This is only my second update to my prospects list, so I'm sure I need to explain my methodology at least one more time.
Unless otherwise noted, I've seen every player play at least one game this past 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 or second 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.
My list differs from most lists in that I graduate players who have played a rookie season (25 games) in the NHL, and I don't claim to rank players in terms of their ultimate NHL talent, which would be the job of an actual scout, not an armchair one. This is a ranking of players likely to become Ducks. Thus, where possible, I do try to defer to the Ducks' professional scouts and staff members and their stated opinions or their roster management preferences regarding a player as superior to my own.
On to the list...
The Bob Murray Ducks are restructuring this year after attempting three scoring lines and two scoring pairings last season. In truth, they are leaving a number of spots in the lineup open, but they also have new multi-year contracts (Koivu, Sutton, Lydman) and young players (Sexton, Beleskey, Sbisa) currently filling roles on the team, so this list will not skew as heavily toward a need for shutdown defensemen and skill centers as the last one.
As a preseason list, there is little to offer in the way of statistical or performance updates, so this is more of a review of the players' camp performance and a preview of where each player is headed for the upcoming season. Also, heights and weights have been updated where available i.e. NCAA and Juniors players, but the Ducks/Crunch did not update height and weight (even just past draft day numbers) for many of their new pros, despite having a picture/physical day.
1. Cam Fowler D
6'2" 199 lbs, born 12/6/91
Acquired: 12th overall in the 1st Round of the 2010 Draft
2009-10 team: Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
As I write this, Cam Fowler still has the opportunity to graduate from this list before I update it at midseason. And he earned that opportunity. An excellent skater and puck-mover, Fowler brings incredible hockey sense to his game in both directions, and he has experienced winning at every level. He is a Top 5 talent, even if he wasn't a Top 5 pick, and the Ducks are giving him Top 5 treatment with a contract and a shot at the pros out of the starting gate.
If he returns to Windsor, the focus will turn to getting sturdier and winning a job in Anaheim on his second crack at the lineup next summer, where Fowler will be AHL-eligible as a December birth. However, if he stays with the Ducks, the focus will shift to translating his game to the NHL, and at that point, even faint shades of Drew Doughty's incredible, condensed, two-year, Rosetta Stone translation would be a boon for a Ducks team that has Ryan Getzlaf signed to the summer of 2013.
2. Jake Gardiner D
6'2" 193 lbs, born 7/4/90
Acquired: 17th overall in the 1st Round of the 2008 Draft
2009-10 Team(s): Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)
I said at the opening of last season that Gardiner had the opportunity to leapfrog Ryan McDonagh, who had a quiet 2008-09 effort while backing up offensive star Jamie McBain. Unfortunately, Gardiner spent last season playing the quiet backup man in a strong campaign from McDonagh. That's not to say that Gardiner's sophomore experience wasn't valuable. He is now more comfortable in the defensive aspects of his game, and his team play helped the Badgers get to the National Championship game.
However, with Ryan McDonagh (and frankly, most of last year's team) now gone, Gardiner's opportunity to shine is much more pronounced, and failure to rise to that occasion would be much more conspicuous. He took the first step in asking for a share of the captaincy this year. Jake Gardiner will be an Assistant Captain for the 2010-11 Badgers squad. Will he also be a star for the 2010-11 Badgers squad? It remains to be seen, but a superstar performance for an NCAA junior often becomes an NHL contract.
3. Kyle Palmieri RW, C
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 (CCHA)
Too high, you say? Well, first, Kyle Palmieri is physically impressive. He looked outstanding at Conditioning Camp, though he freely admitted he hadn't touched the ice since the Notre Dame season wrapped. And he was also one of the more impressive players at his Draft Combine's fitness tests, both upper and lower body.
And that leads into the second point, which is the primary advantage of Martin Madden drafting smaller, physically impressive athletes who are headed to free development systems: coming out early. Palmieri might have been drafted higher were he taller, sure, but he's not exactly in desperate need of getting stronger. He was capable of making the jump early, and now he joins Syracuse as a 19 year-old with the foci of learning the system and applying himself to it at the AHL level. If Cam Fowler goes back to Windsor, Palmieri is the first-rounder that is closest to a Ducks uniform.
