When General Manager Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks steps to the podium on the first day of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, set to make an elite prospect the newest member of the Ducks organization, he’ll be doing so armed with the franchise’s highest overall pick since 2005, when the Ducks selected Bobby Ryan number 2 overall (right behind some guy named Crosby). Anaheim will pick 6th in this year’s draft, and they ought to have a bevy of intriguing options in both forward and defensive prospects. Take, for example, Alex Galchenyuk.
Although chances are he won’t be available when Anaheim makes their pick at six, stranger things have happened (see: Cam Fowler). Galchenyuk, an American born of Russian descent, is a world class talent that, when the 2011-2012 season began, many scouts thought might legitimately challenge consensus number one pick (and Sarnia Sting teammate) Nail Yakupov for the top spot in the final draft rankings. A bad knee injury sidelined Galchenyuk for the majority of his season in Sarnia, and this no doubt hurt his stock, but Galchenyuk’s skill set is undeniable. He may not be as dynamic as Yakupov, but he thinks the game at a higher level, and many believe that he’s got the most upside of any player in this year’s draft.
The Ducks should not be focused on a player like Galchenyuk, however. He is an elite talent, no doubt, but what Anaheim really needs is another blue chip defensive prospect (especially if Justin Schultz gets his way). Fortunately, this year’s draft is ripe with that particular commodity. Which player best fits Anaheim’s organizational needs, though? Below are some of the prospects (mostly defensemen, with a few forwards thrown in for good measure) that the Ducks might target with their first pick.
If Anaheim fails to sign the aforementioned Schultz, Rielly would be a nice consolation prize. One of the best skaters in the draft, Rielly is an elite puck moving defensemen who has drawn comparisons to some heady company like Paul Coffey, and more in vogue blueliners like Norris nominee Erik Karlsson. He’s got uncanny offensive instincts and was on a point per game pace with 18 points (3g, 15a) in 18 games for his Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, before a torn ACL sidelined him until the start of the Western league playoffs. As with most offensively gifted defensemen, there will always be questions raised about Rielly’s defensive responsibility, and his small-ish frame (6’0″, 190 lbs.) is certainly another knock against him, but after losing Jake Gardiner via trade and now potentially Schultz, the combination of Rielly’s skating ability and offensive instincts make him a hard prospect to pass up…if he’s still available.
Yet another offensive-minded defensemen, Cody Ceci is a big and mobile rear guard who put up an impressive 60 points (17g, 43a) in 64 games for the Ottawa 67′s of the OHL this season. Ceci, who was ranked 16th in the mid-term rankings, rocketed up the standings to enter the draft ranked 6th among North American skaters. Most often compared to standout NHLers like Keith Yandle and Brent Seabrook, Ceci’s also got experience on the international stage, having represented Canada in the World U18′s. Ceci also had the honor of being one of five draft eligible players invited to Canada’s World Junior Championship selection camp, which is quite the feather in the cap for the young man. Some of the knocks against Ceci are his skating ability, which needs some refinement, and his lack of consistency with regards to using his impressive size.
No relation to Foppa, Filip Forsberg was the youngest player on Sweden’s gold medal winning World Junior squad this year, an experience that no doubt positively influenced his development as a player. Described as having a nose for the net and being the kind of player who will often score the big goals, Forsberg has drawn comparisons to Anaheim’s own Corey Perry, which might endear him to the Ducks’ brass. Playing for Leksand of the Sweden’s Allsvenskan (2nd Tier) league this season, Forsberg finished the campaign with 17 points (8g, 9a) and a somewhat eye-catching 33 PIMs in 43 games, which suggests that he either plays with some sandpaper, or that he has some maturing to do – or perhaps both. At 6’2″ and only 181 lbs., Forsberg will have to fill into his frame a bit more before he’ll get a chance to play in the NHL, but if there there aren’t anymore defensemen remaining that Anaheim is particularly high on, don’t be surprised to see them scoop up Forsberg, who is the top-ranked European skater in the draft this year. The question would then become, where does Forsberg fit into the Ducks’ already top-heavy and mostly NHL-ready prospect forward corps?
Czech Republic native Faksa skated for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL this season and put up respectable numbers with 66 points (29g, 37a) in 62 games, which led all rookies in the league. Described as a big bodied but smooth skater who goes hard to the net, Faksa is a centerman who many scouts say plays like Eric Staal. That Faksa took it upon himself to learn the North American game by coming over to the OHL in his draft year says a lot about the young man’s drive and commitment to better positioning himself to play in the NHL. Faksa plays the kind of game that Bob Murray and the scouts in Anaheim love, but as with Forsberg, the question must be asked, where does Faksa fit into Anaheim’s already stacked forward corps? He’s likely only a year or two away from playing full time at the NHL level, so as tempting as he may be to take a flyer on, there may be simply no room for Faksa in Anaheim.
Another European player who journeyed to the CHL in order to familiarize himself with the North American game, the Finnish Maatta suited up for London of the OHL this year, where he led all rookie defensemen in points. A smooth skating defenseman who plays a smart, heads-up game and is a great distributor of the puck, the Ryan Suter comparison he’s been drawing must be mouthwatering to many scouts and GMs, and the fact that Maatta played a year of pro hockey in Finland before coming over to North America speaks volumes about his maturity. In fact, Maatta was selected to represent Finland in the World Junior Championships not only in 2011, but also in 2010, when at 16, he became the youngest player ever to play for Finland in the WJC’s. It’s not hard to imagine a few years down the road, Maatta as a key component on the Anaheim blue line along side Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa.
The only player from the USHL to crack the top 10, Trouba is a big, smooth skating blue liner who is often compared to Dion Phaneuf. With a solid 31 point (9g, 22a) performance in 50 USHL games this season, Trouba may just surprise a lot of people by being selected higher than his final ranking place him. Trouba skates exceptionally well for his size, and moves the puck out of his zone with authority. While he isn’t overly physical (which begs a question regarding the Phaneuf comparison), Trouba does use his size effectively, especially in front of the net. Trouba was the youngest player on the American World Junior squad this year, and he has committed to playing for the University of Michigan in the Fall. Don’t be surprised to see Brian Burke get in on Trouba before Anaheim gets their chance, as he’s exactly the type of player Burke loves.
While he may not posses great size, Matthew Dumba of the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels plays like a giant. Ultra competitive, he loves to dish out open ice hits and isn’t afraid to mix it up, but Dumba also has an offensive polish to his game that ought to intrigue several of the teams picking in the top 10. While his final ranking slipped a bit from the mid-terms, that might be more a case of other players playing well than Dumba playing poorly. He finished his Red Deer campaign with 57 points (20g, 37a) in 69 games, good for 6th overall amongst blueliners in the WHL. Ever since it became apparent that Anaheim would finish near the bottom of the league, Dumba has been tied to the Ducks, and it certainly makes a lot of sense, as his electrifying, flamboyant style of game would provide a great counterbalance to Cam Fowler’s skillful, if sometimes meek approach. There may be better prospects available when Anaheim makes their pick, but some players and franchises just seem to be made for each other, and with Dumba and the Ducks, this is certainly the case.
I’m convinced that Anaheim will target a puck moving defensemen with their 6th overall pick, and to me, the field is narrowed down to Morgan Rielly, Olli Maatta and Matthew Dumba. Rielly might not be available at 6, and Dumba’s game may not be completely compatible with how Bob Murray wants to build his team, so ultimately I believe that Olli Maatta’s maturity and rock solid defensive game will convince Anaheim to make him their first pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. And now, for your viewing pleasure, future Anaheim Duck (maybe), Olli Maatta: