So lets break down the organisational depth as it stands today to try to ascertain what position the Ducks should pick at. I couldn't and wouldn't do this on my own - mostly because if I am completely wrong at least I won’t be alone in that. So I have begged Benny to give me his thoughts also; so he can be completely right and I can be mostly wrong .
With that said; lets begin.
From the way things look right now the current roster is overdue for an injection of fresh blood. The end of year lineup featured Rakell, Cogliano, Ritchie and Chimera/Insert-Plug-Here on the left side. Rakell is not going anywhere and is just entering his prime, but Cogliano although still speedy, has entered the twilight of his career. Nick Ritchie is another story - although still young; he has not quite lived up to expectations and the writing is on the wall that the new fast-paced NHL may not be suited to his game. The fourth line spot is open-season so it stands to reason there could be as much as two open spots next season.
Next up on the depth chart at Left Wing would have to be Kevin Roy - despite my calling him out later in the season, his brief hot-streak on his mid season call up did a lot to show that he is ready for NHL duty. Nic Kerdiles is next but is beginning to look like a career AHL journeyman and after that the next best hope comes in the form of two Max’s. Max Jones has had back-to-back injury shortened seasons - a definite concern - but he is sneaky fast. The kind of fast the Ducks need to inject into the lineup next season. He did not look out of place in his black-ace stints with the Gulls and has shown glimpses of Bobby Ryan-esque skill. It is going to be an interesting start to camp this fall - Jones makes Ritchie immediately expendable. Comtois still has one more year of Junior eligibility and despite his 85 point season - it is unlikely he gets called up early.
So other than Jones and Comtois - there isnt really anyone else coming and Andrew Cogliano will be off contract by 2021, given the typical 3 year development - the 2018 draft represents the best opportunity to draft his replacement. Given the mix of speed, skill and size across Rakell, Jones and Comtois - the next Left Winger the Ducks grab should either follow the same formula or perhaps be a more defensive minded shutdown specialist like Cogliano has become.
For mine, the depth at left wing is deceptively solid, although not spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. At present the Ducks have Max Jones, Jack Kopacka, and Max Comtois coming through the Junior ranks. While this group is unlikely to yield the successor to Rickard Rakell, its very likely that they pan out as offensively orientated middle 6 types. Added to this, all three players are at worst, quick skaters, and Jones may have the body type to pinch hit as a top liner when necessary. While this may not sound all that enticing, the league is trending towards rolling 3-4 lines of offensive up tempo hockey. Being able to accumulate these now ensures that they are likely to enter the league before Rakell becomes to old to contribute, and thus they may provide a spring board for success on the left side. However, as John mentioned above, it should be noted that Jones is coming off back to back injured seasons, which is a concern for a player who performs his best work with a physical edge. Should Jones be considered an injury risk going forward, the Ducks depth on the left side will be greatly reduced.
As a point of difference to John, I’ve neglected to mention older prospects like Kevin Roy, as I just don't see them being a short or long term solution. 25 year old coming out of contract with less than 30 NHL games under their belts simply doesn't scream “player name I should learn.” Quite frankly at this stage I’m not sure if he’ll be extended at all, but if he is, he wont play more that bit part role in the Ducks fortunes.
Although, If one were to be critical, LW is a present point of weakness and this weakness can be attributed to Nick Ritchie not coming on as the team would have hoped. Rakell successfully making the switch to the left side has ensured the Ducks have one dynamic top 6 scorer on that side. However, with Ritchie failing to live up to expectations, the Ducks have had to persevere with Andrew Cogliano playing a line above his weight class. A move which unfortunately has contributed to a deterioration in overall team scoring. This shouldn't cloud the issue of the Entry Level Draft however, as the team is unlikely to select a ready to go top 6 option there - Unless they trade their picks of course. However that is somewhat outside the scope of this article.
So that all said, I don't think the Ducks desperately require a LW, however it seems prudent that they select one in the coming years that has the potential to take a top line role. Whether is a reality I’m not sure, given the Ducks draft position.