4. Emerson Etem C
6'0" 197lbs, born 6/16/92
Acquired: 29th overall in the 1st Round of the 2010 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
5. Nicolas Deschamps C, LW
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)
Normally, I'd see the movement of Bobby Ryan to center (and Koivu to third line center) as a reason to downshift all centers on my list. However, Deschamps, who played plenty of time at pivot in last year's Ducks camp, was switched this year to wing, where he played much of his successful Junior career. As a natural center, he's an incredible playmaker off the wing, and there were multiple line combinations where he became an excellent option as speed and vision on the left side, especially with another playmaker in the middle.
This will be his first year in the pros, but with plenty of dust left to settle in the Anaheim lineup, the speed to which he translates his game to the next level (and to the Ducks' system) could get him out of Syracuse rather quickly, even if only for a preliminary cup of coffee.
6. Devante Smith-Pelly RW
5'11" 211 lbs, born 6/14/92
Acquired: 42nd overall in the 2nd Round of the 2010 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Mississauga St. Michael's Majors (OHL)
There was a time when a smaller, skinnier Smith-Pelly needed to fill out to match his aspirations of modeling his game after Jarome Iginla. Now, suddenly, he's not managing his size well, and he's not banging hard enough to get inside as a power forward? Sounds like one of them good problems.
Smith-Pelly has a slick shot whose quick release really spells danger when he's crashing the crease right behind the puck. In training camp, he was finishing his checks and playing hungry for the puck, which put him high on the list of players impressing Randy Carlyle. Still two years away from a pro assignment, there really is some Top 6 potential left in Smith-Pelly. Not Iginla Top 6, but think of what the Ducks were able to do with a banger with hands in Dustin Penner. Failing that, DS-P currently projects as a strong, sandpaper, net-front bottom sixer with secondary scoring upside. Not bad for basement value.
7. Nick Bonino C
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 (Hockey East), Anaheim Ducks (NHL)
One of our readers noted that he's not all that impressed with Bonino and doesn't see why everyone else is so high on the young center's potential. Well, that's sort of the point. If Bonino's gifts and projectability jumped out at you, he wouldn't be on the cusp of becoming the latest Tim Burke late-round find. Plucked from Avon Old Farms after winning New Englands, but before ever touching NCAA ice, Bonino proved himself a playmaker and a clutch delivery boy for the National Championship team at Boston University.
So Tim Burke was right about what the kid would do at the next level, just as he was right about 8th rounder Doug Murray, who was drafted before entering Cornell, 2nd Rounder Matt Carle, who was drafted before joining and winning multiple national championships with Denver, and 7th Rounder Joe Pavelski, who was drafted before joining and winning a national championship with Wisconsin. Will Tim Burke be right about what 6th Rounder Bonino can do at the next-next level, just as he was about Murray, Carle and Pavelski? Only time will tell, but those familiar with Burke's work are free to expect some eventual NHL-level contribution out of the youngster as he heads into his first full pro year in New York.
8. Mat Clark D
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), Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Mat (one T he says now, explaining he was too lazy to fix it his whole life /shakes fist) Clark had a good camp. He didn't line anyone up or cover a 2-on-1 for Scott Niedermayer like he did last year, but he played a steady game and looked good in a pairing with Cam Fowler.
Clark has the most upside of any of the shutdown defensemen the Ducks are breeding. His calm, consistent play, his big hit potential and his increasing comfort with the puck give him the edge in the cupboard. However, new mutli-year blueline contracts, the acquisition of Jake Newton and the continued saga that is Brendan Mikkelson seem to handicap Clark amongst the NHL-ready players. He has time to incubate, and unless he forces the Ducks' hands, they may let him.
9. Mark Mitera D
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)
I recently noted, to the surprise of more than a few people, that Mitera's potential was never a first-pairing shutdown guy. Yes, he was taken in the first round, but projected first-pairing shutdown guys like Chris Pronger or Mike Komisarek are not just first round guys but Top 10 pick first round guys.
I feel comfortable saying it was always more of a Sean O'Donnell projection, not to diminish the value of O'Donnell or his lengthy career but just to say he's a guy who can play in the Top 4 though not necessarily lead that pairing. Mitera will need to get pucks on net and develop something of a reliable, if not effective, shot at the pro level, and he'll need to finally put a strong AHL season on his knee to get back on track. I won't say last year was a wash, but I noted before last season started that he and MacMillan were at a key point in their development processes and would be most harmed by the lack of an AHL affiliate. Well, they were, and at this point, it's a good sign just that Mitera is still a Duck.
