The Christmas decorations have come down, songs and resolutions of the new year are still reverberating, and the future stars of international hockey have battled for the right to claim the best country for youth development in the world.
A new year begins, and with it the beginning of the stretch run in the culmination of another season of experience for future Anaheim Ducks talent. I - as always - will find it hard to give any form of negative feedback for these young up and comers, but I will do my best to assess them grades as to how they are doing at this midway point in the hopes of providing further insight into their progress.
Maxime Comtois: A+
Anaheim Ducks/San Diego Gulls/Drummondville Voltigeurs
Comtois is quite possibly the most infamous Ducks prospect at the moment owing to his performance at the World Junior Championships in British Columbia. Representing Canada as Captain, the nineteen-year-old was called out by both players and the media for embellishing calls, and also used as a scapegoat for Canada being exiled from the tournament early when he could not convert on a penalty shot in the overtime session of their Quarter Final against Finland. CJ wrote about the internet reaction here, but let’s just say I hope those “people” (if they can indeed be referred to as such) are happy with themselves after it was revealed that Comtois played the entire tournament with a separated shoulder.
He began the season in Anaheim, much to the surprise of most everybody, given it meant he would burn a year off of his entry level deal if he played past ten games (which he did). But he earned, proved himself worthy of his spot in the line-up, and produced, scoring two goals and five assists in ten games before suffering an injury. In his post-injury conditioning loan to the Gulls- still love that loophole- he had just the one goal in four games, prompting management to send him back to Juniors where he would get more ice time and play a bigger role, and eventually earning the opportunity to attend the World Junior Championships. Before departing for the tournament, he had seven points in five games with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, but will now sit out two weeks to allow his shoulder to heal. At this point he is likely Anaheim's most exciting Left Wing prospect, followed closely by Max Jones. Speaking of which...
Max Jones: A
San Diego Gulls
Jones started the season slowly recovering from an hand injury, and did not see his first game with the Gulls until the 19th of October - the Gulls’ fourth game of the season. I noted at the time that his play was tentative, and for the first few weeks or so he was most noticeably not the same Max Jones we had seen in brief end-of-year stints. However, as he wore off the rust and gained more and more confidence, he started to show signs of the kind of game-changer he can be. He has nineteen points in twenty eight games with the Gulls, 31st overall among rookies league wide. What has impressed me the most about the twenty-year-old so far is his ability to completely take over a game if he puts his mind to it. There have been ‘player of the game’ performances over the last month where he has used size, speed and incredibly quick hands to either draw penalties or score highlight reel goals. I can’t fault anything about his game right now, except that I would like him to be a bit more consistent with getting on the score-sheet. His strong game presence often results in contributing in other ways, but getting more points will help his cause in getting a call-up eventually.
Jo Blandisi: A-
Anaheim Ducks/San Diego Gulls
At twenty four it’s a stretch to still call Blandisi a prospect, but given that he is in the final year of a two-year deal and will still have RFA status at its end, we will loosely apply the title of prospect here. Blandisi started the year with the Gulls, but received a call up and manged to get in three games with the Ducks as cover for Silfverberg. He has twenty points in twenty-two games in San Diego, is tied for fourth on the team in scoring, and has been red hot over the last week, riding a three game point streak heading into this week’s tilt with Ontario. He has notably bulked up over the summer and added a mean streak to his game - perhaps trying to re-classify himself as a pest. He has displayed very strong leadership qualities thus far for the Gulls, and is wearing an A with Kossila sidelined. Emotionally invested, Blandisi plays his best when passions run high. Memorably, he screamed in celebration directly into a Condor player’s face after a game-tying power play goal was scored a few weeks back. I can’t fault anything in his game of late; earlier in the season I had wished he would pass more, or take the smarter option particularly on out-numbered attacks, but he has improved that and is clearly playing with a lot of confidence right now.
Chase De Leo: A-
San Diego Gulls
In his first half year with Anaheim, Chase De Leo has not only impressed, but has become a vital component of the San Diego roster. The twenty-three year old is on a one year “show me” deal that he remains an RFA at the end of. I believe he has “shown” that he is worth keeping around. The La Mirada native has twenty-three points in thirty games, placing him third on the Gulls in scoring. He has been getting a monstrous amount of ice time, getting time on the Penalty Kill and Power Play, as well as getting minutes in big game situations- often producing positive results. He is already well on track to surpass last year’s numbers with the Moose, and is on target to set career highs in points and assists. His speed game is precisely the kind of skill set the Ducks are looking for in the new age NHL style, and if he continues to play like he has he should develop into a decent third line winger. The only knock I have on him is his defensive game down low; he may need to add yet more muscle in order to handle larger forwards and win puck battles.
