Gauthier Sidorov

For a prospect pool ranked across the hockey world as one of the best in the sport, Anaheim's young talent took steps towards the NHL in 2023-24 and now turns its attention to a busy summer off the ice.

Armed with a young, emerging core together in Orange County and AHL San Diego, plus a wave of new faces ready to make the leap to professional hockey, the tone in Anaheim is simple: This fall's training camp will be a competitive atmosphere from the jump, with plenty of roster spots up for grabs and a collection of hungry kids eager to prove themselves.

For more on the Ducks of the future, caught up with Director of Player Development Jim Johnson for an update on each player, today beginning with the forwards.

Cutter Gauthier

Gauthier joined the Ducks organization in a midseason trade with Philadelphia, first helping his Boston College Eagles to the NCAA Championship Game before making his NHL debut in Anaheim's season finale.

"He fit in really well," Johnson said. "I really liked what I saw with the chemistry between him and Leo. He's got a shooting mentality and he skates extremely well in straight lines. He's got good speed. He just needs to get a little bit stronger physically, so that he can handle the man's strength of the NHL, and that's what he's working on this summer."

Gauthier was named a Hobey Baker finalist after a dynamite sophomore season in which the most goals by any NCAA player in 24 years. The 6-3, 190-pound forward, who was also named an NCAA All-American and Hockey East First-Time All-Star, also led the NCAA in game-winning goals (10) and finished second in points.

"I really like his mentality as a shooter," Johnson said. "That is something our organization needs and he's going to be able to fill that role well on a top line for the Ducks."

Sam Colangelo

Like Gauthier, Colangelo officially inked his entry-level contract late in the year after finishing up his senior season at Western Michigan University. 

"Sam made a good decision, I believe, to transfer from Northeastern to Western Michigan," Johnson said. "It got him away from home and in a new environment. It took him a little bit of time to adjust but I have got to give Western Michigan's coaches, Pat Ferschweiler and Jason Herter, a lot of credit. They did a wonderful job with Sam, adjusting to his surroundings, a new system and changing his style of play to become a more complete player."

The 22-year-old winger appeared in four American Hockey League (AHL) games with San Diego, collecting 1-3=4 points, before joining the Ducks for the club's final three games. Colangelo also scored his first NHL goal in his league debut.

"Sam has some really nice attributes to his game," Johnson continued. He's got a great shoot, good release and he likes to shoot. He was a little bit more of a perimeter player, but learned to play a little bit more on the inside this year. He's a good skater that's big and strong, and if he plays a straight north-south game and has a little physicality to him, he can be a real effective NHL player. 

"He's got an offensive ability. He sees the ice extremely well and I believe he makes players around him better with his ability to find guys in open ice."

Nikita Nesterenko

Nesterenko completed his first full professional season this year, appearing in 70 games for San Diego and finishing with 16 goals and 37 points with a +6 rating - tops among Gulls forwards. Nesterenko also skated in three games with the Ducks, collecting his second NHL goal.

"I thought Nikita did a good job when he came up," Johnson said. "He showed the way he has to play, I believe, to play in the National Hockey League. That's being a consistent straight line guy that'll be physical, finishes checks and have good skating speed where he can pressure on the forecheck.

Nesterenko scores on rebound for second career NHL goal

"He also has the ability to track coming back and get above the puck on turnovers and change of possession. I think that's the big thing with Nikita and where [Gulls head coach] Matt McIlvane, I thought, did a wonderful job with is getting him to understand what type of game he needs to play to be an effective NHL player. It took him a while to figure that out and I think he's got it figured out now."

Nico Myatovic

Selected 34th overall in last summer's draft, Myatovic endured through a frustrating 2023-24 campaign sparked by a unfortunate injury.

"He started his year in (WHL) Seattle extremely well," Johnson recalled. "I believe he had in the first five games he had seven points. I was watching the game that he got injured in, he set up the winning goal and then he got landed on in the celebration as they came back from being down in the game."

Despite the injuries, Myatovic finished second among Seattle team leaders in points per game (.88) and ended the season on a high note, with eight points in his final six WHL games.

"He was in dynamic force at junior hockey...but only played 34 games and that was the unfortunate thing. The fortunate thing for him was coming in and being able to play the 12 games that he played in the AHL this year. He got to understand that there are deficiencies in his game and there's a lot of strengths to his game also. 