The Center position is probably the Ducks strongest right now in terms of depth - but it is also the oldest. With both Getzlaf & Kesler on the wrong side of 30 and locked up until 2021 and 2022 respectively it stands to reason that between those two at least one spot will open up by 2022 - 4 years time. Adam Henrique is perfectly suited to the third line pivot role and it is up in the air as to whether or not the Ducks go with a free-flowing offense style fourth line next year or stick with the grind/energy/what-is-the-point-you-only-give-them-5-minutes-ice-time tactic. If they go with the former - then any of one of Troy Terry, Kalle Kossila or Sam Steel could jump right in and potentially do some damage next year. But if they stick with the old and Derek Grant is brought back; then the Ducks are left with an absolute traffic-jam down the middle. Kalle Kossila is due a new deal and has put his time in - toiling in the minors. Of all the Gulls forwards this season - he was by far the most consistent. Only problem is, he is now 25 and if he doesn't get his shot next year, it would probably be best for his career if he went elsewhere. Terry was fast-tracked through an ELC burning few games to start his pro-career, indicating the Ducks think very highly of him so it seems likely he is next on the depth chart at center but wait there is more! Sam Steel is currently the best center prospect coming out of Juniors - it will be interesting by the end of camp to see where he and Terry sit on the depth chart. Just behind them are Joe Blandisi, Keifer Sherwood, Mitch Hults, Alex Dostie and Julius Nattinen - in order of depth (by my best estimation). Those last three frequently found themsleves as healthy scratches for the Gulls toward the end of their season and the way things look now - Dostie and Nattinen would likely have to start the next season in the ECHL.
Still coming are Tyler Soy (unsigned but should get at least a “prove it” deal either from the Ducks or directly from the Gulls), Brent Gates, Antoine Morand and Jack Badini. Gates could still go back to College for one more year and given the Ducks depth situation - should likely do that, while Morand has one more year in Junior but is proving to possibly be another quiet French-Canadian steal. Badini is likely still a few years away.
With ALL of that said - it is not out of the question that Anaheim start to switch any of these players to the wing. Terry was playing on the right at the Olympics and for the Ducks in the few games he got after signing. I could see them doing the same for the smaller centers such as Blandisi, Kossila, Dostie and Soy. It has worked with Rakell?
So to wrap things up - the center position is bursting at the seams and Anaheim doesn't need to actively seek out pivots but if scouts thought they might have the next Getzlaf they might not want to pass that up.
With Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Adam Henrique (all but promised and extension) in Ducks colours there is very little pressing need for the Ducks to acquire a new pivot immediately. Assuming that Henrique’s proposed extension is at least 2 seasons, that has the top 3 roster spots up the middle locked up for the next 3 seasons. Derek Grant provided solid support in the 4th line role, although should he not return its hardly a position of desperate need.
However prospect depth in this position is spotty at best. Sam Steel is the head lining act, who appears to top out as a second line pivot, when working off point conversion metrics. He’s followed by Jack Badini and Brent Gates, who although too far away to project accurately appear to be approximately middle 6 material. Steel himself may be problematic as he’s due to come into the pro ranks this season (likely AHL). It may be that the promised extension for Henrique actively inhibits the development of Steel. Although its plausible that both players alternate between wing and pivot for Steels first NHL season.
The Ducks do have other prospects in the system, notably Joseph Blandisi and Kalle Kossila. Kossila, as John mentioned, is another 25 year old out of contract, so it seems unlikely that he will make a last impression from this point onwards - although this pains me somewhat as the Ducks Finnish quota is being left unfilled. Blandisi, while a top 6 scorer in the OHL and a solid AHL point producer, projects as a bottom 6 forward in the NHL - a Steve Ott type player. Should Derek Grant not be resigned, its very likely he could slot in as the 4th line centre, or be the next player called up for that spot. At 23 years old, and with one more season on his deal, his time is now to break into an NHL team. His AHL record to date suggests he can make an impact, and that he deserves his chance. I would like to see him get his chances this season, and should he succeed, potentially contend with Steel to take the 3rd line role from Henrique next season.
Given the timelines until the current top 3 centres are out of contract, and the typical timeline of prospect development, I think it would be prudent that the Ducks consider acquiring a high skill pivot in the near future, although it isn’t a desperate need like some other positions may be.
Hmmm I am sensing a pattern here. The Right - much like the Left, doesn't really have anyone coming after Kase arrived somewhat earlier than expected (for a 7th rounder). In terms of pure Right Wing (and not just a converted center) they only have Sideroff on the Gulls and recently drafted 2017 4th rounder Kyle Olson. Sideroff has impressed Dallas Eakins with his speed and hustle but there are still questions about his offensive upside - this coming season will be an interesting one for him.
All other potentials have grown tired of waiting and fled for Europe. Sorensen cracked the Ducks lineup at the start of his rookie season - seeing 5 games with the big club before being reassigned and spending the rest of the year in San Diego. The Gulls even acquired his childhood friend Max Gortz mid-season but it wasn't enough; Sorensen returned home at the conclusion of his contract, followed by Gortz. It is unlikely that he or Gortz will ever come back but Sorensens’ quickness and relentless forecheck (very similar to Kase) would definitely fit the style that management seems to have planned for the Ducks.
