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Player Reviews: The Up-And-Comers

by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks

By Kyle Shohara and AJ Manderichio

As part of the annual Player Reviews, we have been featuring a different Ducks player throughout the summer. Each review will include key stats, a highlight from last season and an outlook for 2016-17.

Anaheim’s prospect pool runs deep on defense – and at the forefront of this stockpile of talent is 21-year-old Shea Theodore, who made his eagerly anticipated NHL debut last season.

Much is expected from the dynamic offensive defenseman from Langley, British Columbia. Theodore, of course, had a tremendous junior hockey career with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. There, he finished as Seattle's all-time leader in goals (58) and points (212) by a defenseman, and was a two-time Western Conference First All-Star and 2014-15 Defenseman of the Year.

After a dip in the water with the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League in the spring of 2015 (where he posted four goals and 11 points in nine games), he began last season in the ‘A’ with the San Diego Gulls for the club’s inaugural AHL campaign. Theodore went on to appear in 50 games with the Gulls, earning 37 points (9g/28a) and 34 penalty minutes.

He made his NHL debut on Dec. 29, 2015 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary after being recalled the day before. Although the season was all but two months old, it felt like a long-awaited NHL debut for Theodore, who had already been recalled three times prior to this most recent call-up. And with defenseman Cam Fowler on injured reserve, it was time for Theodore to take the stage. A momentous occasion, no doubt, for the then-20-year-old, who had family in attendance.

“Here I am, and I’m pretty excited about it,” Theodore said after the team's morning skate. “I just need to keep it simple and get my legs under me in the first couple of shifts. Last year, playing in World Juniors, those were big games, especially with that home crowd. I’m going to try and approach it the same way. I’m looking forward to it. My parents are coming, my sister, too. It’ll be nice to have them here.”

As we’ve seen over the years, a player’s NHL debut isn’t without a little good-natured fun. His teammates allowed Theodore to lead the team out for pregame warmups, but unfortunately for him, none of them followed. It was an unofficial “Welcome to the NHL” moment for the easy-going Theodore, who proceeded to take a few laps all by his lonesome before the team took the ice. He’d finish the game with 15:45 TOI and memories he’ll surely never forget.

Another milestone came seven games later when he showed off his offensive instincts on January 13 against the Ottawa Senators at Honda Center. Already coming ever-so-close to his first career NHL goal in the games leading up to this one, Theodore would find the back of the net in dramatic fashion against the Sens.

With the score tied, 1-1, and the Ducks on the power play late in regulation, Theodore snuck past the four Sens that challenged puck-carrying Ryan Getzlaf at the blueline. Uncontested, Theodore received the pass and skated in, snapping a shot past Craig Anderson with 4:55 left in the game to give the Ducks a 2-1 lead. Theodore gave an emphatic fist pump before being swarmed by his linemates. The goal ignited the Ducks, who scored twice more in a 4-1 victory. On his goal, Theodore said, “It took a couple games to get, and the guys were on me, but it feels good to get the first one out of the way. I just panicked after. It felt good.”

Theodore looked confident and controlled during his 19-game NHL experience last season, finishing with eight points (3g/5a) and a +7 rating. And while it appeared the magnitude of the Stanley Cup Playoffs got the best of him, it was surely a learning experience for the highly-touted prospect. In fact, Theodore re-joined the Gulls for their postseason run shortly after Anaheim’s ended, registering five points (2g/3a) in seven Calder Cup Playoff games.

With a logjam on the blueline for Anaheim, it remains to be seen whether Theodore begins the season with the Ducks or Gulls, but he appears ready for everyday duty in the NHL. You can expect him to be a fixture on the power play for years to come, and, with time, has the potential to become a solid top-pair defenseman.

The relief was evident as soon as the puck whizzed into the upper portion of the net.

Nick Ritchie waited 24 long games for his first National Hockey League goal. After several posts, bouncing pucks and close chances, he beat Keith Kinkaid in the third period against the New Jersey Devils at Honda Center on March 14.