"So he's another guy that's going to spend a lot of time in the gym, which he needs. He needs to get stronger, a little bit more added mass to him to add some more explosiveness and strength to his game to withstand playing against men. He found out what it was like playing against men when he made it down to San Diego in his 12 games there. So I think it was a good learning experience for him this spring to come up and play some pro hockey...I believe we're going to see a whole different player come fall with Nico. He's got a good skill level, he skates well, he's got a good shot and a good release. He just needs to now build that frame and that base so he can be an effective player in pro hockey."

Ben King

Anaheim's fourth-round selection made the jump from junior hockey to the AHL this season, tying for fifth among team leaders in goals (15). 

"Ben had an up and down year, but he did find the back of the net 15 times in 61 games there," Johnson said. "He ended up with 30 points and at times was very effective. Again, I think he needs to work on his body a little bit. I think he spent last summer working and he's seen the benefits of it. I would expect another summer of getting stronger in the gym, working on his lateral mobility a little bit and the change of direction."

The newly turned 22-year-old King collected a season-high three points in San Diego's 4-0 shutout win over Tucson on March 29th, part of a three-game scoring streak for the rookie forward, but finished his first AHL campaign scoreless in his last six appearances.

"Depending on what we do with Ben going forward, he should come in and his goal should be to be a 20 goal man, 20-25 goals [in the AHL]," Johnson said. "He's got the ability, he's got an unreal uncanny release and he can play with top end guys."

Pavol Regenda

Regenda completed his second season in North America this year, registering 19 goals and 34 points in 54 AHL games and earning a late-season call-up to Anaheim.

"He's a big body  who skates well and goes to the net," Johnson said. He knows how to play in those tight, confined and what I call hard area. He does a good job there."

Regenda finished third on the Gulls in goals and power-play goals (five), fifth in plus/minus (+2) and seventh in points. He collected points in four of his final five games.

"Now he's just got to build consistency off of that," Johnson continued. "He dealt with some injuries during the year and he had trouble coming back and finding how to come back. Sometimes some of these young players have to find out how to play injured and come back from those type of injuries even better than you went out...I expect him to come in, have a real good year and have an opportunity to fight for an NHL position."

Judd Caulfield

Talk to anyone around the San Diego Gulls last season, and chances are they had good things to say about Caulfield, a rookie winger who just completed his first AHL campaign after four years at the University of North Dakota.

"Judd's been outstanding," Johnson said. "He was probably my biggest surprise this year down there. He's a big body, skates extremely well with an understanding of what it takes to play in the NHL or the pro hockey level.

"He just got better and better for me [every time] I was down there to see him. He had a decent year offensively at 26 points and he ended up with 10 goals. I believe he could score more than that once he learns. I don't think Judd knows how strong he really is and how effective that he could be at the next level if he uses his body like he's capable of. He's just figuring that out. I thought he had an outstanding year and you talk to the coaches down there, they're really happy with where he is at and how he's progressed.

Caulfield finished the season with seven points in his last 11 games, including two assists in the season finale at Coachella Valley, and an even or plus rating in 10 of those games.

"He's been a bright spot, I can tell you that the coaches really like him. Great kid, coachable, great guy off the ice. He has a lot of attributes to being an NHL player at some point in his career."

Nathan Gaucher

A first-round pick in 2022 who went on to capture Memorial Cup and World Junior glory last season, the affable yet intense Gaucher went through the growing pains during his transition to pro hockey.

"He had an up and down year a little bit," Johnson said. "I think it was a little frustrating for him at times, but he ended on a real strong note...He had an injury over the summer, couldn't train much and didn't get much time on the ice. I believe when he came to rookie camp he had only skated once or twice so his offseason did not give him a chance to have success in pro hockey.

Gaucher battled those injuries through the season, most notably a faulty glute that Johnson said bothered the versatile forward from the jump.

"With that summer, I am really happy with what we got him turned around and got his glute firing. He is still working on that and he's actually again taken a step in his off ice training. He's made a huge commitment this summer. I believe you're going to see a whole different Nathan Gaucher next year. In my opinion, the way he ended his season, what he's put into next season already with his summer training program up to this point, I believe we're going to see a whole different player come fall."

Sasha Pastujov

One of the most offensively gifted prospects in Anaheim's pool, Pastujov made the leap to the AHL this season and showed flashes of the craftiness and creativity that can be hallmarks of his game.

The OHL product tallied 23 points in 46 AHL games, highlighted by his first career professional hat trick in January and a late-season stretch where he found the scoresheet in 10 of 12 outings.

"Again, he had an up and down season like a lot of these young kids coming out of junior playing against men," Johnson said. "Like Nathan Gaucher, with Sasha, he got better as the season went on. He went a long time without scoring and then he went on a run where I think he had a hat trick in a game and he had maybe five goals in three games. That started to get him going. He started to find the back of the net and started to gain some confidence in his offensive ability.

"He does have great hands, sees the ice extremely well. For him it's working on his skating and making sure that he's a strong kid. He spends time in the gym and we're making sure it's the right type of explosive speed that we need out of him, that explosive type training. He'll have a big summer, he's already on the ice. He's been on the ice the last [week]. He knows that [skating] is one of his weaknesses and he's going to address it. He'll be coming into a second year pro and I expect him to have a really strong year."

Josh Lopina

Lopina settled in to a consistent third-line role for San Diego, his second full season in the AHL.

"He can play up in the lineup and he did at times, but I thought he was most effective for us when he was on the third line," Johnson said. "He's a good penalty killer and he's got good speed. He's another guy that spent time last summer getting his body stronger and it showed with his 14 goals this year, so I think he got rewarded for the work he put in last summer.

That summer training led the 23-year-old Lopina to improve on nearly all of his rookie season totals, scoring 12 more goals and collecting 19 more points in just 10 additional games (14-9=23 in 69 games).

"It's just the start and tip of the iceberg for him. He's got to do it again this summer and come back and have a real strong year coming up."

Jan Mysak

Acquired from Montreal at the trade deadline, Mysak joined a crowded San Diego forward group late in the season and impressed Ducks management with his off-ice habits.

"I didn't get to see him a lot but that's a guy who has extremely strong work habits, work ethic and compete in his game," Johnson said. "I don't think he got the opportunity to really show our organization what he's capable of because of the number [of players] we had down there. 

Mysak, who has experience playing both center and wing in the AHL, skated in 14 games with San Diego and showing a coveted determination in the defensive zone.

"I have a lot of time for his game," Johnson said. "I think he skates well. He can work on a stride mechanics just a little bit, and we're already working on that off ice with him, but he's a guy that I think has got a bright future. He's a young guy that we're going to just have to be a little bit patient with and continue to work with him. 

"I think a couple things that stood out were his attitude, his work ethic, and his willingness to block shots. I thought he skated well in straight lines and was willing to be the driver on the rushes...I think his explosiveness and his mobility are areas that he's going to need to work on."

Jaxsen Wiebe

Signed as an undrafted free agent last March, Wiebe split his first professional campaign between San Diego and Tulsa (ECHL).

"The speed of it, the strength of the players, the physicality really doesn't bother this guy," Johnson said. "His skating in straight line is good. He's an honest player. I think by nature he is competitive and he's physical, loves to hit. He's a character, he's willing to stand up for his guys. He's a good teammate. I think he knows his identity."

Wiebe recorded four goals and five points in 24 games with San Diego and six points in 11 ECHL appearances.

"For me, he's got to work on his agility, his lateral mobility and flexibility. It's adjusting to the pro game of understanding angles, adjusting his speed to be able to finish his checks more consistently at this level and his stick on the forecheck needs to be better on pucks. He's learning. I think his puck and hand skills need to improve to be an effective player at the American League level. When he went and played in the East Coast League, he was very effective there. Now it's just adjusting to the American League level for him.

Yegor Sidorov

One of the most exciting players in junior hockey this season, Sidorov was the heartbeat of the Saskatoon offense, burying 50 goals in 66 regular-season games and then another 15 in 16 playoff contests. 

The 2022 third-round pick finished tied for fourth among league leaders in goals, tied for third in power-play goals, second in shots on net and first in game-winning goals.

"Well, he's a goal scorer.," Johnson said with a laugh. "There's no question [about that] when you score 50 goals in the Western League. He is a shooter and he loves to score goals. He had a real solid year, he had a good playoff run...He has the ability to score, but what we asked him to do was, while not change his ability to shoot the puck because we liked the fact that he's a shooter, focus on a 200 foot game. He did that for us and he got much better in his own zone this year without losing [the offensive production]. Last year he was at 1.4 points per game and this year he dropped to 1.33, but he was a much better all around player.

"He's a guy whose skating mechanics are good. He's got good speed and quickness. He's got good hands and a high skill level. He uses escapes well in tight areas. He sees the ice and he's tenacious on the puck. He loves to score goals so his puck possession skills are good. He uses his body well for me. He's a shooter that can one time the puck and has a really good release. So those are really good traits for him. 

"Moving forward to next year in the pro game, he still has to understand how to be more of a give and go player, use the players around him better. At times he got frustrated in the playoffs when guys started to really go after him physically and he's got to understand how to use that to help players around him be better. What I mean by that is taking the check away from his other guys and if they're focusing one or two guys on him, it opens up other players and how do you distribute pucks a little bit better in that area. So he's another really high skill level player that has a mentality of getting better each and every day."

Connor Hvidston

One of the youngest players in the draft when Anaheim tabbed him 139th overall in 2022, and still several months shy of his 20th birthday, Hvidston has battled through injuries to become a strong NHL prospect. The two-way forward scored over one point-per-game for the second straight year with Swift Current, finishing with 27 goals and 59 points in 53 games and helping the Broncos to the second round of the WHL Playoffs.

"I really feel bad for Connor," Johnson said. "He had a tough year this year with his injuries after a big summer last year. I think he gained 15 or 17 pounds last summer. He put in a really good summer of training and then in hurt his back in camp. He missed all of training camp and all of rookie camp, then re-injured his back testing in Swift Current. He got off to a slow start with his back injury and only played 53 games this year. He also had an appendectomy and unfortunately he never really got his weight back [before the season ended] and he lost all the strength that he gained. He battled with that all season long and unfortunately there was nothing he could have done to prevent this. He tried to do everything he could. He's got great work habits. He's a great kid.

Despite the rollercoaster campaign off the ice, Johnson and the Ducks brass was impressed with Hvidston's resolve and determination, ultimately producing strong offensive numbers in a trying situation.

"He battled with injury, battled with his strength and his energy levels just weren't right, but he still ended up with 59 points and 27 goals. He can play in traffic, has a sky-high skill level and good hockey IQ. He's got great vision. His skating speed I believe is deceptive and he surprises guys. I saw him last year score the goal of the year in the Western Hockey League, beating the guy wide and taking it across the net.

"He's just got to again rebuild his body. It's a really important summer for Connor because of the year he had and so he's got to regain all the strength that he lost , gain it all back and gain some more. So he's got a big off season in the summer to get to where we believe he can be, but he'll be a guy that we want to really concentrate on over the summer and make sure that he's doing all the right things. So he comes in and has a healthy start of the season."

Coulson Pitre

Signed to an entry-level contract, alongside Sidorov, in April, Pitre captained the Flint Firebirds (OHL) to its third playoff berth in his three seasons in the orange, blue and white.

Pitre placed second among team leaders in goals, points and assists, and now ranks in the club's top five all-time in all three categories.

"He is a natural leader and a good skater," Johnson said. "Another guy that battled injuries a little bit this season. That's kind of the motto of our young prospects this year. A lot of guys that had nagging type injuries...He's a high energy guy, tenacious on the puck, great stick on the forecheck and has good quickness and explosiveness, strong for checking skills. 

"I think his hands are real good and he makes good, quick plays. His strength and agility are good. He's tenacious. He's the type of player I think that fits well with the type of team Pat's trying to build here. 
"He's also another guy that's on the lighter side and has summer ahead of him. The biggest thing for me, he needs to gain overall strength, size and mass both in his core body and upper body to be playing at the next level. He's got the mindset and the commitment, just needs a little bit more consistency for the style of game that he wants to play for a longer period of time. He needs to build that up. Work habits, commitment to training and building his base is going to be key for him to maintain the style of play that he wants to play for 60 minutes."