The current state of things on the right is curious. Corey Perry has been the subject of much speculation of late and it is hard to deny that his game has most definitely slowed over the last 2 seasons. We have been told Patrick Eaves is coming back healthy next season. What if Eaves plays Perry out of the line-up? The last we saw of Eaves he was on Getzlafs’ wing and I don't think they would dare take Rakell off the top line with the season he has just had. Silfverberg has also had his name quietly mentioned amidst trade rumors - he will be due a new contract at the conclusion of next season. It seems sadly possible that by the numbers game; if Perry cannot be moved, Silfverberg might have to be in his stead. Then their is JT Brown - whose speedy game is a perfect example of what the Ducks want heading into the new year.
In conclusion - the pipeline coming through on the right is by far the least exciting of all the positions thus far and in terms of future proofing; getting the next first line Right Winger is possibly a year overdue so if one can be snagged with the 23rd overall in 2018 it can and should most definitely happen.
Wow. Just wow.
So next season, the Ducks appear to have a bit of a bottle neck at RW, with Corey Perry, Jakob Silfverberg, Ondrej Kase and (a presumably healthy) Patrick Eaves lining up on the right side. Add J.T, Brown into the mix and we have a full house. Given the contracts that three of them hold, and that Kase is fresh off 20 goals, it would seem likely that at least one of them is swung to the left side so to ensure all the money is in the top 9 forwards. As an aside, this would also appear to be stimulus for a trade (of any of these 4, and Ritchie), or for Ritchie to be bumped down to the 4th line. A role which appears to be more suitable for him at this stage.
Going forward after next season the Ducks prospect depth at RW is... ah..... well this is awkward. There is of course American hero, Troy Terry. He will be entering next season on the second year of his ELC, a second season in which it appears that will be burnt off given he just doesn't appear to have an open roster spot open to slide into. It should however be noted that while currently he could play a 4th line role, I have my doubts about the wisdom of that particular idea.
After Terry, it appears that Deven Sideroff and Nick Sorensen are the best of the Ducks prospects on this side. Sideroff accumulated 8 points in 48 games for the Gulls this season past, and Sorensen is plying his trade in the SHL, after a one season stint with the Gulls in 2016-2017. At best both players maybe top out as bottom 6 types, but that appears to be nothing more than a dream at this stage. Massive improvements (or catastrophic injuries) are required for either player to sniff NHL ice with the Ducks.
Amazingly for a team that once upon a time seemingly collected RW prospects like Pokémon, the Ducks are currently berfit of players lining up on this side going forward. With Perry showing a marked decline over the past 2 seasons, Eaves being old and somewhat overrated (and a perennial injury risk), and with Silf out of contract at the end of the coming season, it would behove the Ducks to acquire some more right wing players. Even should Kase continue his meteoric rise, there will be value in drafting here.
Don’t mention the
War Theodore. It is no secret that the Ducks have one of the more exciting blue-lines in the league. Or did before Theodore and Vatanen were moved. It is still most definitely a position of strength moving forward - to the point where they could still deal players either from the roster or from the system. There is a drought coming however. The next big hope is Josh Mahura - just entering his pro career this coming season (guys I am sooooooo excited) but after that - our magical manufacturing line of defenders appears to have been turned off. They did not take a defenceman in last years draft and most definitely need to correct that this year - two fold.
It doesnt need to be a high priority - with Fowler back next year and Montour likely brought back on a presumably cap-friendly bridge-deal the top 4 are set for years to come. It is the 3rd pairing that have concerns. Marcus Pettersson proved he is definitely NHL ready but needs to play alongside a veteran; Jacob Larsson likely has more upside but had a frustratingly injury beleaguered year. Both Swedes shoot left. In fact, 7 out of the 12 blueliners under contract are lefties. The top 4 are a balance of left and right but of those left to battle for the 3rd pairing spots: Pettersson, Larrson, Megna, Welinski, Holzer & possibly Mahura - only Welinski and Holzer are righties. Now it kind of makes more sense why Welinski got that last spot; Bieska is a righty too.
So although as not as much a priority as getting a Right Winger - getting a right shooting defender should be next on the shopping list.
The people are going to hate me, but the Ducks blue line could use a revamp. For a few years it traded on the idea that the wealth of young prospects would improve and improve and become a dominant force. Over the past season and change, the Ducks moved 3 of their top 6 defensemen out the door. Clayton Stoner is obviously of little moment, he was just a regular 3rd pairing guy. However, the Ducks wrangled with the Vegas franchise in order to keep Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen in Ducks colours. The price being Shae Theodore, the Ducks best prospect at the time. During the season proper, they traded away Vatanen for a forward (and a few other things). This further diluted the on-ice talent, leading us towards today.