The rookie couldn’t help but let out a smile and bask in the moment.

“I was pretty excited. It was 5-1 there, so it was kind of a meaningless goal, but with your first one, it means something,” Ritchie said postgame. “Some of the guys were excited, as well. I’m going to remember that one for a while.”

It was an up-and-down first professional season – literally – for the towering 6-2, 232-lb left wing. Injuries gave Ritchie the opportunity to make his NHL debut on November 16 against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. He would go on to play 33 games between various call-ups and reassignments, posting four points (2g/2a) and 37 penalty minutes. One of those goals was key for the Ducks, as it helped the team clinch a fourth straight Pacific Division championship on the final day of the regular season. He used his size to his advantage, throwing a whopping 98 hits (2.98/game) during his time with the Ducks.

Ritchie also made his mark with the San Diego Gulls in the AHL. He recorded 30 points (16g/14a) in 38 games, finishing the regular season tied for third among team leaders in goals and tied for first in power-play goals (8). He continued his strong play in the Calder Cup Playoffs, leading the team in goals and finishing second among team leaders in points to help San Diego reach the Pacific Division Final.

The left wing is already prepping for the upcoming season. He returned to Southern California in early July, taking part in the team’s annual Prospect Development Camp at THE RINKS – Anaheim ICE. Looking noticeably leaner, Ritchie stood above his peers during a July 4 scrimmage, finishing with a goal to lead his team to a 4-2 victory.

The camp was a crucial step in Ritchie’s preparation for the upcoming season.

“This year, I can come in and really push to be a full-time NHLer,” said Ritchie after the scrimmage. “That’s my goal. It’s always going to be my goal. Until I do that, I won’t be satisfied. Once you do that, there’s something else you want to be. You always have to keep pushing to get better. That’s what I’m doing this summer.”

Ritchie has an opportunity to cement himself as an everyday player this season. The Ducks need an injection of both youth and offense into the lineup, and Ritchie can bring both. He’s a prototypical power forward that finished his OHL career with 210 points in 212 career games and posted two 25-plus goal seasons. Last year served as a transition to professional hockey, and Ritchie showed the talent necessary to compete at the American League level.

To stick with the Ducks, Ritchie will need to improve his consistency and bury a few more of his chances. The opportunity is there. It’s up to him to grab it.

One word accurately sums up the 2015-16 season for rookie center Chris Wagner: whirlwind.

The Walpole, Massachusetts native began his season as a member of the Ducks, looking to build off a nine-game appearance during the 2014-15 season. He made the opening night roster, but was reassigned to San Diego in mid-November.

He never made the 90-minute trip down the 5.

The Colorado Avalanche claimed Wagner off waivers, a shock to a player drafted and developed by the Ducks.

“When you’re on waivers, there are a thousand thoughts going through your head,” Wagner said after returning to the Ducks, “and you don’t really know what’s gonna happen.”

Wagner played in 26 games with the Avalanche, scoring four goals, including the first of his career just five days after joining the organization. That performance couldn’t keep him away from the waiver wire, and the Ducks jumped at their chance to get Wagner back in the organization, officially claiming him on February 25.

Soon after, Wagner signed a two-year contract extension with Anaheim.

The center finished the 2015-16 season with six points (4g/2a) in 43 games, setting career-highs in most offensive categories. Wagner’s physical play carried through both organizations, as he collected 95 hits and blocked 29 shots. He also showed improvement in faceoffs, winning 55.2% of his draws.

Wagner also skated in 15 regular-season games with the San Diego Gulls, finishing with 10 points (6g/4a) and 22 penalty minutes.

Wagner played in two of the seven games of the First Round matchup with the Nashville Predators, going scoreless. He scored four points (2g/2a) in seven postseason contests with San Diego.

Armed with a one-way contract, he should get a chance to earn a regular spot in the lineup during training camp. The injury to Nate Thompson opens a chance on the team’s fourth line, where Wagner’s physical style will be on full display.

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