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POSITION PREVIEW: On The Bubble

Who will be this year’s Shea Theodore and become a master of the 5 freeway?

NHL: Preseason-San Jose Sharks at Anaheim Ducks Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Before we begin, I think it only apt that you listen to this tidy tidbit of nostalgia while you read this take on who is likely to spend their time bouncing their way up from San Diego to Anaheim, only to fall back down once someone without waiver eligibility becomes healthy and needs to be re-inserted into the line-up.

Bubble/depth players by definition are those likely to get the call should a roster regular fall injured or go through an extreme patch of poor play. Last year saw the likes of Jaycob Megna, Kalle Kossila, Kevin Roy, Andy Welinski, Reto Berra (a lot), Andy Welinski and Giovanni Fiore receive the call. This year, we can expect to see much of the same from this group (with the exception of the departed Berra) as well some fresh, new faces!

Centers:

Kalle Kossila

Let’s get things started with the more experienced among the bubble players. Kossila is entering his third pro season and has 49 NHL games of waiver exemption remaining; next year he will no longer be waiver exempt. He has recently signed a one year extension and has arbitration rights next season, so he will be looking to have a big year in order to improve upon both his next contract’s term and value.

He was the Gulls leading scorer last year with 54 points in 55 games and was recalled to the Ducks for a 10 game stint. He started off well - getting a nice assist in a game against the Flyers but saw most of the rest of his ice time relegated to 4th line minutes and, at one point, played on a line with Jared Boll and Korbinian Holzer. He also scored his first NHL goal against the Panthers on a feed from Logan Shaw (RIP) - he was on a line with Shaw and Wagner (RIP) in that game. Needless to say, he didn't have the same kind of aptly skilled line-mates that he might be used to in San Diego while on his brief sojourn in Anaheim.

Here is hoping that once he gets the recall this season, (which is up in the air right now given he is currently out until at least Thanksgiving recovering from hip surgery) he will be placed with the kind of support that can help him make an impact.

Sam Steel:

The wonder kid has finally landed. Sam Steel is in his first pro eligible season and is currently making a very strong case to make the big club straight out of camp. However, should he falter, it is looking like he will be the first on the bus back to Anaheim.

The Edmonton native totaled 83 points in 54 games in his final year of juniors, a sharp drop from his world-beating 131 point haul the year before. Moving pieces as well as possibly the weight of expectation may have been the cause for the reduction, but Steel did finish the year strong, earning tournament MVP honors for the Memorial Cup in a losing effort for the Pats.

Anaheim hasn't had a fresh-from-juniors rookie make and stick with the big club since Cam Fowler in 2010, but given how much success Steel has had - he could be the next.

Ben Street:

Street was signed as veteran center depth for the Gulls - much in the way that Eric Fehr provided much needed mentorship for the younger players last season. Street lead the Griffins in scoring last season (65 points in 73 games) and was 2nd on the team (1 point behind Tomas Nosek) in scoring during the Griffins Calder Cup winning playoff championship the year before.

While he has cleared waivers, he is still in camp as I write this and scored a goal in the final preseason match against the Kings, so needless to say, given how late a cut he is/or is not, his chances of being called back up should be high should one of the regular centers go down.

He has seen sporadic NHL duty with the Flames (19 games, 2 assists over 2012 and 2013), Avalanche (10 games, no points over 2014 and 2015) and Detroit (6 games, 1 assist in 2016) and has featured in a leadership role on all three of those clubs farm-teams - including captaining the Rampage in 2015-2016.

Chase De Leo:

De Leo is new to the Ducks organisation. He arrived in a mid-summer deal with Winnipeg for the quickly aging and oft-injured Nic Kerdiles. Much has been made of the trade being a “hometown kids given a change of scenery” narrative but on the surface - De Leo is a much more agile forward.

His speed and tenacious forecheck should suit the new “speed transition” game the Ducks are attempting to implement this season. The trade-off being that Kerdiles had a more all-around game & was a force on the penalty kill for the Gulls.

He has had a pretty good camp thus far - putting his pace on display alongside similar speedy forwards Joseph Blandisi and Kiefer Sherwood to form a line that, from reports, was the best on the ice in a dismal blow-out loss to Arizona.

He has averaged 35 points per season in three years in the AHL - not quite as good as Kerdiles numbers (had he stayed healthy) and is not waiver eligible so at this point he would need to pass through to be sent to the Gulls. The way camp and the rosters are shaking out right now - it would seem he would be the 4th depth center, closely followed by Carrick.

Sam Carrick:

I don’t expect the veteran Carrick to get a recall this season but he has in years past. His experience and proficiency in the face-off circle gives him a slight advantage over his younger counterparts.