At present the Ducks blue is still relatively young. Cam Fowler is the de facto #1 defenseman, and appears to be the next Ducks captain in waiting. He like both players on the second pairing (Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson), is signed for the foreseeable future. Brandon Montour is currently projected to round out the top 4, although it’s plausible that Jacob Larsson is moved into the team and up with Fowler given that Coach Carlyle loved him in seasons past. Marcus Pettersson is the 6th youngster that will likely fit into the team. This gives the appearance that the Ducks are flush with young talent, and to an extent that is true. It certainly doesn't give the impression that the Ducks are desperate for blue line talent.
Now its time for you all to go get the torches. I’ll wait.
Fowler isn't a #1 defenseman. At best, if you squint in the right light, he’s a #2, but most likely his best position is as a 2nd pairing guy. Manson is fine, and he has improved over the seasons, but is a far better partner for Lindholm than he is a player in his own right. He’s a 2nd pairing guy, through and through. Montour is a fairly good offensive defenseman, but he’s very underwhelming on the defensive side. He shouldn't be on the top pairing - much like Wiz-lite without the physical play. Pettersson is another who looked good going forward, but poorly skating back and was a train wreck defensively. Larsson is a rookie prospect coming off an underwhelming season in Sweden followed by an injury riddled season with the Gulls. He cant be trusted this early in the game. And Lindholm. Lindholm is one of the most over-rated players in the game (starts looking for cover). Or rather, Lindholm is good - he measures in the top 80 odd players in most metrics over his career - but he’s not excellent at anything, and you shouldn't build a blue line around him. He, like Fowler, is at best a #2, but more likely a #3 and best placed on the 2nd pairing.
All of that is fine, and its a good starting point. But those players are beginning to become expensive, and they haven't turned into game breaking players like the original dream was. This leaves space for a genuine stud to come into the team should they find one, and it leaves space for a similar “2nd pairing” guy to come in on an ELC, freeing up one of the above for trade.
Older prospects like Welinski shouldn't be overly factored into the equation at this stage - he’s out of contract at time of writing anyway - and the Ducks best prospect on the blue line Josh Mahura should be a few seasons away at best.
To run with a phrase John used, the tap has been turned off, and it didn't come out as hot as anticipated anyway. For a team that has its entire identity based around “defense wins championships,” “built for the playoffs,” and “watch John Gibson make us look competent,” the Ducks could certainly still find a place for a top pairing cornerstone, or even a cheaper (read ELC) 2nd pairing player.
In 4 seasons Fowler will be old-ish, and the rest will be expensive. Future planning suggests the Ducks find a defenseman sooner than later, if they want to be a playoff team in the future. Even considering the dearth or forward talent in the prospect pool, I believe the need for defensive prospects to be the greatest concern right now - relative to development timelines, and that the Ducks went heavy on forwards in the past two drafts.
Benny and I both agreed that Anaheim needed to draft a goaltender last year (after he eventually convinced me) and I am glad they got Olle Eriksson-Ek; his recently signing an entry-level deal indicates he may be ready to test the waters in North America. Where the Ducks were once a glut of quality goal-tending (remember when they had to juggle Hiller, Andersen AND Gibby in one season? More awkward than a scene from The Office) they now seem to have it slightly more under control. John Gibson is the clear number one with Ryan Miller the willing and able backup - the concern being that Gibson is possibly being ridden too hard in parts. Over the past three seasons it is has been prudent that the Ducks sign a 3rd string veteran and Reto Berra was the most recent babysitter to leave after his one year contract ended.
The good news is Kevin Boyle doesn't appear to need mentoring any longer - despite a rough start to the season he found his game and his unflappable style is a revelation compared to Gibson's sometimes frenetic reaction-based saves. He needs a new deal and deserves to be 3rd on the depth chart behind Gibby and Miller.
That leaves last years college signing Angus Redmond - whose numbers coming out of college were tentatively exciting (at least his GAA was) - given he was with the Salmonarm Silverbacks before that (Josh Mansons former team) the inside scoop on him might have been a little off. Redmond struggled mightily last season, starting the year as the starter for the Grizzlies in the ECHL before getting relegated to back-up and then loaned to a different ECHL team. He still has 2 more years left on his deal but he is likely to be dealt if the Ducks can find a suitor. San Diego also carried the acquired mid-season Leland Irving as their backup to Boyle (whenever Berra was up with the Ducks) but he was on an AHL only deal and that ended at the conclusion of this past season. It might be best to bring him back as the veteran presence with Boyle on the Gulls while letting Eriksson-Ek wet his feet in the ECHL first. Garret Metcalf is an unsigned college draftee from the 2015 class and appears to be commited to Mercyhurst University for his Junior year next season.
