This is the post you’ve been expecting. The one you wanted. With Devante Smith-Pelly re-signed, six players added to the Norfolk roster, and the Ducks’ training camp roster announced, it’s time to project who’s going to be wearing the battleship.
The biggest difference between this year’s team and the past two are on the bench. Former assistant coach Jarrod Skalde takes over for Trent Yawney, who took an assistant’s gig with the Ducks. Along with Skalde’s promotion, Baie-Comeau Drakkar coach Eric Veilleux was brought in to take on an assistant job. This isn’t about the coaches. It’s about the players.
Norfolk’s past two seasons have seen their best players in the net. In 2012-13, it was the emergence of a little known prospect named Frederik Andersen. A host of injuries and other situations promoted Andersen to the NHL last season, where he excelled. Last season for the Admirals saw highly-touted prospect John Gibson take over as netminder. His strong play helped propel the Ads into the playoffs, and earn a trial in the NHL. Gibson was so spectacular in his short debut that it is more than likely he and Andersen will be the goalie tandem in Anaheim. Which brings us to the projected depth for goalie.
AHL Contracts: Ryan Faragher, Etienne Marcoux
Igor Bobkov is a name familiar to Admirals fans. He spent most of his time in 2012-13 as Andersen’s backup. Bobkov’s performance was best described as mercurial. The Russian-born goalie showed a lot of potential but also displayed a lot of liability. His first full professional season saw him put up a disappointing .903 save percentage. Due to a logjam at goalie last season, Bobkov found himself with the ECHL Utah Grizzlies. This helped him as he put up a solid .921 in 29 games for the Grizz and a respectable .919 in 10 games for the Ads. Bobkov must deal with the pressure of being a true number one starter and solidify his North American future.
He will not be alone. Perhaps banking on the Gibson/Brad Thiessen combo from last year, Anaheim brought in veteran goalie Jason LaBarbera. He is far removed from his very productive years in Arizona, where he served as a backup to Ilya Bryzgalov and Mike Smith. LaBarbera was not particularly impressive last year, spending most of his time with AHL Rockford, where he put up a deflating .901 save percentage. He’s going to need to be better than that.
Ryan Faragher and Etienne Marcoux are interesting cases. They both have AHL SPCs but I don’t expect to see them in Norfolk except for injury. Utah already has two goalies on their roster, though. Since they’re both on contract, they need to go somewhere. I wonder if we’ll see a trade, a loan, or perhaps Faragher used exclusively for three-in-threes.
Losses from last year: Frederik Andersen, John Gibson, Brad Thiessen
Please ignore the pairings and lines. These are done mostly as visual reference and not actual projection of in-game strategy. Let’s start on defense for skaters. Norfolk returns a few vets, most notably Mat Clark, who is coming off an injury. The stay-at-home defenseman figures to get some top-4 minutes when he resumes play. Before his injury, Clark was a player who hardly missed a game. Since he’s right-handed, I’ve decided to put left-handed Kevin Gagne on his pair. Gagne played a lot of forward last season as part of a desperation move. He’s been back on the blueline at Ducks rookie camp and figures to play there again.
Second pairing sees Josh Manson and Jesse Blacker together. While both are right-handed, Manson is not as offensively-minded as Blacker. This is not to say that Manson can not achieve this, he was very much up in the play during rookie camp. Blacker needs to improve on what was a lackluster 2013-14 campaign, especially after signing his new contract.
Third pairing is where it gets interesting. I have Andrew O’Brien here, whose season was derailed by injury. He doesn’t really score but does have 28 games of experience, which is more than other players. I think this suits him for the bottom pairing. He’ll be joined on this pair with a rotating cast. Veteran D Nathan McIver was brought in, though he played 40 games last year. I’d expect McIver to play games against “heavier” opponents, or those who like to fight. At first, I had the rotating spot going to Kenton Helgesen. This changed today as Helgesen was listed as a LW at Ducks camp. I think the last spot goes to Jaycob Megna, who is at least on an ELC. He’s not with the Ducks, but should be at Ads camp. Kevin Lind is an AHL SPC and is not very offensive. He may fight Megna for that last spot.
Intriguing is the training camp tryout of Brendan Bell. The puck-mover has spent the last two years in Europe sitting under 20 points. He has considerable AHL experience, and was a 30+ point a season player. On a team that lacks offense from the blueline, he could be a welcome addition.
Admirals losses: Garnet Exelby, Nolan Yonkman, Steve Eminger
This was a difficult thing to assemble. The leading reason for this is that several of these players are listed as centers and very few are listed as natural wings. I found this especially difficult with Matt Bailey. He was listed last year as a RW, played center, and was listed as a LW for Ducks training camp. Let’s just look at this from a numbers perspective.
My projected first line is likely what you’ll see in the first game. All three players are high draft picks with superior offensive potential. William Karlsson is a playmaker from the center position and should easily slot in there. Stefan Noesen gets to rebound from a lost 2013-14 and fits in as a natural wing. He is complemented on the left by another talented player, Nic Kerdiles. Norfolk’s top line should be among the best in the division.
The second line I’ve devised is made up of players who can score but might be a bit more physical. Chris Wagner goes back to his center spot (more on this later), and has fan favorite Max Friberg on the left. If the Ads are to be successful, Friberg and Wagner need to provide depth scoring. The right side was particularly difficult because I didn’t know who to put there based on Matt Bailey’s position. I went with Louis LeBlanc. I’m not really sure what his deal is beyond being a 20-point AHLer. The 2nd line creates some depth scoring if everyone can live up to their potential.
I had little trouble with the third line. Face-off specialist David Steckel is going to be the center. This is the most predictable thing in the history of ever. Stecks wearing the C would also not surprise me. On his left, I have him back with Antoine Laganiere. The Giraffe played a good deal with Steckel and I don’t think that will be broken up. On the left, I had no idea who to put there. At first, I wanted to slot in Chris Wagner, who can play wing. If Bailey is a natural wing, let’s put him there. The problem is that Bailey is listed as a center at Ducks training camp. If that’s the case, I think you see Bailey as the 2L pivot with Wagner taking up wing residency on the 3L. Both are physical players and we’ll just call this the Jam Line.
The fourth line was the most difficult to put together. Well, beyond John Kurtz. He’ll GrindLine the hell out of a game. Now, who to put at center? I put in Charlie Sarault. I wanted Sarault to play a lot more last year, especially after Rickard Rakell’s promotion. Sarault is a natural center and I guess he’ll have to go here. His right will be a revolving door. Most games, I expect Brad Winchester here. Though, to be honest, I could see Winchester and LeBlanc switching spots. For a few games, the right side will definitely be occupied by Steve MacIntyre. He doesn’t need to play that much, he’s just here to skate around and punch a guy. That’s it. The third option is Joseph Cramarossa. Despite being incredibly speedy, Cramarossa can’t finish and was a bit of a liability last year. He may be headed back to the ECHL. Lastly on the scratch list is Steven Whitney. Despite scoring 23 points, he was often benched towards the end of the year. I’m not sure what to do with this guy.
Anaheim’s veteran invitee for PTO is Brandon Yip. I would not surprised to see him somewhere on the Admirals roster. Yip is an AHL vet who had his best pro season last year as he scored 34 points for the Portland Pirates.
Admirals losses: Emerson Etem. Devante Smith-Pelly, Andre Petersson, Maxime Sauve
A lot can change between now and opening day. Remember John Mitchell played in a preseason game and was traded for Matheiu Perrault before the first Admirals game. As it stands, this is the team now. I expect mediocre goaltending, a questionable defense, and a decent offense. I hope I’m proved wrong.