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Ducks Prospects We Could See In The NHL
By Thomas Harrington
When Anaheim made the San Diego Gulls their AHL affiliate, it became easier than ever for the Ducks to call up players when needed. It could be for an injury fill-in, for a sick player, or because they are producing at such a rate in the AHL that they deserve the call-up. Regardless of reason, expect to see a number of San Diego players make their way to Anaheim at some point this season. Dozens of players have gone back and forth between Anaheim and San Diego ever since this affiliation started. Overall, 16 players played for both San Diego and Anaheim last season. Eight of them were Anaheim prospects: Lukas Dostal, Simon Benoit, Mason McTavish, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Jacob Perreault, Bryce Kindopp, Brayden Tracey, and Hunter Drew.
I will only be including players signed to NHL contracts. College players will not be included, except for the few who may make their NHL debut when their season is over, similar to what Troy Terry did a few years ago. So don’t expect to see Trevor Janicke, Kyle Kukkonen, or Ian Moore on this list. Most players from the 2021 and 2022 drafts will also not be included because Anaheim rarely has prospects head to Anaheim so soon after being drafted. So players like Noah Warren and Nathan Gaucher won’t be included even though Gaucher has already signed his entry-level deal.
I’ll start by naming the prospects among the goaltenders, defensemen, and forwards that I think are most likely to be called up from San Diego. I’ll also name those most likely to start the season with the Ducks, then stay there. I’ll then go over the dark horse candidates from the Gulls, junior players who may get a few games at the start of the season, and wrap it up by looking at players who could make their NHL debut after their college seasons are over.
Most Likely To Be Called Up
As has been the case for several seasons, John Gibson will be Anaheim’s starter this year. Anthony Stolarz is expected to be his backup, but he only has one year remaining on his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. He put up some very good numbers with the Ducks last year, and if Anaheim is out of the playoff picture by the deadline, I think he’s a candidate to be shipped out. If that happens, it opens the door for Dostal to become Anaheim’s backup for the rest of the season and to see if he’ll be ready to shoulder that load in the 2023-2024 season. Even if Stolarz isn’t traded, I expect to see Dostal at various points throughout the season and will be surprised if he doesn’t appear in more than the four games he played last year.
With Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson gone, Anaheim’s defense will look quite different next season. Cam Fowler is still around, and he is the only defenseman currently signed for more than two years. Urho Vaakanainen and Colton White are both signed for two years, though either may see time in San Diego too. Kevin Shattenkirk is entering the final year of his three-year deal, while recent acquisitions John Klingberg and Dmitry Kulikov only have one year left before becoming free agents. Josh Mahura and Benoit will both be restricted free agents next season, as will Jamie Drysdale. Drysdale is the one who is most likely to get a long term deal out of these players.
With so many defensemen in the NHL, there isn’t a ton of room for San Diego players to make their way to Anaheim this year. The only real prospect in San Diego likely to see time with the Ducks is Drew Helleson. I don’t think he’ll get a ton of games, but I think he will make his NHL debut, and if Klingberg and/or Shattenkirk are traded at the deadline, he could spend a lot of the end of the year in Anaheim. The Gulls will also have veterans like Austin Strand and Ollie Juolevi who could get called up when bodies are needed.
At forward, the Ducks definitely have some holes to fill, though they did sign a few players to fill some of them. The locks to be on the roster are Adam Henrique, Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano, Max Comtois, Isac Lundestrom, Derek Grant, Troy Terry, Max Jones, Trevor Zegras, Sam Carrick, and Jakob Silfverberg. Carrick will be injured to start the season, opening up a spot early on. Glenn Gawdin, Chase De Leo, Danny O’Regan, and Justin Kirkland are all veterans who could bounce back and forth between the Ducks and Gulls.
In my mind, there is one Anaheim prospect who is a guarantee to be there opening night, and that’s McTavish. He dominated juniors and the World Juniors last season, while also seeing time in the AHL, NHL, and Olympics. Sending him back to juniors just doesn’t make a lot of sense, and I expect to see him in Anaheim for the entire season. Even with Ryan Getzlaf retired, the Ducks are surprisingly deep at center, so a job won’t just be handed to him, but I think he’s good enough to take it. He could also play on the wing to start the year. Prospects I expect to see called up from San Diego include Groulx, Perreault, Kindopp, Drew, and Tracey. All of them played at least one game for the Ducks last season, and if Groulx has a good enough training camp, he could be on the roster for opening night as well. The Ducks also brought in Pavol Regenda from Slovakia; he’s another prospect who could be called up from the Gulls.
With the obvious choices out of the way, here are my dark horse candidates to play in the NHL this year. On defense, Axel Andersson is my pick to come up from the Gulls. If Klingberg and/or Shattenkirk are traded and Helleson is struggling, then his odds will go up considerably. At forward, Josh Lopina is my only dark horse candidate. I was surprised to see him signed last year, but was impressed with what he did in San Diego. If he has a great camp or becomes one of San Diego’s better forwards this year, he might just make it to the NHL sometime this season.
Olen Zellweger is the only prospect the Ducks have in Canadian juniors who has a chance of getting some time in the NHL before being returned to his junior team, similar to McTavish last year or Comtois a few years ago. He had a truly remarkable season in the WHL last year. While I don’t think he’s ready to spend an entire year in the NHL, giving him a few games of NHL experience could really help his development along. This is less likely due to the recent trade for Kulikov, but if Zellweger has a great training camp and preseason, there’s a chance. He did have a sick shootout goal last night.
The Ducks have drafted a number of college players over the last several years, and a few of them are entering their senior year. Most notably, defensemen Henry Thrun and Jackson LaCombe will be playing their final year of NCAA hockey. Both have the option to become free agents in August if they choose to not sign with the Ducks. In order to entice one or both to sign, they could be promised some NHL action this season. And if they have truly dominant senior years, they will have earned it.
Jack Perbix and Janicke will both be entering their senior year as well, but if they do sign when it’s over, they’ll head to San Diego, similar to what Blake McLaughlin did last season. Sam Colagenlo is the only other college prospect who might turn pro at the end of the year, and that’s only if he has a truly great junior season. If that happens, then there’s a chance he signs his entry-level contract and there’s a chance we see him in Anaheim, but I think he’s San Diego-bound if he does sign.
Anaheim has missed the playoffs for a franchise-record four straight seasons. The good news is that has allowed the Ducks to draft a number of high level prospects. Some, like Zegras and Drysdale, have already made it to the NHL, but there are many more to come after them. While not every prospect who makes the NHL will stick around, the Ducks look to have a bright future, and it could begin as early as this season.
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September 29th, 2022