Ranking Anaheim’s Prospect Positions

Photo: NHL

By Thomas Harrington

Now that the individual graduated prospects and prospect updates and profiles are complete, it’s time to rank the positional strength of Anaheim’s prospect system.

For more information on every individual player listed below, feel free to look back at the prospect profiles, updates, and draft reviews that have been published throughout the summer and fall. Note: for players that can play multiple positions, they’ll be listed under the position that Anaheim lists them as playing on their training camp roster, or if they are not attending training camp, how the players are listed on Anaheim’s website. Some of them may even be listed under different positions than they were a year ago. Even if I think they’re better in a different position, I’ll still go with what Anaheim lists them as in order to be consistent. Also, I’ll be listing players with the leagues and teams that they are expected to be with this coming season, not with who they played for last year.

Anaheim has really focused on adding centers and defensemen over the past few years. Both through the draft and trades, the Ducks have significantly upgraded two positions. That focus on defensemen was even more evident at the most recent draft, where the Ducks had four picks in the first two rounds and chose three defensemen. As a result, those are Anaheim’s two deepest prospect positions, with defensemen now taking the top spot and centers dropping down to second. Right wingers hold on to the third position, though the gap between them and goaltenders in fourth has shrunk. Finally, Anaheim’s left wingers are still fifth, but I feel more confident in this group than I did a year ago.

1. Defense

Even with Jamie Drysdale, Josh Mahura, and Simon Benoit leaving the prospect ranks, the recent additions of Pavel Mintyukov, Noah Warren, Tristan Lineau, and Drew Helleson to a defensive prospect core led by Olen Zellweger, Jackson LaCombe, and Henry Thrun make this Anaheim’s best group of prospects. Mintyukov will play in the OHL this year, while Zellweger will be in the WHL. Lineau, Warren, and Tyson Hinds will all be in the QMJHL, while LaCombe, Thrun, William Francis, and Ian Moore will be playing NCAA hockey. Thimo Nickl will be playing overseas in the HockeyAllsvenskan and SHL, while Axel Andersson and Helleson will be in the AHL.

Zellweger and Mintyukov are Anaheim’s two best defensive prospects. Both of them should make their way to the NHL in the next few years. Warren and Lineau both look to be NHL caliber prospects, though their ceilings aren’t as high. If not for the pandemic, Thrun and LaCombe probably would have turned pro this year. Both have had very good college careers. Helleson was brought over in the Josh Manson trade and should be one of San Diego’s better defensemen this year; he may even get some NHL time. Hinds has had a solid career in the QMJHL but doesn’t have the offensive upside that some of Anaheim’s other blueline prospects have. Moore, Andersson, and Nickl are all right-handed shooting defensemen with varying degrees of offensive upside and may top out as fifth or sixth defensemen. Francis will probably never make the NHL, but given what he’s gone through over the last few years, it’s great just to see him playing hockey again.

2. Center

Mason McTavish is eligible to play in the OHL this year, but I expect to see him in Anaheim for the entire season. The recently drafted Nathan Gaucher and Ben King are the only other centers playing in Canadian Juniors, with Gaucher in the QMJHL and King in the WHL. The Ducks will have three center prospects in the NCAA: Trevor Janicke, Ethan Bowen, and Kyle Kukkonen. Benoit-Olivier Groulx and Josh Lopina will both be in the AHL, though I expect Groulx to get time in the NHL as well. Albin Sundsvik will continue to play overseas in the SHL.

Losing Trevor Zegras has hurt Anaheim’s center prospect depth, but McTavish’s wonderful season does help to offset it. The biggest reason for this fall is that even though Gaucher is a very good prospect, he’s simply not where McTavish was a year ago. McTavish is far and away Anaheim’s best prospect. Hopefully he turns into an elite center down the road, but he looks to have all the tools of at least a very good second line center. Gaucher looks to have a bright NHL future, either as a second or third line center. He reminds me a bit of Isac Lundestrom: he will definitely play in the NHL, but how much offense he can produce is still uncertain. Groulx had a solid second professional season and could turn into a very good checking center or winger.