Blake McLaughlin: B
University of Minnesota
The first of two third-rounders held by Anaheim in the most recent entry draft, McLaughlin has settled into a freshman year that has seen him put up five assists in sixteen games (NHLe translates that to eight points in a full NHL season). These are not overly impressive numbers, but it’s a small sample size, and remember he is just 18 years old. Compare that to Brent Gates freshmen year at the same school (seven points in 35 games), and it looks like a good start. I am confident that the development program at the University of Minnesota will increase those numbers in the years to come. Watch this space.
San Diego Gulls
Kopacka was playing very well up until his extremely unfortunate and scary wrist laceration injury suffered in the third game of the season. He had scored his first pro-goal in his first game- the season opener in Tucscon- and had an assist in the very next one. He has yet to be seen since the injury, but here is hoping it does not hinder his development going forward.
San Diego Gulls
Roy is yet to see the ice this season. He suffered an arm injury during a prospect scrimmage, and has been sidelined ever since, with complete radio silence and mystery as to how his recovery is coming along. I had pegged him as a breakout player this year, set to enjoy the kind of year Kase had last year, but this injury and his inability to even start skating has me worried.
Isac Lundestrom: A
Anaheim Ducks/San Diego Gulls/Lulea
The twenty-third overall selection in the most recent entry draft also shocked everyone by making the big club out of camp. Described as a forward with a strong two-way game, a lot of fans (including myself and Benny) lauded his selection as the Ducks being safe when really they should have taken a bet on a high risk/reward player. But the nineteen-year-old has proven everybody wrong - displaying flashes of high end skill and a desire to possess the puck, as well as an unshakable resolve in stressful situations and a surprising amount of speed. Overall, he saw fifteen games with the Ducks, getting two assists before agreeing to be assigned to San Diego, where he put up a further six assists in twelve games. He was then released to attend the World Junior Championships, and decided to return to the SHL after the tournament concluded. He is more likely to receive big game minutes and not play in sheltered situations with his more familiar Lulea club. As a youngster, he has more than one knock on his game, and what stood out to me most was a tendency to pass when in a shooting lane, as well as inexperience in recognising when to keep the puck down low in a cycle. But to make the big club out of camp in your first year is phenomenal; he is the first Duck to do so since Cam Fowler.
Kalle Kossila: A-
Anaheim Ducks/San Diego Gulls
The twenty-five year old Finn is in the final year of what I would deem to be prospect status. On a one year deal with arbitration rights, this is the year that Kossila needed to breakout. I didn't predict that he would, but I also thought he would get a better chance at the NHL (with the ongoing health issues affecting Ryan Kesler) than he has gotten thus far this season. He had a brief eight-game stint with the Ducks, where he scored a goal, but was sent back down when regulars became healthy again. Kossila is a victim of the Ducks’ center depth: his only shot of making the big club is if Kesler finally sits to get back to 100% again or if Carter Rowney is dealt. As it happens, he is currently injured with an upper body injury suffered when he was run shoulder first into the boards in an overtime session against the Bakersfield Condors two weeks ago. He had eighteen points in seventeen games before the injury, a pace that would see him set another career high in points if he keeps it up upon his return. My only criticism of his season thus far has been a one- or two-game stretch where he didn't seem to be completely engaged, making uncharacteristic mistakes and not tying up his man leading to critical goals against. I hope once he returns from injury that his focus and determination is back to where it was, and he turns some heads en-route to another call-up.
Sam Steel: A
Anaheim Ducks/San Diego Gulls
Previously the most hyped prospect in the Ducks organization (I’ll admit I took part in contributing to some of that), Steel hasn’t quite “arrived” just yet. He did make the big club out of camp, thanks to an injury-depleted roster to start the season, and he had a good showing for himself - getting three points in thirteen games. However, given the expectations placed on his shoulders, it wasn't the “second coming of Rickard Rakell” that we were all expecting. Since being sent to the Gulls to gain more ice time and confidence, he has been slow to establish his game. Dallas Eakins initially placed him on a pseudo-shutdown line with Sam Carrick and Chase De Leo. During the Gulls’ recent win streak, he has been put on a line with Troy Terry and has been starting to get hot. He has four points in his last four games, and has seventeen points in twenty-five games total. My one huge critique of his play thus far is that the kid needs to shoot more. I have written a few times during Gulls’ post-game analysis that Steel had the clear lane- and time to shoot- but elected to pass. Teams will key in on this if he continues to make the obvious play.
Alex Dostie: C+
San Diego Gulls
I feel really bad giving Dostie such a low grade, because both his points totals and this grade do not reflect the season he has had thus far. Dostie has worked hard every shift of every game that he has managed to get into. He has looked his best when paired with Devon Sideroff on an energy line that would consistently generate chances on every shift, through tenacious forecheck and smart positioning. He, Sideroff and Thomson remind me of the Maltby-Draper-McCarty line of the late 90s/early 00’s - unheralded but with no quit and a very important part of the Wings’ success. He does need to add more muscle, listed as 174lbs on Elite Prospects, and I would like to see him add more of a bite to his game (similar to what Sideroff appears to be trying to do) to further solidify that bottom-six energy-guy role. On the positive side, he is just twenty-one years old; sometimes it’s easy to forget that among those on the Gulls that have come from college, and are therefore in their mid- twenties. Dostie still has years to come to improve and gain more confidence in his game. The reason he gets this rating, however, is that he has only put up three points in twenty-three games this season- a pace that would see him score half the total he did in his rookie season with the Gulls last year.
Antoine Morand: B-
Morand has not had quite the same year as his childhood friend and fellow draftee Max Comtois, but he has quietly put up consistent numbers. His thirty-seven points in thirty-six games are respectable numbers, but this is four points behind the rate he scored at last season when he finished with seventy-six points in sixty-six games. A potential shift in responsibilities could be part of the reason for the slightly slower pace, as he is Captain for the currently fourth-placed overall Mooseheads and leaders of their division. He sits fourth on the team in scoring, behind fellow prospect and 2018 draftee Benoit-Olivier Groulx. From what I saw of him at camp, my only critiques on his game are the need to add more muscle, and also putting more speed to his game. He is already fast, but given his stature he will need that aspect of his game to be head and shoulders above the rest.
Benoit-Olivier Groulx: B+
The 2018 second rounder that had a lot of Ducks fans a tad perplexed by his selection (again, guilty) has thus far proven to be another smart pick from the Ducks. He has forty points in thirty-five games for the Mooseheads, putting him third on the team in scoring and on pace to beat his last year’s total of fifty-five points by another twenty-two. Those numbers translate to twenty-five points through a full eighty-two game NHL season, so the youngster is currently looking to have at least third line potential at present. From what I saw of him at the rookie tournaments and during camp, I liked his size and his use of it to gain position and protect the puck. I also liked his innate ability to cause turnovers. What he needs to improve on is possession and focus under pressure; he tended to throw it away in high danger situations or make a low percentage play to get out of a bind.
Brent Gates Junior: B
University of Minnesota
It’s easy to forget about the 2015 third-round selection since he has not been heard or seen from since his initial draft, but that is a common issue with prospects that go off to college. They are unable to attend prospect or training camp due to school commitments, and so are often left completely out of mind until they suddenly pop again when they are ready to sign their entry-level deal and turn pro. Troy Terry is an exception to this rule, given his showing on the international stage, but Gates Jr. has not been quite good enough to make the USA roster. He has, however, shown good progression throughout his time at the University of Minnesota - increasing his point totals phenomenally since his freshman year. He is currently enjoying a fifteen point total in a nineteen game campaign thus far, putting him on track to beat last year’s total of twenty-six points by four. This year’s numbers translate to twenty points across a full NHL season so right now. He projects as a depth forward, but he has displayed valuable leadership qualities that prompted coach Bob Motzko to name him co-captain of the squad for his senior year. He is third on the team in scoring and second in goals with eight- two of which are game winners. Look for him to potentially sign his entry-level deal at the conclusion of his senior year and join the Gulls for a potential stretch run, or be allowed to walk like Grant Besse was last year.
Jack Badini: C-
Last year’s third-round selection is currently on pace to better his last year’s total by a mere two points, and his seven points in twelve games so far as a sophmore roughly translates to just thirteen points through a full NHL season. On a positive note, he has the best face-off win percentage on the team, at 0.678, and is second overall in the entire ECAC. Potentially a face-off ace in the pipeline, but he will need to round out his game more and pad those points totals if he wants an entry level deal in another one or two years.
