Anaheim Ducks Prospects Camp and Upcoming Season Outlook
People said that hockey would never make it in Southern California. It’s too warm, they don’t even have a winter. Well tell that to the packed house at Anaheim Ice who came in on a Saturday evening on the final day of prospects camp to watch a friendly scrimmage game between players who will more than likely not make the team this season. California hockey is alive and well so much so that two 1st rounders at this years NHL draft were born and raised in the area. Current Duck 1st round draft choices Cam Fowler and Emerson Etem, one of the above mentioned Californians, were at prospects camp. Late rounder Devante Smith-Pelly as well as previous years picks Peter Holland, Justin Schultz, Jake Gardiner, Ryan Hegarty, Nicolas Deschamps, Matt Clark, Scott Valentine and Justin Vaive to name a few. Also on hand was fan favorite Dan “Big Sexy” Sexton. The game ended 8-5 (including an empty netter) but it was a lot closer than it seemed.
The White team (guest) was led by Dan Sexton and Emerson Etem and the Black team (home) was led by Devante Smith-Pelly and Cam Fowler. The White team simple dominated the first 10 minutes of play as the puck was always in the Black end. But wouldn’t you know it the Black team led 2-1 after 10 minutes, basically converting on their only two scoring opportunities. The rest of the game was about even. Goaltending in this game was average at best, to put it nicely. Other than a couple of nice saves it wasn’t pretty. Despite being a mostly friendly game, there were a handful of really great hits. Justin Vaive, who had a few hits, is one big guy coming in at 6’5” and around 210 pounds. He could eventually replace George Parros as the enforcer on the Ducks. He would also bring a more offensive upside to the team than Parros does. Devante Smith-Pelly was a force around the net, hitting people and scoring. The star of the scrimmage and the only player that I can say for certain will be on the opening day roster is Dan Sexton. He was everywhere on the ice and had some nice slap shots and passes. He also scored I believe one goal. I particularly loved his heart and enthusiasm that in a pretty much meaningless scrimmage game, he was banging his stick on the ice in frustration on a missed play. All in all a great game and the Ducks have selected and signed a nice assortment of young players.
Let’s take a look at the possible opening day Ducks roster. The biggest question mark for the Ducks is obviously on defense. Just two years ago the top defensive pair boasted future hall of famers Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. Now with both gone, it’s time for the Ducks to turn a new page on the defensive end. The old men of the group are 10 year vets Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman. Visnovsky will assume the leadership rule of the defensive unit and Lydman while a great talent, was probably brought in more to coax Teemu Selanne into playing another year. Next is where the real question marks begin. The next spot up for grabs would more than likely be filled by James Wisniewski, who is headed for arbitration for the second year in a row. More than likely that will go well and he will be back. The 4th spot is more than likely going to go to Sheldon Brookbank who hasn’t really impressed me all that much in his short career. But maybe increased playing time and responsibility will improve his game. The last two spots are up for grabs. It’s rumored and a likely possibility that Luca Sbisa will get one of the remaining spots. Sbisa acquired in the Pronger trade, played eight games for the Ducks before being sent down. Coach Carlyle had wanted Sbisa to receive the maximum amount of playing time possible to further his development which he was not going to get in the Ducks lineup. With Niedermayer retired and the Ducks looking to shake things up, Sbisa should be ready to help fill the void. He was conspicuously absent from prospect camp, which I thought was quite odd. Hopefully this means the Ducks think he’s ready and he will definitely be in the starting six. I don’t think top draft pick Cam Fowler will be ready to grab the last spot so the ducks will more than likely look to acquire another player. There’s always Brett Festerling but I sure hope not.
Offensively, if things go correctly, you could be look at the most stacked offensive collection ever assembled on the Ducks and rivaling some of the all time great NHL teams. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will return the question is will Bobby Ryan join them? Ryan and the Ducks have hit a standstill in their contract talks but I have hope that it will eventually work itself out. On the second line we may possibly see one of the best second lines ever. Saku Koivu is the only definite coming back to anchor the line. On the one side you could have future hall of famer and 600 goal scorer Teemu Selanne, who I think will come back. On the other side you could have Joffrey Lupul who skated for the first time in a long time the other week. His back looks like it may be fully recovered in time for the start of the season. I know the Ducks and Lupul both hope that it is. Underrated Todd Marchant would anchor the third line with probably Dan Sexton and Jason Blake. The 4th line is anyone’s guest at this point, until the Ducks management finishes making the roster. But the top three possible lines would give any opposing netminder and defense fits.
The goalie tandem of Jonas Hiller and Curtis McElhinney are as solid as they come. I believe McElhinney is an improvement over former back-up Justin Pogge, though Pogge never really played. I really think that Hiller will bounce from a fairly average year from him. After tearing it up in the Olympics most of that momentum carried over down the stretch for the Ducks. With the number one spot now firmly his and lower expectations coming into this season than last years, I think pressure will be a lot lower for Hiller and his focus will be a lot higher. I am looking forward to the Ducks getting better team chemistry and making a deep run into the playoffs.
Below are a few images from the scrimmage.