Few could have predicted last season’s rapid returns.
Holding the No. 12 overall pick in the NHL draft a year ago, the Ducks certainly didn’t expect to land a player who would make the opening-day roster, much less stick around to play 76 regular-season games and six more in the playoffs.
But that very well could’ve been their biggest score last season, somehow ending up with Cam Fowler in their lap.
The offense-minded defenseman turned out to be just the right addition for a team trying to fill the massive hole left at the blue line following the offseason retirement of Scott Niedermayer. Fowler helped lessen the sting, finishing with 11 goals and 33 assists, the latter a club record for a rookie.
A year later, the Ducks are hoping to catch another fallen star, this time with the 22nd overall pick in Friday’s first round, which will be held at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
The possibilities are long and varied.
Will the organization look to further bolster its defensive corps? Not only does the back end still need to recoup some of its losses following Niedermayer’s retirement, but fellow blue-liners Lubomir Visnovsky and Francois Beauchemin are also on the down sides of their careers and getting them through another season unscathed seems more and more of a challenge.
Or does the front office go fishing for a future top six forward, especially with Teemu Selanne just days away from his 41st birthday and still undecided about his plans for next season?
The Ducks did pretty well in the second half of the first round in 2003, landing top-line center Ryan Getzlaf with the 19th overall pick. Nine spots later, they plucked right wing Corey Perry, who won the Hart Memorial Trophy on Wednesday night as the league’s most valuable player last season.
Another option that wasn’t a consideration until midway through last season is a goalkeeper.
The Ducks thought they had the crease covered for years to come with Jonas Hiller, but he came down with vertigo-like symptoms following his first All-Star appearance in late January. He started just three games the remainder of the season, getting pulled in the first period of two. Whether those symptoms linger is a major question this offseason.
With those thoughts in mind, here’s a list of players who could be on the board as the Ducks head into the 19th draft in their franchise history.
* Matt Puempel, a left wing from the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, was the OHL’s rookie of the year in 2009-10. He was marked as a top 10 draft pick heading into last winter, but after a horrible season by the Petes and a season-ending hip injury, he has fallen to No. 28 in Central Scouting’s North American rankings.
* Tomas Jurco is a left wing from the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The native of Slovakia was a finalist for the QMJHL rookie of the year award in 2009-10, his first year playing hockey in North America. Still six months shy of his 19thbirthday, Jurco will need some seasoning before he’s NHL ready.
* Vladislav Namestnikov, a center from the London Knights of the OHL, possesses the type of end-to-end speed that’s difficult find in this year’s draft. He’s a bit on the small side at 5-11, 165, and has just one year of experience on the smaller North American rinks. Ranked No. 11 in North America by Central Scouting, it might be difficult for Anaheim to pass on Namestnikov if he's still on the board at No. 22.
* Alexander Khokhlachev is a left wing on the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. He totaled 76 points in 67 games last season but like Namestnikov, comes in a little short on both size and North American hockey experience. He won’t turn 18 until September, leaving him time to grow but unlikely to help the Ducks anytime soon.
* The Ducks went local with the 29th overall pick last season, selecting forward Emerson Etem out of Long Beach. The club could find another first round pick in their backyard this draft. Rocco Grimaldi grew up in Rossmoor, a community within the city of Los Alamitos, and enters as the top prospect in the draft out of the U.S. National Team Development Program. He stands just 5-6, but plays like a wolverine, hence the first name.
* Zack Phillips is a center from the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. A solid two-way player who passed up a chance to play in college at UMass, Phillips possesses the type of all-around game that can fit onto any line. He skated on the top line with Sea Dogs teammate Jonathan Huberdeau, a potential top five pick.
* Jamieson Oleksiak is a 6-7, 244-pound stay-at-home defender out of Northeastern that has the type of potential that’s worth gambling on early in the draft. The Toronto native totaled three goals and nine assists last season with a plus-13 rating. He's ranked 13th in North America by Central Scouting Services. Every team is in search of the next Chris Pronger. Is Oleksiak the one?
* Jonas Brodin played for Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League last season. He contributes on both ends of the ice and owns a sky-high hockey IQ. He won’t turn 18 until next month and likely won’t be the biggest guy on the ice, but his frame definitely has room to grow. He's ranked No. 3 in Europe by Central Scouting.
* Oscar Klefbom also played for Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League. At 6-4, 200, he's projected to have plenty of upside. International Scouting Services is a believer, ranking him as the 10th-best skater in the draft. Central Scouting named Klefbom the sixth-best European skater.
* John Gibson is just 17 but he’s the top-ranked goalie in this draft. A Pittsburgh native, he helped the USNTDP team win gold at the U-18 World Championships in Crimmitschau, Germany last month. He was named the tournament’s best goaltender after finishing 6-0 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
* Samu Perhonen is the top-ranked European netminder on the board. He recently played for Finland in the U-18 World Championships, posting a 3.52 GAA and .875 save percentage in helping the Fins finish fifth.
* Magnus Hellberg starred for Almtuna of Allsvenskan League in Sweden, posting a 2.04 GAA in 31 games. He stands 6-5 but likely won’t be NHL-ready for a couple years. He’s signed with another Swedish Elite League team, Frolunda, through 2012-13.