University of Alberta/Tulsa Oilers
After finally getting a contract (albeit with the Gulls), Soy failed to make the San Diego line up, and began the year in Tulsa of the ECHL. He appeared to start slowly, but went through an encouraging streak of three to four games with five to seven points. Sadly, he could not continue this streak and cooled off again. All in all, Soy had fourteen points in nineteen games for the Oilers in the ECHL, but after being passed over by PTOs for spots in the San Diego line up he decided to terminate his deal and head to University as he had previously intended at the beginning of the year. Soy had some amazing numbers in the WHL, but sadly I do not think we will see him in a Ducks or Gulls uniform again.
Daniel Sprong: A
Pittsburgh Penguins/Anaheim Ducks
You might be wondering why Sprong is listed here, given his full time status with the Ducks, but he is new to the organisation and is still just twenty-one years old. Owing to signing his entry-level deal in the same year as his draft, he is already non-waiver exempt, which is precisely the headache the Penguins were suffering from at the time of dealing him. Originally projected as going anywhere from 20th overall to 36th, he was eventually taken by the Penguins with the 46th overall pick in 2015. The knocks on his game then are the same critiques that purportedly caused the rift between he and coach Mike Sullivan: that is; a lack of defensive game or unwillingness to back-check. In Anaheim, he has been given the opportunities afforded to show off his devastatingly dangerous shot, and has already shown that he can score from quite literally anywhere around the net. His ten points in thirty games is already a career high, and his five goals with the Ducks are better than the total of four he scored through forty-two games with the Penguins.
Kiefer Sherwood: A
Sherwood was the other major surprise coming out of training camp, and is the last man standing from the cast of rookies that made their impromptu NHL debuts earlier in the season. [Editor’s Note: #MerryMen]. His story is going to be the feel good tale of the season- no matter how the team eventually fares. Kiefer does not quit, uses his speed and smarts to cause turnovers, pressure opposing teams’ defense, and break up plays on the back-check. He was even executing nifty between-the-legs deek moves earlier on in the season, seemingly unaware that rookies aren’t allowed to show such confidence with the puck. He has earned himself a spot in the line up night-in and night-out by providing heart and hustle, while occasionally chipping in on the score-sheet. His ten points in forty-two games might not look so great in the grand scheme of things, but is actually better than veterans Andrew Cogliano (eight points in forty-three games) and Ryan Kesler (six points in forty games) - placing him tenth overall on the team in scoring.
Troy Terry: A+
Anaheim Ducks/San Diego Gulls
Terry had a rough start to his pro career. Thrown into the proverbial fire, he was expected to carry an offensive load for a vastly depleted lineup that was having issues adjusting to a new system. As a consequence, his confidence visibly cratered until he was mercilessly sent to San Diego in the hopes of getting it back. From there, he did the following: went on an initial eleven-game point streak (netting sixteen points in the process), lead the Gulls and all-rookies league wide in scoring with thirty-five points in twenty-nine games, and receive an All Star selection for the upcoming AHL All Star Classic in Springfield. Those AHL totals would translate to forty-seven points through a full NHL season, placing him fourth in scoring on last year’s Ducks team, ahead of Silfverberg and Kase. His current pace would have him finish with seventy-eight points through a sixty-five game (adjusted for the three games he missed at the start) AHL season, putting him twenty-four points ahead of last year’s eventual team scoring leader Kossila. I can’t find much of anything negative to say about Terry’s season since joining the Gulls. He never makes a mistake, always makes the smart play, and his stick handling creates space for his teammates by keeping opponents on their toes at all times. The only potential knock if I must have one is he does tend to get knocked around and out-muscled in puck battles, but he appears to be working on that part of his game since his demotion. He should be more than ready for the Ducks next year in a full time role.