So to sum up - if the Ducks are looking to take another goalie (again not essential or as desperately needed as a RW or Right Shooting defender); they can probably wait until the 4th round or possibly use the New Jersey 3rd rounder to take either another European or a netminder playing in the CHL. I don’t see them taking another college kid.
Goaltending has always been a strength of the Ducks, and today it appears to be no different. John Gibson is one of the, if not the, best net minder in the NHL over the past 3 seasons. At least according to those who consider goal tending metrics (cough Vezina sucks cough). Given his young age, its hard to imagine the Ducks being desperate for anyone else. Particularly when Ryan Miller performed so well in the backup role last season. Yet, Gibson has had trouble with minor injuries since he entered the league, and should that be ignored, his next contract is due in the near future.
GM Bob Murray has been traditionally hesitant to hand out big numbers and years for netminders, yet that has been the growing trend about the league. It is conceivable that Gibson may try to angle for a short contract on his next one (he’s still a RFA), so to set himself up a for a big money deal down the line. A deal that may be too rich for Murrays liking.
Luckily the Ducks have Eriksson-Ek coming over the North America this season. Thus far Eriksson-Ek has done absolutely everything right, and appears to be a goalie of the future. Yet goalies are voodoo, and there’s no telling how he may fair in his first North American season. Given the prospect pool beneath him is... shallow to say the least (Boyle, Redmond and Irving don't appear to be NHL players at present), I suspect they could pick one up in the draft. With two 3rd round picks currently, there is a case to be made that they acquire one in that range, or in the 4th round. Previewing the draft, I suspect the best netminders will be gone by the Ducks 4th round pick, so it comes down to whether the Ducks think they can find better options at other positions. Presently I think this will be the case, and thus they’ll be better spent looking for a free agent goalie in Europe when the time comes, allowing them to use their picks on skaters.
So re-iterating. If I were Bob Murray I would be open to taking the best player available at the 23rd pick but if that player happens to play Right Wing, then that is a huge bonus. Next on the shopping list is a right shooting defender, preferably in the mold of a Brandon Montour or Shea Theodore. They don’t need anymore Swedish shutdown defenders for now, Lindholm, Larsson and Pettersson have that on lockdown. Then either a Left Wing with speed, first-step acceleration and a strong defensive game or a Goaltender in the CHL depending on which is available in the mid-3rd to 4th round. From there its a candy toss of whats left from the ranks of Right Wingers, Left Wingers and right-shooting Defenders.
Long story short, I think the Ducks need talent everywhere.
Make no bones about it, the Ducks prospect pool ranking has dipped towards the lower third in the league and has done so in part because the talent is already on the Ducks (or moved to Vegas), and that there are no game breaking prospects in the pool. It’s shallow at most positions, and simply needs an influx of bodies. Given that much of the Ducks talent is on the roster already, and that Bob Murray has signalled changes in playing style, this draft offers an opportunity for the Ducks to commence action on their vision for a Ducks team in 4-5 seasons time. At present the Ducks prospects fit a similar mould to what is currently on the team, so this draft could signal a changing of the guard: will we see a clear transition to skill and speed?
Gibson is the clear elite talent on the team, and there’s no telling how long he’ll be a Duck for. If Murray has the idea that he will pony up the cash required to keep Gibson around for the long term, then that's one area that the organisation can forget about somewhat. But everything else is somewhat underwhelming.
The defence is very likely overrated, yet it is still young and the top four positions are largely taken up by guys that could conceivably be around for the better part of the next decade. It would be nice to pick up a genuine #1 stud muffin - the Pronger, that Murray has wanted for so long - but its such a rarity that its hardly worth considering.
The forwards however could use help, both immediately and in the medium and long term, on both wings. The left wing collection is certainly solid but is lacking in game breaking talent, the right wing collection is.... well they don't have a collection. They have the current group and some faint dreams.
For mine, today and tomorrow, the Ducks simply need to acquire talent. As a consequence, more of management than success, the Ducks have diluted a prospect pool that was once the envy of many a team. Right wing is a huge concern, yet I would argue that finding offence is easier that finding quality defensemen - look at what Vegas has done with the leagues discards afterall. On that note I think the Ducks need to simply draft the best available talent. In their current draft spot, they have the chance to draft a defenseman that was once considered to be a lock for a top 5 spot, and a forward who may be a top 5 talent but will drop - you can find out who in the follow up article to this one. Either player would be a welcome boon to a skinny talent pool.