Ducks hockey made its (unofficial) return this past weekend, as Anaheim’s rookie camp made its way up to San Jose to participate in the 2017 Prospect Showcase, where they felled the Arizona Coyotes and San Jose Sharks by a combined 11-2 score.
Although a pair of dominant wins by a recently-assembled group is certainly impressive, its effects reach far beyond the scoreboard. It was an opportunity for every player on the roster to leave an impression on management, even of the highly-touted ilk like Sam Steel.
The bottom half of Anaheim’s NHL roster going into 2017-18 is far from set in stone, leaving the door open for a hungry prospect to carve out a roster spot. There was plenty of hunger to go around for the Ducks in both contests, perhaps only eclipsed by the sheer talent wearing orange and gold.
The Ducks have developed a reputation for savvy drafting over the years, and it certainly felt warranted over the weekend. AHL head coach Dallas Eakins has played a huge role in the development process, and he had his team of prospects looking more like a well-oiled machine than a rag-tag group of rookies (the Coyotes and Sharks, on the other hand, not so much).
With two of the three games now in the rear-view mirror, it feels right to look back at some of the biggest takeaways of the weekend:
Josh Mahura Can Play
Let’s establish this permanent caveat before we go any further: two great 2017 Prospect Showcase games, a great career does not make.
With that out of the way, 2016 third-round pick Mahura looked downright impressive against both the Sharks and Coyotes, stealing some of the shine away from better-known names like Jacob Larsson and Andy Welinski.
He demonstrated great patience while breaking the puck out of the Anaheim zone, connecting a few very crisp first passes. There was some offensive bite to his game as well, as he registered four shots on goal against Arizona.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, however. Mahura’s goal-based metrics were respectable last year in junior, and he finished in the top ten of defensemen for primary points per 60 minutes at 5v5. His eventual career path is still far from determined, but you can confidently add his name to the long list of quality blueline prospects in Anaheim.
Anaheim Has a Next Wave of Forwards
A growing concern around the Ducks in the last few years has circled around what the franchise will look like in the post-Getzlaf/Perry/Kesler era. The common refrain is that although Rickard Rakell is clearly talented and that the likes of Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase have shown potential, there’s just not enough in the way of blue-chip forward prospects.
Maybe the Ducks don’t have a true superstar on the way, but what team that consistently makes the playoffs does? What they do have, however, is a group filled with talent.
There are the better-known names like Steel, who was absolutely dominant in the WHL last year. He has the skill-set to be a top-line forward in the big leagues, making it feel like only a matter of time before he makes the jump to the NHL.
Then there’s 2016 first-rounder Max Jones, who feels a bit forgotten after having missed a good chunk of the 2016-17 season for the London Knights. He was excellent in the games he did play, finishing seventh in the OHL in even-strength primary points per 60 minutes (30 games played minimum). He showed NHL-readiness against the Sharks on Sunday thanks to hawkish fore-checking, solid transition play, and this:
Outside of the big names, relative unknowns like Austin Ortega, Deven Sideroff, Alex Dostie, and Jack Kopacka stood out in the first two games thanks to some impressive offensive play. 2017 second-rounders Antoine Morand and Maxime Comtois haven’t looked out of place, either.
Life after the Getzlaf era in Anaheim may not be quite the same, but management is clearly preparing for that eventuality with a healthy collection of talent. Undoubtedly, the front office would be thrilled if even a small handful of them turn into NHLers, so long as the big names like Steel and Jones pan out.
Bigger Names That Need to Step Up
Although there was no shortage of positives to take away from two convincing wins, there’s still room for improvement with one game left to go in the showcase. Kalle Kossila — he of viral internet fame thanks to this goal last season — could certainly play with a little more spark.
Although he garnered an assist thanks to a pretty feed to spring a Fiore breakaway, it felt like he had more to offer given that he now has one full season of pro experience under his belt. Kossila put up some gaudy goal-metrics in the AHL, however, so one so-so performance shouldn’t overshadow that larger sample. Just need to see a bit more against this level of competition.
2015 second-rounder Julius Nattinen doesn’t seem exactly poised to take a step forward of his career. After an outstanding 71-point rookie season (52 games played) in the OHL, he fell all the way down to 38 points in 51 games this past season. He was a negative goal-impact player on a good Windsor team, posting an eyebrow-raising 47.22 goals-for percentage.
The good news for the 20-year old is that he tallied a minuscule 6.32 shooting percentage last season, so he’s primed to be a positive regression candidate. At least that’s the hope. He didn’t flash much skill over the weekend, although his long skating stride could eventually translate at the pro level.
- Ortega’s got some wheels. And hands. Kid could be interesting at the next level.
- Both Kevin Boyle and Angus Redmond looked good in net for Anaheim, but let’s just say that John Gibson shouldn’t have to worry about his job security any time soon.
- Steel’s hands belie his namesake:
- Larsson looks bored out there. He’s ready for another NHL shot.
- Jones’ intensity on the forecheck is reminiscent of Nick Ritchie. A faster, more skilled Ritchie.
- Welinski is good at hitting that Andrei Markov-like against-the-grain pass in the offensive zone. Always a good tool in the toolbox.
- Jack Kopacka can shoot the puck:
- Marcus Pettersson looks like he can play. Yet another quality Swedish blueliner in Anaheim’s system.
- Anaheim’s social media team has done a really nice job of covering this event and garnering some early season interest.
- Big thanks to Ducks’ media maven Kyle Shohara for putting up with me. Always appreciated.
- The final game of the Showcase is this Tuesday at noon Pacific against the Colorado Avalanche. Live stream can be found here.