10. Peter Holland C
6'2" 198 lbs, born 1/14/91
Acquired: 15th overall in the 1st Round of the 2009 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Guelph Storm (OHL)
Peter Holland came to camp with a little more fire this season, standing up for his campmates in the corners at the rookie tournament. While it seems he still does not crave contact, he now accents his offense with a brash confidence, the sort of drive that scouts were looking for from him when they characterized the center as, at best, 'cerebral' (and at worst 'inconsistent') in his draft year.
He's brought that confidence back to Guelph and has looked good with fellow veteran Taylor Beck. If Holland can pick up on last year's chemistry, this could be a great final amateur development year from him. And he should finally be able to answer the question of "will he ever put it all together?" Some checking would be nice, or just generally using his size on offense, but a confident and consistent Holland can contend for a Top Six job, even if he has to succeed at the AHL level first to do it. Of course, any regression would spell trouble.
11. Justin Schultz D
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 (WCHA)
Justin Schultz didn't wow at Conditioning Camp or anything, and he and Gardiner got caught pinching on a few occasions, but I remain high on the defenseman. His NHL-level skill is still his passing and quarterbacking on the power play. MIke Eaves confirmed that by giving the freshman Schultz plenty of man-advantage time right up until the final game of the NCAA tournament.
In the championship game, Schultz had trouble gapping BC's fast forwards, but if he excelled at gapping fast forwards as a freshman, he'd be much much higher on my list. He will return to Wisconsin, but the bad news is that his pairing partner from last year, Cody Goloubef, will not. The good news is that virtually no one from last year's team will return, and that proffers Schultz the opportunity to take a prominent role in the defensive corps. I'll be looking out for a breakout performance from him this year.
12. Jake Newton D
6'3" 200 lbs, born 9/22/88
Acquired: Undrafted Free Agent 2010
2009-10 team(s): Northeastern (Hockey East)
Newton looked good from Conditioning Camp to Training Camp and put the biscuit in the basket in each session. He's also got a goal in his first game as a member of the Crunch. Unfortunately, Randy Carlyle's evaluation of Newton plots out an AHL regimen that will require him to refine both his offensive and defensive game before he's ready for the NHL.
Newton's natural skills (his size, his skating and his shot) make him an attractive prospect, and to the degree that he is willing to apply himself to Carlyle's laundry list of moving his feet, making assertive plays with the puck, etc., the journey to a call-up is not necessarily a long one. His San Jacinto roots may also give him a leg up on the prospect of skating in a regular season Ducks uniform, even if only for show, as it did with prospect Brian Salcido.
13. Sami Vatanen D
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)
Free development is a fickle mistress. The Ducks get Kyle Palmieri ahead of schedule, but Sami Vatanen re-ups with JYP for two years. Logically, you want a smaller player to take his time (especially in a league playing with grown men) developing where he's comfortable, so the long delay on the Ducks' fourth rounder is not just expected but also a positive sign. Still, fans want at least some indication that the defenseman is interested in coming stateside in the near future.
Vatanen may very well be the next Reksa, and his performances with JYP and in international competition only backs up that projection. The opportunity to strikeout is still there, but by all accounts, Vatanen is still slowly leaving the park as a homerun pick.
14. Igor Bobkov G
6'6" 240 lbs, born 1/2/91
Acquired: 76th overall in the 3rd Round of the 2009 Draft
2009-10 team(s): Steel Foxes (MHL)
Bobkov is now 6-foot-6. Bobkov is now 240 pounds. Bobkov is now playing with the London Knights. Bobkov is now 19 going on 20.
You can never really say anything with certainty when it comes to goaltenders, but a successful year in the OHL would only push Bobkov farther down a train track he's already steaming over with reckless abandon. Again, it's hard to get excited about goaltenders. He could be one year away; he could be five. But for now, he is making the stateside transition before he turns 20, he has already played through part of a camp with the Ducks and he will have a goaltending coach who specialized in oversized netminders (Deslauriers, Dubnyk) in Pete Peeters waiting for him at the professional level. All good signs.
15. Maxime Macenauer C
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)
One of the last minor-league hangers-on at this year's Training Camp, Macenauer performed well with the Ducks squad despite spending his entire first pro year in the ECHL. He was a little flashy in Rookie Camp (as he was at the main camp last year), and he scored a dangler's goal from behind the net during the Rookie Tournament in Penticton. It's been a different story at Training Camp, where Macenauer is bringing considerable hustle to regular backup center assignments.