Deven Sideroff: C
San Diego Gulls
In his second year of pro-action, Deven Sideroff has fought and clawed to stay in the Gulls lineup. Often a victim of numbers, he or Dostie tend to be the unlucky forwards left in the press box whenever a player is returned to the lineup. As mentioned in many of my earlier MOTF pieces (and earlier in my grading of Dostie), the energy line he forms with Dostie and Thomson was consistently the Gulls’ best line through the first two months of the season. Sadly, the score-sheet doesn't show much for that. Sideroff had six points through twenty games before suffering a hand injury in a spirited bout at the start of a game in Ontario a few weeks back. His current pace would only amount to six points more than he put up last year, when he contributed eight points in forty-seven games. So here is hoping that when he returns he is able to follow on from the team’s current scoring streak and up those totals. Next year is the final year of his entry-level deal, and with the log-jam of depth on the right wing he may be moved before then if he does not start getting on the score-sheet more consistently.
Kyle Olson: B
Olsen is in his last year of junior eligibility in the WHL, and has quietly rebounded from an injury-plagued season last year to be an over point-per-game contributor for a Tri-City team that is sitting in the top Wild-Card spot at the moment. His thirty-four points in thirty-two games are on pace to have him finish with seventy-six points in seventy-two games. Translating that to the NHL, it would amount to twenty-seven points in a season. Not bad for a fourth overall pick. From what I saw of him in camp, I liked his positioning and knack for finding open space, like Groulx; however, he needs to work on being more calm under pressure and improve his decision making. Although currently unsigned, I would imagine he gets perhaps a two-year prove-it entry level deal at the conclusion of this season.
Jack Perbix: C+
Green Bay Gamblers
The youngest player selected by the Ducks in the 2018 draft, Perbix was still only 17 when he was taken 116th overall in June. He made the cut for this past year’s draft by just two days, turning 18 a couple of days before the September 15th eligibility date. Perbix chose to forgo his final year of high school, and joined the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL with a view to playing in the Big Ten as a freshman the following season. He had originally committed to Notre Dame, but was convinced by Bob Motzko to join Minnesota where he will join fellow 2018 draftee Blake McLaughlin. Perbix has eighteen points in thirty games this season, tied for the team lead on the Gamblers. The USHL stats site is not categorizing him as a rookie (potentially because he got in seventeen games with Green Bay at the end of last year), but if it did he would be in the top twenty. As it is, he is ranked 81st in scoring overall on a Green Bay squad that is currently languishing at thirteenth overall among seventeen teams. Perbix is a long term project, given his draft age and commitment to Minnesota for potentially another four years, but it seems the Ducks brass have a vested interest in the University of Minnesota with three prospects in a row coming out of there.
Sorensen has now played one and a half seasons in the SHL after departing at the end of his entry level deal in 2017. He had twenty points in thirty-seven games last year, and has seventeen points in twenty-seven games so far this season. This translates to twenty-nine points over a full NHL season. The Ducks still hold his rights, but I do not see Sorensen coming back anytime soon.
Similar to Sorensen, Gortz has been in Sweden since the conclusion of the 2016-2017 season. He had twenty points in thirty-eight games last year and has just seven in twenty-one games so far this season. That translates to just sixteen points over a full NHL season. I do not see Gortz coming back anytime soon either.
Jacob Larsson: A
San Diego Gulls/Anaheim Ducks
Larsson didn't have a very good camp and thus started the season with the Gulls, but since his recall at the end of October he appears to have secured a permanent spot with the Ducks’ defensive core, and essentially prompted the trade of Marcus Pettersson. He has two points in thirty-one games in Anaheim, and had two points in six games with the Gulls, His corsi numbers have progressed over the season, and although it has not shown on the stat sheet his strength has always been defense, but he has contributed on offense by getting shots on net. Both he and Lindholm lead Ducks’ blueliners in rebounds recreated with six. Larsson appears to have finally turned the corner with his development while avoiding injury setbacks, but is still learning. As his confidence continues to grow, we may hopefully see a similar progression as Hampus Lindholm and perhaps some unexpected offensive production.
Jake Dotchin: B
Tampa Bay Lightning/San Diego Gulls/Anaheim Ducks
Dotchin had a heavy start to the year (sorry), but has found a home and a second chance with the Ducks. Before his call up in November, he had one point in eight games with the Gulls, and was fresh off a game in which he cheekily waved farewell to the entire Bakersfield Condors’ bench after being ejected. Since then, Dotchin’s numbers haven't been that great with the Ducks, and as the recent losing streak has wore on he appears to have been made the scapegoat on defense, getting scratched in favor of Andy Welinski. He has cleared waivers and is able to be sent down to the Gulls for further conditioning (such as a game he got in this week). Moving forward, he should probably stay with the Gulls to get more ice time, to be called up for injury cover, or until his game improves again. With the Ducks’ blue line back to a healthy status, it is hard to see where he fits. His physical play and ability to protect the puck lends well to being paired with a smaller puck-moving defender - perhaps he might work well with Cam Fowler, just a thought. At this point it remains to be seen where Dotchin will end up - he is on the one-year deal and is an RFA with arbitration rights at the end of it.