Lopina is the center prospect who surprised me the most this past season; after being drafted as an overage player he had a great sophomore year, signed his entry-level deal, and had a good end to the season with the Gulls. Janicke and Sundsvik don’t have high offensive ceilings but could turn into useful fourth line centers. King clearly has a lot of offensive talent, but it didn’t really show until he was one of the older players in the WHL; it’s when he gets to San Diego that I think we’ll see what his future will really look like. Kukkonen had a good season in the USHL, and if he can translate that to the NCAA, he could have a future as a third line center down the line. Seventh round picks usually don’t make the NHL, but Bowen had a couple of solid seasons in the BCHL. His time in the NCAA will give a better indication of what his future holds.

3. Right Wing

At right wing, the Ducks will have Jack Perbix, Sam Colangelo, and the recently drafted Michael Callow in the NCAA. Sasha Pastujov will be in the OHL for another season, while Jacob Perreault, Bryce Kindopp, and Hunter Drew will all be in the AHL, and all three will likely see more time in the NHL.

Pastujov and Perreault are the top two right wing prospects in this group, and both have the potential to be top six forwards someday. Colangelo is a big kid who also has top six potential, but may top out as a third line winger. Kindopp is an effective player at both ends of the ice. He may end up being a player who bounces between the NHL and AHL, but he’ll be a dependable presence in either league.

Drew had a very successful first full year at forward and was rewarded with a callup to the NHL. He’s got a great shot, but I think if he’s going to make the NHL on a consistent basis, it will be as a fourth line player with some offensive upside. Perbix is more known for his defensive skills, but his offensive game needs to develop a little more if he wants to make the NHL. Callow had a strong high school career, and his time in the NCAA this year will give us a better idea of what his future looks like.

4. Between The Pipes

In net, Lukas Dostal and Olle Eriksson Ek will be manning the pipes for the Gulls, and Dostal should get some games in Anaheim as well. Gage Alexander will be in the WHL but playing for a new team. Overseas, the recently-drafted Vyacheslav Buteyets is expected to be playing in the VHL, while the recently-acquired Calle Clang will be in the SHL.

Dostal and Clang are the two best goaltenders in the system. Dostal is knocking on the doors of the NHL and is probably good enough to be an NHL backup now. Either one may be a starting goaltender someday, though both may also end up topping out as a backup. Eriksson Ek looks to be more of an AHL goaltender right now, but if he has a great season this year things could change fast for him.

Alexander is a very big goaltender who has put up some great numbers as a backup in the WHL. Hopefully he’ll get more playing time on his new team and give a better idea of what his future looks like. Buteyets put up solid numbers in the VHL last season; if he can better them this year, he could show that he’s on his way to seeing time in the NHL someday as well. Goaltenders are notoriously hard to predict, so the future of all of these prospects is much harder to gauge compared to forwards and defensemen.

5. Left Wing

At left wing, Brayden Tracey, Blake McLaughlin, Maxim Golod, and the recently-signed Pavol Regenda will be in the AHL. Tracey and Regenda are both likely to see time in the NHL while Golod may see time in the ECHL. Sean Tschigerl and Connor Hvidston will be in the WHL, while Artyom Galimov will be overseas in the KHL.

Tracey is still Anaheim’s top left wing prospect, and looked much more comfortable with the Gulls this past year than the year before. He still has a ways to go to get to the NHL, but he’s got a chance of being a top six forward someday. Regenda is an older prospect and a big one. While I don’t think he’ll ever be a top winger in the NHL, I could see him working out as a third or fourth line winger. McLaughlin is another player who probably won’t be a top six forward but could end up on the third or fourth line.

Tschigerl and Galimov both possess a lot of skill but need to work on their consistency. If they work out, they might be middle six wingers someday. Hvidston was one of the youngest players in the draft, but put up some decent numbers in his rookie season in the WHL. This coming year will give a better idea of what his future holds. Golod looks to be a minor league player, but if he can spend the entire year in the AHL, it’ll show he’s advanced quite a bit from last year.

Even with Zegras and Drysdale joining the NHL ranks, the Ducks still have a very strong prospect pool. Between high draft picks, trades, and signings, they have significantly added to the depth and quality of their prospect system. This past season, the Ducks really focused on their backend as they drafted several defensemen and traded for another. Even with that focus on defense, the Ducks have continued to draft and target centers as well, keeping a very strong group down the middle.

Anaheim could have some very good players coming into the NHL over the next few years, and it will be exciting to watch their development. While not every highly rated prospect will work out, there could also be late-round surprises that do. While nothing is a guarantee, Anaheim’s future does look bright based on the quality of prospects they have been able to acquire over the past few years.

Next up will be Anaheim’s top 10 rookies.

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September 27th, 2022


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