He has an unfortunate injury history, but he's a solid skater with plenty of puck confidence. He could benefit from a full healthy season establishing himself as a strong two-way player or maybe even a solid offensive contributor. Until then, his potential remains a question mark, not much smaller in size than what it was when the Ducks drafted him. The best thing he has going for him right now is that the coaching staff is notably impressed.
After seeing Pielmeier play live for the first time, Magics was impressed and is proud to say the goaltender looked composed for his first AHL game. That, no doubt, is a benefit of being a solid starter in the ECHL last year, where he was a consistent performer who confidently handled the puck (even scoring a goal) and made acrobatic saves.
From my own first experience of seeing him live, back in November of last year, I noted his tendency to be a little too active in net. That continued into Training Camp this year. However, his reflexes are his best asset, and he may always be "antsy," just as Hiller may always tease an entire side of the net, relying on his quick glove to beat the puck there. There is a give and take with confident, athletic goaltenders, and Pielmeier learning to "fix" this shortcoming is not necessarily the goal. If he wins a starting job in the AHL, Pielmeier is on track to being the second potential Tim-Burke-told-you-so on this list. From a cupboard that overdrafts goaltenders, I would rather have poached Alex Stalock, but Timo isn't exactly shaping up to be a slouch.
17. Brandon McMillan C
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)
Last year, McMillan showed the most valuable tool in the Swiss Army Knife kit that got him drafted: the ability to play up to the level of his linemates. That much has continued into Training Camp and hopefully into his time in the AHL. As a strong skater, a tough competitor and an accurate shot, McMillan drops right into a skill line as well as he does a checking line. Like Matt Beleskey, he will probably need to show significant scoring number in order to punch his ticket out of the AHL, even if that won't translate to the NHL.
18. Josh Brittain LW
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)
Brittain is the last true up-and-down power forward in the Ducks' cupboard. That's not to say that Smith-Pelly won't offer a bang and crash power forward game at the next level, but gone are the Burke power forwards. Gone is the pugnacity. Gone is the truculence. Gone is the Tangradi /sobs uncontrollably
Brittain is a good forechecker who can get to the net with his stick down, and that's when he isn't an absolute Tasmanian Devil around the crease. He's currently being tried on a line with Kyle Palmieri and Nick Bonino, and his truculence and pugnacity should be good for the development of all parties there. With the cupboard now devoid of big, physical forwards, Brittain has little competition if the Ducks are looking for a size guy. Justin Vaive certainly isn't expected to develop the shot that Brittain has, and there is plenty of room for the left wing to push toward his ceiling value if he can stay on a good line in Syracuse.
19. Radoslav Illo C
6'0" 190 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. Right now, he's just a guy in a shiny suit to me who put up good numbers in the USHL and international competition. However, with him starting at Bemidji State this season, that will soon change. The Ducks wanted to place him in the CHL, but Illo chose Bemidji, because he says he likes the coaching staff and wants to get an education. That route may get him to Anaheim slower than the Ducks had hoped, but I have plenty of faith in the Bemidji program.
Ultimately, though, Illo makes the list sight unseen because he's a goal-scorer, and the Ducks' cabinet isn't exactly teeming with that resource.
20. MacGregor Sharp C
6'1" 185 lbs, born 10/1/85
Acquired: Undrafted free agent in 2009.
2009-10 team(s): Bakersfield Condors (ECHL), San Antonio Rampage (AHL)
I still like MacGregor Sharp as a nose-for-the-net kind of player. Ducks broadcaster Brian Hayward presented him (via David McNab's description) as a pure scorer. I don't know about that. Sharp scored plenty in his senior year, sure-- he's quite the puckhound. But you shouldn't be disappointed in his 9G, 9A in 40 games with the Rampage last season or his 4G, 12A in 17 games with the Condors (though that stat line is pretty good, even for the ECHL). Sharp has more of a Kunitz upside in terms of scoring, and hopefully he'll find that in Syracuse; he may need to find it to get another call-up.
He didn't look too great in camp, but Sharp isn't a physically aggressive player or a player in possession of NHL speed (the two skills that afforded Chris Kunitz the opportunity to put his puckhound scoring on display). He has an uphill climb convincing the Ducks he's more than a two-way forward at this point, but McNab took a flyer on Sharp for a reason. Hopefully, a full season with the Crunch will be enough to prove the Ducks' Assistant GM right.