Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Keep Your Eye On These Three: Anaheim Ducks

I've decided to re-think my strategy in attacking the NHL's 30 teams' prospects: rather than profiling each team's top 10 list fantasy prospects, plus darkhorses, I'll simplify the task by profiling my top 3 under-the-radar picks from each team, starting with the Anaheim Ducks and working my way down the list.

Justin Schultz, D
Low Risk, High Reward
While it's not necessarily a good foot to start off on, I'll admit that I did not give Schultz enough credit at the time he was drafted. Going into the '08 draft, Schultz was considered to be a sleeper for a late first-round selection, but Anaheim snagged him in the mid-second at the #43 slot. A team not known for drafting NHL-capable defencemen in previous years (see: Jordan Smith, #39 overall in '04; Brendan Mikkelson, #31 overall in '05; Mark Mitera, #19 overall in '06), Anaheim stepped up with the selection of now-teammates Schultz and first-rounder Jake Gardiner - and they'll soon be reaping the benefits of going this route.

After posting 40 points in 57 games for the Westside Warriors in his draft year, Schultz returned to BCHL the following season where he racked up 15 goals and 35 assists in 49 games. Both of these years Schultz won the award of best defenceman in his conference.

The '09-'10 season saw Schultz play his freshman season at the University of Wisconsin, joining sophomore Gardiner on a star-studded blueline which featured 3 other NHL-drafted defenders (Ryan McDonagh, Brendan Smith, Cody Goloubef) and 1 that would merit a selection in the 2010 NHL draft (John Ramage). Schultz's offensive gamed fared quite well, finishing second in team defensive scoring with 22 points in 43 games and earning a spot on the WCHA's All-Rookie Team.

This season, after seeing Smith, McDonagh and Goloubef all turn pro, Schultz has been given a huge role for the depleted Badgers squad and seems to be living up to the task: with 25 points in 20 games Schultz is currently leading NCAA defencemen in scoring and is tied for fifth overall. Schultz has also shown a nose for the net this year as well, netting 11 goals, including 7 on the powerplay - numbers which put Schultz tied for 11th and tied for 2nd in those categories, respectively.

With Anaheim seriously lacking depth on the blueline, I would not be surprised to see both Schultz and Gardiner make the jump to the pros next season. Considering what happened with Cam Fowler this season, perhaps both Badgers will be Ducks at this point in the '11-'12 season.

Sami Vatanen, D
High Risk, High Reward
Another impressive offensive defenceman in the Ducks' system, Vatanen has been a beast since getting drafted in the 4th round (#106 overall) in the 2009 NHL Draft.

Vatanen was red hot out of the gate last season, earning a spot on JYP's men's team. Over the course of the SM-Liiga season Vatanen posted 30 points in 55 games, a total good enough to place him 5th in team scoring and 8th in scoring amongst the league's defencemen. What really adds to Vatanen's season, though, was his performance as an 18 year old for the Finns at the World Junior Championships. On an offense-starved Finnish team, Vatanen posted 5 points in 7 games to finish third overall in team scoring and tied for the team lead in points by a defenceman.

This season, Vatanen has continued his prowess as an offensive defenceman: in 32 games he has scored 8 goals, passing his total from last season, to go with 13 assists. These 21 points put him third in the league in defencemen scoring, only 1 point behind the leader.

I'm sure Anaheim will be content with Vatanen staying in Finland to continue his offensive production while honing his defensive game, but I believe Vatanen can be an impact NHL powerplay quarterback even given his small stature.

Brett Perlini, F
Very High Risk, High Reward
Perlini, a 6'2" forward, was passed over twice before being selected by Anaheim with a 7th round pick (#192 overall) in the 2010 NHL Draft. A longshot, at best, I have to give a shout out to Perlini, who I've been a fan of since coming out of Jr. B in Sault Ste. Marie, given the current state of Anaheim's prospect depth.

After dominating the NOJHL as an 18 year old (16 goals and 16 assists in 16 games), Perlini made a mid-season jump to the USHL's Ohio Junior Blue Jackets where he struggled (5 points in 19 games). Perlini followed up a disappointing end to the '07-'08 season with a disappointing freshman year at Michigan State University, posting only 3 points in 26 games as a depth player. '09-'10, however, showed some promise for Perlini, putting up 12 points in 20 games.

This season Brett has really stepped up after the departure of key offensive players Corey Tropp, Andrew Rowe and Jeff Petry. Perlini currently leads the Spartans in points with 16 in 18 games; however, more importantly, Perlini's 11 goals gives him a number good enough to lead the team by 6.

In an era in which has seen many late-bloomers earn themselves NHL contracts, I would be shocked if Perlini didn't end up playing pro hockey in Anaheim's farm system after his senior season at MSU. While Perlini's two-way game gets lost in the crowd amongst Ducks prospects, his combination of size and offensive upside makes him one to watch in the coming years as spots begin to free up (see: Selanne, Koivu, Lupul).

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