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Anaheim’s Top 10 Rookies
By Thomas Harrington
It’s time for one of my favorite things to write for DucksNPucks, Anaheim’s top 10 rookies. As I’ve done previously, I will only be including players who are eligible to win the Calder Memorial Trophy this season. To be eligible to win this award, a player has to have played less than 25 games in any single season.
Additionally, they cannot have played more than six games in each of the two preceding seasons. So that means that even though I consider Josh Mahura among Anaheim’s prospects, he is ineligible for this ranking because of how much he has played in the NHL over the last few seasons and will not appear on this list.
I used three sets of criteria to create this list. The first is: what is the player’s ceiling? Are they a top six scorer or a grinder? Can they play 30 minutes a night and shut down the opposition or are they destined to be a seventh defenseman?
The second question I ask is: how likely are they to reach that potential? A player may have the potential to be a top six forward, but will they actually make it that far, or be relegated to the AHL or European leagues for most of their career? Players with bad injury histories most often fall into this category, as injuries can really hamper a young player’s career. Nicolas Kerdiles is an unfortunate example of this. He was a second round pick but injuries really derailed his career and now he’s not even playing hockey anymore.
Finally, I look at how close I think they are to reaching their potential and making it to the NHL soon. As an example, I had Chris Wagner in the top 10 several years ago because even though he projected as a bottom six player, he looked like he was pretty much NHL ready, so he was placed ahead of some other prospects who had a higher ceiling. He was so close to being an NHL player, I felt safe putting him in the top 10, and given that he’s had a relatively successful NHL career in a bottom six role, I think that ranking worked out.
Also, just because a player doesn’t appear on this list doesn’t mean they won’t have a successful career in Anaheim. Josh Manson and Kiefer Sherwood both bypassed this list entirely. Manson has become a top four defenseman, and while Sherwood hasn’t become a full-time NHL player, he did play in 50 NHL games in his rookie season. If I had known that Sherwood would play that many games, there’s no question he would have been on this list before his rookie season.
Before I get to the top 10 prospects, here are the players who just missed the cut: Simon Benoit, Sam Colangelo, Brayden Tracey, and Bryce Kindopp. Benoit made last year’s list and even made his NHL debut this past season. He falls out less because of his play and more because no one above him in the ranking graduated, and with the players that Anaheim recently drafted, he just falls off. Colangelo just didn’t play in enough games to justify keeping a spot on the list, but I’m hoping he’ll have a strong sophomore season and be back on this list a year from now.
Tracey was fifth on last year’s list, but falls off because of his play in San Diego. He just wasn’t ready for the AHL last season, and averaged less than a point per game in the WHL. I’m hoping he’ll have a great season with the Gulls and be back on this list a year from now.
Finally, Kindopp had a surprisingly strong rookie season after being signed as an undrafted free agent. If he can follow that up with a better second season in San Diego, he could be on this list a year from now.
Tracey, Colangelo, and Benoit were the only players to fall off of last year’s list, and three players from Anaheim’s 2021 draft class are replacing them. Previous year’s rankings will be shown in parentheses and NR means not ranked the previous year. Now, on to the top 10.
10. (NR) Sasha Pastujov – Pastujov put up some great numbers in the USHL and USDP last year and a lot of people were surprised to see him fall to the third round. If he can light it up in the OHL, expect to see him move up this list a year from now.
9. (7) Henry Thrun – Thrun had a solid season in the USHL and at the World Juniors, but dropped primarily because he was not able to play in the NCAA last year because of the pandemic. Hopefully Harvard can have a full season, and if they do and Thrun has another strong year, expect him to move back up these rankings a year from now.
8. (8) Jackson LaCombe – Despite playing in 10 fewer games for the University of Minnesota, LaCombe’s sophomore season was much better than his freshman year. However, he keeps the same position largely because of Anaheim’s top two picks at the 2021 NHL Draft jumping ahead of him. If he can have a great junior year and turn pro after it, he has a very good chance of being higher on this list next year.
7. (NR) Olen Zellweger – Zellweger jumps above Thrun and LaCombe to become Anaheim’s second best defensive prospect. He’s got a little more offense to his game and could put up some great numbers in the WHL this year. He’s a player that I’m really excited to watch and see how he develops over the next couple of years.
6. (6) Benoit-Olivier Groulx – Groulx maintains his spot after a great rookie season in San Diego. He was the Gulls’ most consistent rookie throughout the season and I’m excited to see what he does for an encore. His defensive game is incredibly strong, but it was his offensive production in his first AHL year that surprised me the most. If Groulx can continue to improve his game, we’ll see him in Anaheim sooner than later.
5. (3) Jacob Perreault – Perreault drops a couple of spots not because of what he did, but because of what the players above him did. He’s still Anaheim’s top right wing prospect and has a great shot. Because of the pandemic, he spent the entire year in the AHL and I’m hoping that will be beneficial for his development going forward.
4. (4) Lukas Dostal – Dostal dominated in the Liiga before coming to San Diego and leading all rookie goaltenders in games played with 24. He played the third most games of any goaltender in the AHL. While it’s too soon to say if he’ll be a future star or even starter in the NHL, he’s going to force the Ducks to give him a chance in Anaheim sooner rather than later.
3. (NR) Mason McTavish – McTavish was a bit of a surprise when Anaheim chose him third overall, but put up some great numbers in the Swiss League in a shortened season. He should be back in the OHL this year and the hope is he will be a dominant force most nights.
2. (2) Jamie Drysdale – Anaheim’s top pick from 2020 showed why as he made his NHL and AHL debuts this past season. He dominated in San Diego, and didn’t look too out of place in Anaheim.
1. (1) Trevor Zegras – Zegras is Anaheim’s top prospect for the third year running, and this should be the final year he appears on this list. He dominated at the World Juniors and in the AHL. It’s time for him to play the entire year in the NHL and show us what he can do. Hopefully, he’ll be an elite center within the next couple of years.
Up next will be the final offseason prospect article: the prospects most likely to see time in Anaheim this season. Spoiler alert, a lot of the players in the top 10 will be on it.
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September 28th, 2021