Pitre played with his younger brother, Kaden, in Flint this season. The younger Pitre, ranked the 144th North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, is eligible for the 2024 NHL Draft this summer in Vegas.

Carey Terrance

The second of Anaheim's three second-round picks last June, Terrance scored 29 goals in 56 games with Erie this season and now has 59 in his last two OHL seasons.

The New York native also played a depth role on Team USA's World Junior Championship squad that captured gold in January.

"I would consider it an off year for Carey," Johnson said. "He played 56 games and I thought he started fairly decent as game built up. I saw him play in London at the end of November and thought he had a real good game. He's an above average skater at straight line skating speed. Not real good laterally yet, but we're going to work on that. He's got decent size with a pretty good level of compete. He's got good net drive. He's got to learn to stop in those hard areas because he is such a good straight line skater. I think for him he's going to be a lot like Pitre. He's going to have to increase his mass, get stronger in the upper and lower body, get a little bit more tenacious and stronger with his stick battles. That's going to be a thing for him to work on, getting his nose over the puck and battling in those situations.

I think he needs to come in with a little bit more confidence next time he comes into a pro camp, too. I thought he was a little bit wide-eyed into his first camp this year and then he got going on the year. And then after World Juniors, he really struggled to get back to his game. So for me he's got to understand the game a little bit better and have a little bit more consistency in his game. He's got a big offseason of him training to come in and have a real good year next year."

Kyle Kukkonen

Drafted out of Maple Grove High School in Minnesota back in 2021, Kukkonen played his sophomore season at Michigan Tech this year and helped the Huskies to a berth in the NCAA Tournament, ultimately bowing out to Gauthier and Boston College in the first round.

A year after scoring 18 goals as a freshman though, Kukkonen too was hampered by injuries in 2023-24 and finished with 12 points in 27 regular-season appearances.

"Kyle had a real struggle, had a real tough year about Christmas time, he went in the boards and broke his ankle," Johnson said. "So he was out for an extended period of time coming off a really successful freshman year. He scored 18 goals [as a freshman] and ended up with only one goal this year. We tried to help him a little bit on, maybe he went to the perimeter a little bit too much and hung onto pucks where he was shooting them the year before. So we've been working with him a little bit on that. He has tenacity, plays with grit and energy, and he's good work habits."

With two years of college hockey eligibility left, Kukkonen entered the transfer portal in April and soon after announced his intention to play at Wisconsin next season.

"I think the change might be really good for him," Johnson continued. "I think a couple areas of growth that he needs to work on is improving his poise with the puck. I think he can scan the ice a little bit, finding space prior to his touches and using puck protection. Skating skills I think are also going to be a thing for him. 

"He's going to have to gain mass in that lower and upper body. I always talk about knees to nipples. For players like him, a 5-foot-10 player that plays with energy and tenacity like him, you got to be strong in that area and I think he has to have that to play at a higher level and play against men. He's going to need to improve in that area of the ice. I think once he understands how to play inside more, he'll get back to scoring goals. I think he was drifting a little bit too much to the perimeter and not stopping net front. So we addressed it with him.

"I thought he was real effective in the game that he played against Boston College, so a new change of scenery for him might be good. I'm looking forward to seeing him play next year at Wisconsin."

Michael Callow

Still a relatively unknown prospect to Ducks fans as a fifth-round pick whose collegiate schedule prevented him from attending rookie or training camp last year, Callow enjoyed a strong freshman performance at Harvard and could be in line for a much bigger role as a sophomore. 

"I was really pleased with Michael's game this year," Johnson said. "He really took a step forward at Harvard. He skates well in straight lines. He's got pretty good mechanics for a big guy. He is 6-foot-4, has good awareness and vision, and decent puck and hand skills to make plays. He got better and better as the season went on and he got more and more playing time. 

The 6-foot-4 winger posted three goals and 15 points in 32 NCAA games. 

"He's got great size and uses his body well. We've got to get him understanding how to protect pucks in tight areas down low...His frame can probably put on 15-20 pounds easy because he's a big kid. So he'll need to add mass and strength but we're happy with the progress that he made.

"We're going to be working with him. I just got off the phone with him. He is looking at training and doing something totally different than he has done in the past. This kid wants to get better. I believe he's going to be a force in college hockey in the next two years, next year and then a year after."