Anaheim Ducks: World Junior Championship Prospect Watch


The IIHF Under-20 World Junior Hockey Championship is sometimes referred to as “Canada’s March Madness”, so the amount of recognition that a talented young hockey player gets at this tournament is tremendous.

Down in the United States, the tournament isn’t promoted to hockey fans nearly as much as it is in Canada. Canada’s main sports network, TSN, has had national television coverage of this event for a long time. Canada’s stretch of success when they won five straight gold medals from 2005 to 2009 is a tremendous factor why the tournament is more heavily viewed by Canadians. The popularity of the tournament is increasing, with the exciting back-and-forth style of junior hockey, and it will surely be viewed closely by the fans in Canada this year. It also helps that the tournament will be played in Canada’s two biggest hockey markets, Toronto and Montreal.

In the United States, the tournament is not nearly as popular, since there are other events going on in sports that overshadow the WJC, including college football bowl games, Week 17 of the NFL season, and the NBA and NHL seasons. The games are broadcasted on the NHL Network in the US, but the tournament hasn’t quite taken off with hockey fans, despite the country hosting the tournament in Buffalo in 2011 and some recent success in the tournament, including a dramatic overtime win against Canada in the 2010 gold medal game and wining the tournament again in 2013 behind a dominant performance from the Ducks’ John Gibson, who won MVP of the tournament.

This year, it doesn’t appear that the Ducks will have any of their prospects be potential MVP candidates, like Gibson was in 2013, but they do have two notable prospects competing in the tournament for Team Canada: 2013 first round pick Shea Theodore and 2014 first round pick Nick Ritchie. The Ducks also have 2014 seventh round pick Ondrej Kase playing for the Czech Republic.

The tournament is probably the biggest event for scouts looking at prospects and talent for the upcoming draft of that year. This year, the story of the whole tournament seems to be centered around two of the most highly touted prospects since, arguably, Sidney Crosby. It is definitely one of the most anticipated NHL drafts in recent memory, and even the most casual fan of the NHL has heard quite a bit about the two players who both will be playing for different countries: Connor McDavid for Team Canada and Jack Eichel for Team USA.

The debate of which player is better and which player should be selected first in the upcoming draft exists because of the two different leagues that they play in.

McDavid plays in the Ontario Hockey League for the Erie Otters and has recorded an astonishing 51 points in 18 games, or just under three points a game. Meanwhile, over at Boston University in the NCAA, Jack Eichel has 27 points in 16 games. What makes it difficult to distinguish the talent between the two players is putting the numbers in comparison to the competition the two players go against every night. McDavid’s numbers certainly jump out more than Eichel’s do, but McDavid plays his games against players either at his age (18) or younger while Eichel, also 18, sees the majority of his competition aged in the low 20’s. That is why this tournament will be so interesting: the two players can finally showcase their talents against the same level of competition.

As I had mentioned earlier, the Ducks don’t have any standouts in this tournament like McDavid or Eichel, but they have three players representing their team that I am sure Bob Murray will be monitoring closely to follow the development of some of his better young prospects.

Let’s start with the player who was drafted by the organization first, Shea Theodore.

Theodore and Ritchie are obviously looked at differently considering one is a defenseman and the other is forward.

Theodore is considered to be the Ducks third best prospect in their system, behind Gibson and Ritchie, according to Theodore doesn’t have the most intimidating frame at 6’2 and 178 pounds, but his game isn’t centered around physicality. He projects as a two-way defenseman who has the skillset to quarterback a powerplay, and he fits the mold of the current NHL defenseman, which stresses the ability to skate and move the puck well. His numbers are impressive: he recorded 50 points in 71 games during the 2012-2013 season, and he followed that up by recording 79 points in 71 games the very next season. In a pre-tournament game against Sweden on Sunday, Theodore was the trailer on a rush and roofed a shot upstairs to help lead Canada to a 5-2 win. Theodore possesses dynamic offensive and skating abilities, and his ability to move the puck efficiently and play a two-way game seem very similar to those of current Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler.

Going into the tournament, it is expected that Theodore will carry most of the load in terms of ice time for the Canadian blue-line. He has taken most of his rushes with Edmonton Oilers 2013 first round pick Darnell Nurse, and that should be a pairing to watch for.

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The other player who will be representing the Ducks in this tournament for Team Canada is Nick Ritchie. Ritchie was selected by the Ducks with the tenth overall pick in the 2014 draft. This was the pick that the Ducks acquired from the Ottawa Senators in the Bobby Ryan deal on July 5, 2013. Ritchie is the prototypical big, physical power forward (6’3, 229 lbs) with immense talent and skill for a big man. He skates very well for a player of his stature.

Ritchie skated on a line primarily with the aforementioned Connor McDavid and Ottawa Senators forward Curtis Lazar, who was loaned to Team Canada by the Senators. Ritchie gives the Canadian squad some size, an element that isn’t very prevalent on their roster.

The last time a Ducks prospect made a noticeable impact at this tournament was Gibson’s dominant performance in 2013, leading Team USA to a gold medal. The Ducks have not had too many standouts outside of that performance. In 2005, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were both teammates on what is said to be one of, if not the greatest World Junior team ever assembled when they both won the gold medal for Canada. That team included players like Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Andrew Ladd, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Shea Weber, Brent Seabrook, and Dion Phaneuf. That group of players has won a combined 12 Stanley Cups since 2006: that’s quite the list of players.

The three players the Ducks are sending this year, again, aren’t realistically going to end up in the tournament MVP discussion. For Ritchie and Theodore, they are pieces on a team expected to be the early tournament favorite. At the very least, the Canadians expect the squad to medal for the first time since 2012. As for Kase, the speedy, skilled, yet undersized winger will have an offensive role for the Czech squad.

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