Andy Welinski: B+
San Diego Gulls/Anaheim Ducks
In his third full pro season, Welinski has vastly improved his defensive play and earned a career high fifteen games with the big club thus far. He was leading the Gulls in scoring among blue-liners before the acquisition of Trevor Murphy, and was on pace to top his previous years thirty-four point campaign by another nine points before being recalled. For the moment, he appears to have secured a spot with the Ducks on their third pairing, but it remains to be seen how permanent that is. He has seen just under twelve minutes on the power play through those fifteen games - more than Josh Manson- and just under three minutes less than Mahura. I believe if the Ducks wish to utilize him properly they need to use him with the man-advantage more. Welinski’s best asset is his shot and his unreal ability to get it on net through traffic. For a Ducks’ power play that is currently fourth-worst in the league, it’s worth a shot (sorry), isn't it? It will all come down to how Welinski is deployed - as of right now pairing him with another youngster in Mahura is probably not a good idea, and is likely not helping much with his confidence or development. He is on a one-year deal that he will still be a RFA at the conclusion of, but with arbitration rights at the end his future his cloudy. I would not be surprised if he is dealt at the deadline, given he has proven that he is too good for the AHL, and the younger Trevor Murphy has potentially made him expendable.
Josh Mahura: A+
San Diego Gulls/Anaheim Ducks
The best Ducks defensive prospect has arrived and earlier than anticipated. At this point I would like to point out that I have been singing the praises of Mahura since his post-draft season, and I’ll take any excuse to say that I predicted he would be better than Montour. As of now I am feeling pretty smug about that call. Mahura is still just twenty-years old and is only one point shy of Montour’s NHL rookie total through seventeen NHL games played. Montour also required a full seasoning of the AHL, and it was expected that Mahura would get the same, but injuries and his strong showing during call-ups have fast-forwarded his development. I still believe Mahura will eventually be sent back to the Gulls (Update: He just has) as he becomes a victim of the depth of left-shooting blue liners, but his offensive ability may also negate that. Thanks in part to how young the Ducks’ defensive core is, they have the option of sending either he or Larsson back without needing to clear waivers. Mahura had nine points in fourteen games before his recall, and was on pace to finish with forty-three points through a full sixty-eight game season. That would have tied him for the team lead for blue-liners with Welinski on last year’s Gulls squad.
Trevor Murphy: A
Tuscon Roadrunners/San Diego Gulls
Originally an undrafted signing of the Predators, Trevor Murphy is a feel good story that both the Ducks and Gulls hope Simon Benoit’s career progression similarly follows. A former top-ten OHL scoring defender, Murphy was overlooked for both the 2013 and 2014 NHL entry drafts, eventually signing an entry-level deal with the Predators after a strong tryout in 2015. He was dealt to the Coyotes at the trade deadline last year as his entry level deal was expiring, and saw eight games of action in Arizona, netting three points. He had six points in nine games for the Roadrunners in the playoffs last year, but was struggling this season behind a suddenly deep Tuscon defense core. He had thirteen points in twenty-seven games with the Roadrunners before arriving in San Diego, where he wasted no time solidifying his spot on the first power play unit- potting four points in five games with the Gulls. He currently leads the Gulls’ blue-line in points and is on pace to finish the year with 29 points in 68 games, which would be good for eighth equal on last year’s squad, and second behind Andy Welinski among defenders. He is on the small side and his strengths lie in quarterbacking a power play, but he does not shy away from physical play either. He reminds me a lot of Sami Vatanen (they have almost the exact same size and weight) but perhaps not quite as fast. If he continues the kind of scoring contributions he has made since his arrival in San Diego, then- as noted above - he may make the likes of Andy Welinski expendable.