He had 41 points in 67 games last season with the Gulls and has seen NHL time (19 games) with the Leafs.

I would think the 4th depth center spot comes down to him and De Leo and would depend on the opponent faced; heavy = Carrick vs. fast = De Leo.

Left Wing:

Kevin Roy:

All aboard! It’s the Kevin Roy express: GET HYPE. Sick of me going on about him? I don’t know ROY (get it?).

He is currently injured - having sustained an undisclosed upper body injury in one of the scrimmages that took place before preseason, but when he is fit and healthy - look to him to be a force on the Gulls this season.

I will admit, I had my concerns at the end of last season when he was a healthy scratch in a critical must-win effort, but the “message” appears to have worked and the Greenfield Park native has gone all-in on himself to make it to the NHL.

His 7 points in 25 games with the Ducks last season was just a small showing of what we can and could do in a system that promotes speed and quick movement.

Max Jones:

A lot of folks are down on Jones and his stock among Anaheim prospects has fallen tremendously since he was taken 24th overall in 2016 thanks, in part, to an unfortunate string of injuries.

The Rochester native had 24 points in 31 games between the London Knights and the Kingston Frontenacs in his final junior season (including an amazing individual play during a critical 2nd round playoff game against Hamilton).

In a brief end-of-season stint with the Gulls in 2017, he showed great speed and glimpses of game breaking skill. He is my sleeper pick for a break-out player for the Gulls this season and should be next on the depth chart after Roy for the call-up.

Joseph Blandisi:

Blandisi came across from New Jersey in the Sami Vatanen deal last year and initially saw three games with the Ducks before being sent down to the Gulls. From there he incurred back-to-back injuries just as he was seemingly gaining momentum. (Side Note: Hmmm it seems like the left wing position is a tad cursed?) He has cleared waivers, and should be part of the last round of cuts, which means he will likely be near the top of the list of forwards to be recalled if needed.

His numbers between the AHL and NHL indicate he seems poised to make that jump but unlike, Jones and Roy, he is waiver eligible, so the Ducks run the risk of losing him should they try to return him to the Gulls.

His speed game is something Anaheim needs moving forward, so let’s just not think about that whole waivers thing.

Right Wing:

Keifer Sherwood:

Sherwood is another that is still with the main club in the final week of training camp. Ever since he burst onto the scene with the Gulls at the end of last season - scoring an OT winning goal in his hometown state - Kiefer has continued to elevate his game.

His speed and shiftiness has turned heads at camp while a perfect storm of injuries and contract holdouts may mean he finds himself in a Ducks uniform on opening night.

The 23 year old was ranked 198th among North American skaters at the NHL Mid-Term Rankings for the 2013 draft, but went ultimately went undrafted.

He had 2 goals in 11 games with the Gulls last season and 86 points in 106 games at Miami University in Ohio; he signed with the Ducks at the end of his junior year.

Fun Fact:

The Ducks selected Shea Theodore (RIP), Nick Sorensen (RIP), Keaton Thompson (another college player ranked 51st among North American skaters), Grant Besse (RIP) and Miro Aaltonen (RIP) in that draft. So, outside of Theodore, I guess you could say the 2013 draft was not one to remember fondly.

Giovanni Fiore

Fiore shoots left but could play either wing, I am putting him here just to keep things a little consistent in terms of numbers. He wasn't one of the first cuts but he didn't last as long as last season where he was part of the very last group to get assigned to the Gulls - only to be instantly recalled when Patrick Eaves illness struck.

The 22 year old will look to improve upon his all-around game and focus more on scoring across consistent stretches during the season as opposed to the short bursts of point production with painful dry spells in between.

In his first year with the Gulls, Fiore put up 30 points in 65 games and was 5th overall in scoring in the Q the year before. Sherwood seems to have jumped him on the depth chart but he is still within range of getting an NHL spot should injuries occur.

Honorable Mentions

Isac Lundestrom

I didn't include the 2018 first round selection because it has been widely reported thatm Lundestrom would be heading back to Sweden. However, given how well he played at the rookie tournament - he has earned a long look at camp. He may possibly get a 9-game window - both because the first year of his entry-level contract kicks in after that and also because Kesler is expected to be out that long. But realistically, he isn't a “bubble” player as such because he won’t be “called up” this season. If he sees time with the Ducks it will be to start the season before being sent back to Sweden, much like Jacob Larsson two years ago.

While it’s possible Lundestrom could go to the AHL (there is no under-20 agreement with European leagues as there is with the CHL), the more likely scenario would be for him to go back to SHL if he’s not with the big club.

