1/91
Acquired: 106th overall in the 4th Round of the 2009 Draft
2009-10 team(s): JYP (SM-Liiga)
He was dynamite at the World Juniors, scoring highlight reel goals and proving himself just as clutch as he was at the IIHF U18's. Size remains the only hurdle for the 5'9" defenseman. And despite being physically strong, his ability to take care of his own end at the next level, especially in the defense crashing Western Conference, remains a large question mark. As Ducks Director of Amateur Scouting Martin Madden said of Vatanen after the team drafted him, this is a homerun or strikeout kind of a pick.
16. Maxime Macenauer
6'0" 203 lbs, born 1/4/89
Acquired: 63rd overall in the 3rd Round of the 2007 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Bakersfield Condors (ECHL)
Macenauer looked strong at camp this year, skating at breakneck speed and roofing the puck in practice. At some point, he seemed to tweak his leg, and that was par for the course for his first pro season, where a high-flying start for Bakersfield turned into a long term injury. He's back in the lineup now, but he seems more focused on his ability to swarm the puck rather than the scoring that punctuated his hot start this season. He may ultimately prove a valuable two-way forward for the Ducks, but his scoring flare bodes well for his ability to get out of the minors.
17. Radoslav Illo
6'0" 188 lbs, born 1/21/90
Acquired: 136th overall in the 5th Round of the 2009 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Tri-City Storm (USHL)
I still haven't seen Radoslav Illo play, but he's spent the season proving that Martin Madden stole a skill player in the 5th round of last year's draft. Illo has 34 points in 39 games as well as 4 game winning goals for the Tri-City Storm, a performance that earned him a spot on the USHL All-Star West roster. He also proved a strong scorer for Slovakia at the World Juniors. He's committed to Bemidji for next year, so I'm sure I'll get to see him then, but for now, it looks to me like Anaheim has picked up a goal scorer with a throwaway pick.
18. Stu Bickel
6'4" 215 lbs, born 10/2/86
Acquired: As an undrafted free agent in 2008
2009-10 team(s): Bakersfield Condors (ECHL), San Antonio Rampage (AHL)
The ECHL was a good thing for Stu Bickel. He found his stride and looked more like the tough defenseman I remember from Minnesota. He didn't make his case at camp this year, but if he can make a strong showing at the next camp, the Ducks may give him a small call up. And with his pricy (1.375M) contract expiring at the end of next year, Anaheim may want to call him up, if only just to see what it is they're not re-signing.
19. Marco Cousineau
6'0" 200 lbs, born 11/9/89
Acquired: 83rd Overall in the 3rd Round of the 2008 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Prince Edward Island Rocket and Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
He's ending his time in The Q on a good note, going 13-2, with 2 shutouts, a 2.43 GAA and a .910 save percentage for the Saint John Sea Dogs. The performance got him a three-year, 650K/yr. (850K cap hit) entry level contract from the Ducks. He'll need to find consistency and keep his current confidence to beat out the Ducks' minor leaguers.
20. Matt McCue
6'5" 220 lbs, born 7/5/88
Acquired: As an undrafted free agent in 2008
2009-10 team(s): Manitoba Moose (AHL), Bakersfield Condors (ECHL)
There are plenty of size players who would be an upgrade over George Parros. The Ducks are currently trying Troy Bodie on for size, but players like Matt McCue and Justin Vaive wait eagerly in the wings. On paper, McCue offers something similar to Dustin Byfuglien: a so-so WHL defender who, when converted to forward, gives you size, grit and an unexpectedly hard shot around the net. He's not on par with Byfuglien's skill, but the theory is sound enough to give him the edge over Bodie.