Simon Benoit: A-
San Diego Gulls
As mentioned above, Benoit is another un-drafted feel good story. The then-nineteen-year old tried out with the club at prospects camp in July, and then returned again for rookie camp in September after he turned twenty. His strong play saw him kept in the line up, while other prospects were sent back to Juniors, and he even made it through to the last three cuts of main camp - eventually earning a one-year AHL deal with the Gulls. He has seven points in thirty-two games in his first year pro, and when the Gulls’ blueline was decimated by injuries and call ups, he was the only consistent force. He loves to rush the puck up ice and has great edge work. He can sometimes get caught carrying it too long, but has a surprising amount of speed that allows him to backcheck quickly to make up for any mistakes or turnovers. His offensive game is what has surprised me the most. His numbers in juniors didn’t appear to speak to him having much of an offensive touch, but Benoit is always looking to jump into a hole, join the rush as a trailer, or sneak down low to pick up a rebound. He also loves to hit, whether it be open ice, hip check or plastering on the boards. He is pretty much the French Canadian Josh Manson with all of the raw framework that Manson had in his initial rookie season turning pro. Manson had twelve points in thirty-six games for the Admirals in his first year in the A - but he also got a call up during that year. After Mahura - Benoit has established himself on my radar as the next most exciting prospect to watch, and I can see him earning a longer term deal at the conclusion of this season.
Keaton Thompson: C
San Diego Gulls
Thompson is in the final year of his entry level deal, and despite it being a contract year for him began the season with a career worst -6 through the first ten games. He and Oleksy were abjectly the worst pairing for the first month and a half. The twenty-three year old from North Dakota did not start to turn things around until the Gulls began their recent points streak. He has one point and is +4 in his last ten games. On the positive side, he has improved his physical game, and seems more comfortable with using his frame to protect the puck down low while accepting punishment from opposing forwards. His confidence has also noticeably increased over the recent winning span. On the downside, he has just three points in twenty-eight games - on pace to fall well below his AHL career high of sixteen points. Thompson at present is a serviceable blue-liner in the AHL, but again I would not be surprised to see him either moved at the deadline or given a one-year AHL deal to come back to the Gulls as depth next season.
Hunter Drew: A-
An overage sixth-round selection in the most recent entry draft, Drew will be eligible to make the jump to pro at the conclusion of this season should the Ducks offer him an entry level deal. He has twenty-four points in thirty-one games for the fifth placed overall Islanders, good for eighth on the team in scoring and fourteenth overall among league-wide defenders, just one point behind Detroit 2nd rounder Jared McIsaac. His points total translates to seventeen points across a full NHL season, and has him on pace to finish with roughly fifty points through a full sixty-four games in the Q - ten more than last season’s career high of thirty-nine. The Kingston, Ontario native is an intriguing prospect - the next and currently last in the Ducks’ defensive pipeline. If he can jump into the AHL and play as well as Simon Benoit has this season, he could progress to be a Josh Manson-like draft steal. Like Manson, he will also have to learn to play closer to the legal side of the line, as he has been suspended a total of seven games over two years in the Q, including five games at the beginning of this season for this hit.
Lake Superior State
A 2015 sixth-rounder that is in his sophmore year at Lake Superior, Ruggiero has five points in nineteen games this season, surpassing his freshmen year total of just one point in seventeen games. That is good for fifth among defenders on an unusually high scoring blueline and translates to nine points through a full NHL season. At this point I can see Ruggiero finishing out his collegiate tenure before evaluating turning pro - by which point the Ducks’ already deep blueline will likely still have no room for him, but he could potentially start out with the Gulls and see how things go.
Berkovitz is a weird story. Drafted out of high school in the fifth-round of the 2014 entry draft, he initially committed to Wisconsin back in 2013 before changing his mind and deciding to play in the USHL for Green Bay, and then eventually joining the Army program as a twenty-one year old for his freshman year. He has four points in twenty games this season as a sophmore and was the first NHL drafted player to join the program.
Kevin Boyle: A
San Diego Gulls
I wrote in our staff predictions article at the beginning of the year that Boyle would get the call when by poor coincidence both Gibson and Miller would be out with injury at the same time. That poor coincidence has already happened once this season, but alas Boyle did not get to see playing time. He did, however, get the call-up, but only to serve as backup. I still firmly believe he will get some games in with the Ducks, either through injury relief or if the Ducks are eliminated from the playoffs before the end of the season. In his third pro season he is currently tied for third in the AHL, in wins with thirteen, and is twenty fourth in GAA with 2.79, while his respectable 0.912 Save Percentage is tied for twelfth overall. At twenty-six years old, and in the first year of a two year contract, that will see him become a UFA at its conclusion. The former UMass-Lowell standout is almost unbeatable when in the zone, and with his ever growing confidence of late is poised to take San Diego on a long stretch run.