Maxime Comtois

Comtois is still only 19, but again. thanks to a slew of injuries on the right side, the feisty Longueuil, QC native has made it to the final week of training camp without being returned to his new junior club in Drummondville. I have placed him under the “honorable mentions” because, if the youngster does make the big club out of camp - when the time comes that he should be forced out of the line-up, he will need to be returned to the Q without a chance of recall for the year.

As of right now it is looking likely that Comtois has earned himself a 9 game look before Patrick Eaves is declared healthy enough to join the team and Comtois’ first year of his entry level deal kicks in.

The 50th overall pick in 2017 (thanks, Toronto) had 85 points in 54 games last season with the Victoriaville Tigres. He was traded in the off-season to the Drummondville Voltigeurs.

Corey Tropp:

Tropp is an AHL veteran who has seen NHL duty in years past but given he is currently signed with the Gulls (not the Ducks), it is unlikely that he gets a call up over any of the club’s existing contracts. He had 43 points in 50 games last year, placing him 2nd on the Gulls in scoring and was brought back on a one year deal over the summer.

The Gulls have not had a captain since their re-inception in 2015, but Tropp is probably the best candidate right now.

Defence:

Josh Mahura:

Like Steel, Mahura is fresh from juniors. Despite being younger and less experienced than his left-shooting Swedish counterparts, he appears to have leap-frogged them both on the depth charts by having an great camp thus far.

Fans and writers alike are still salivating over the pass he made to set up Steel for “the goal” against Arizona the other night (hell I still am), and expectations for his defensive ability are slightly lower given it is his first taste of pro-action.

He had 69 (nice) points in 60 games as well as 5 points in 7 playoff games in his final year with the Regina Pats and is the last remaining hope for the Ducks defensive pipeline which - with only the recent addition of 6th round pick Hunter Drew - is now almost completely dry.

I boldly made the statement last year that he would be better than Montour and I still stand by that statement. I am very excited to see what the kid can do this year.

Marcus Pettersson:

Pettersson was my first choice to take the left side spot on the 3rd pair and up until two days ago I was still sure we would be seeing him in that spot come opening night. But given recent Mahura developments, I am not quite as sure anymore.

The 22 year old Swede looked like a man among boys at the Rookie Showcase, swatting away forwards with ease and transitioning the puck in such a calm manner that he seemed almost asleep. By tournament’s end I think we all agreed that between he and Larsson - Marcus had the better tournament.

The 38th overall pick in 2014 had 4 points in 22 games last year with the Ducks and played relatively well in high pressure situations. He had 14 points in 44 games with the Gulls.

It will come down to he and Mahura for that final left side spot, but it is good to know that should Pettersson lose out, the Ducks have a reliable injury cover in Pettersson should the need arise. UPDATE: Pettersson got the spot - Mahura was in the 2nd to last group of cuts.

Jacob Larsson:

Another prospect whose stock has fallen. The former 27th overall pick in 2015 is still trying to find his rhythm after a stop-start recovery from a nagging knee injury incurred just before the season started last year.

Ducks fans should not give up on him just yet. Don’t forget that even though the potential injury setback may have hindered his development and confidence - the skill set that saw the 6’2” 194lb defender make the big club during his draft year is still there.

Larsson finished with 16 points in 50 games last season with the Gulls and had the highest +/- on the team (shhhh I know its a relatively useless stat, just let me have this one please).

I would say he is 2nd behind Mahura for a recall should any of Lindholm, Fowler or Pettersson go down.

Goal

Jared Correau:

Correau fills the same position as Anton Khodobin, Jhonas Enroth and Reto Berra have done in years past: reliable goal-tending depth should either Gibson or Miller fall victim to injury.

He does not have quite the length of NHL experience of those that have come before him, but that is likely because management feels it is finally time to take the training wheels off Kevin Boyle. It will come down to he and Boyle for the number one spot in San Diego and given that I feel that both masked-men have similar strengths and weaknesses, I could see them sharing the duty.

Correau has the edge in experience and career numbers (although Boyle had a much better SV% last year) for the call-up so look for him to get the majority of the recalls should Miller or Gibson go down.

Kevin Boyle:

Mr B0Yle is entering his third pro-season and first real shot at getting NHL minutes. The New Jersey native is poised to take the next step after holding the No 1 duties over the veteran Berra at points last year.

His positioning and rebound control have come leaps and bounds since he first joined the Gulls and his numbers have only ever progressed. He had a 0.921 SV% last season, good for 10th overall in the AHL and even though his GAA was average at best, I still believe that this year we see a true break out year from the former U-Mass Lowell star.