Angus Redmond: D
South Carolina Stingrays/Reading Royals
Redmond still has one more year left on his three year entry level deal and is still yet to see an AHL game. Through this season he has a 1-3 record with the Reading Royals before being recalled by San Diego for injury cover, and then once returned being loaned to the Stingrays instead. He has apparently gotten in four games with the Stingrays and has 3.36 GAA and .896 SV%, numbers that are about on par with those he had with the Royals when he posted a 3.37 GAA and .897 SV% through seven games. Given the Ducks most recent drafting of two goaltenders I do not see Redmond being in the Ducks’ long term plans.
Olle Eriksson Ek: B-
BIK Karskoga/Farjestad BK
Given the standout play of a more recent drafted netminder at the World Junior Champs, it is easy to forget about Olle the goalie. But the 2017 fifth -round pick quietly had a better showing at the tournament than he did last year, despite being suspended for the first two games due to taking off his silver medal last year. His numbers in the Allsvenskan this season are marginally worse than last year’s which is cause for concern, but I do not follow the SHL, so perhaps the team has gotten weaker overall. I could not say. He is signed through to the 21/22 season so he could potentially come over next year, but given how great Dostal has played, he might be advised to stay in Europe.
Lukas Dostal: A
SK Horacka Slavia Trebic/HC Kormeta Brno
Taken with 85th selection in the recent 2018 NHL entry draft and entering the draft as the top ranked European goaltender, Dostal has had phenomenal year so far, concluding it by putting the hockey world on notice with a standout performance at the World Juniors. Dostal played in four games for a Czech team that surprised many by sputtering on offense. He lead all goaltenders in SVS% (95.65) GAA (just 1.25!!) and had one shutout during tournament play. Playing in the Czech Division 1, he has a GAA 2.53 and a 0.917 SVS playing eighteen games. He has recently appeared to be called up to his parent club HC Kometa Brno in the Extraliiga - the reigning league champions for the past two years- likely off the back of his strong performance at the World Juniors. Dostal is a smaller than average goaltender, but makes up for it with lightning quick reflexes and solid positioning. Our blogmates at StanleyCupofChowder and EyesOnThePrize had nice things to say about him in their draft profiles. Given his very strong showing on the world stage, look for the Ducks to attempt to lock him up to at least a three-year entry deal at the conclusion of his this season. At just eighteen, it is unlikely that the Ducks would wish to rush his development, so I could see them leaving him in Europe another year, particularly if he can solidify a starting role on his parent HC Kometa club. But once he is ready to come over, we could potentially have another Freddy vs Gibson situation on our hands.
Roman Durny: C
Des Moines Buccaneers
The second of two goaltenders selected by the Ducks in the most recent draft and selected at 147th overall in the fifth round, Durny’s selection was another decision I questioned- and still have some misgivings about. Selected as an overager at nineteen, he has since turned twenty and is playing in the USHL this season. He has the second-best GAA in the USHL for goaltenders that have played twenty-five or more games with 2.53, and his .919 SVS% is also second overall. He is again second in wins and tied for second in shutouts. So far this season he has a 17-8-3 record. He was ranked 9th among European goaltenders heading into the draft, and represented Slovakia at last year’s World Juniors. At this point I am not sure where he fits into the Ducks’ long term plans or why he was selected given the healthy amount of depth the Ducks now have with both Eriksson Ek and Dostal proving to be legit talent.
As an oft-forgotten 2015 sixth-round selection, Garret Metcalf falls under my ungraded section because I do not see him sticking with the Ducks long term. He is the only member of the Mercyhurst squad that has been drafted, and is attending the university as a Junior in a “Redshirt” capacity after missing all of last year. He has a 2.68GAA and .915 SV% for the Lakers through nine games played.
Anaheim has a lot to be excited about on the wings with Terry, Jones and Comtois coming through, but the Center position is still waiting for that next franchise-level talent to emerge. Defense is set for now, but could do with re-stocking at the next draft. It could be a lot lot worse if not for the emergence of Benoit and the acquisition of Murphy. Goaltending is also well stocked and proving to deliver some intriguing talent in the next year or so.
With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Ducks current roster’s ability to produce, at least we still have hope for the future, and if the recent World Juniors are anything to go by - the future may be coming sooner than some thought.