Schultz opts for the patient route.

It’s not always easy being a bona fide NHL prospect.

It’s not easy when you have chosen the NCAA route over the junior route, reducing your options to the all-or-nothing proposition of staying in school or turning pro.

It’s not easy when your best friend and defense partner in college was drafted in your same class by the same NHL team -then traded two years later, prohibiting you from continuing your journey together side-by-side into the pro ranks.

This was the scenario facing Ducks prospect Justin Schultz, who had to watch from the University of Wisconsin, Madison while Jake Gardiner was traded from Anaheim to Toronto, then signed an entry-level contract this year.

While Schultz was named one of 10 Hobey Baker finalists, Gardiner went on to impress observers during a 10-game stint with the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate at the end of the season.

For Schultz, staying in school might not have been an easy choice. But it’s choice, and he’s sticking to it.

“Yeah, I think definitely I believe I could do it if I wanted,” he said of turning pro. “But I really feel like I want to play in the AHL next year and get ready so I can make the jump right to the big club.”
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Notes from rookie scrimmage.

It was tempting to leave Anaheim Ice on Thursday with a broad set of generalizations, but the Ducks’ rookie scrimmage amounted to a one-hour snapshot of a portion of the organization’s prospect pool.

Twenty-two players have been invited to the six-day camp that began Thursday. All but one was at the rink Thursday morning — a team spokesperson said that goalie Igor Bobkov’s flight into California was delayed. Maybe Bobkov knew something the other 21 didn’t: Of the players on the ice for the intrasquad scrimmage, the goalies had the least fun.

The final score was 9-6, apropos for the 4-on-4 game of river hockey that featured no hitting and plenty of uncoordinated improvisation. John Gibson, the 39th overall pick at last week’s Entry Draft, and Iiro Tarkki, whom the Ducks lured from Finland this summer, absorbed all of the burden.

Tarkki gave up the nine-spot, but faced more shots than Gibson (by my unofficial estimate) and made the more impressive saves. The 6-foot-3 netminder, who turns 26 today, is not ready for the NHL, and the Ducks will be happy if he and Bobkov can upgrade the goaltending picture in Syracuse. Gibson struggled early but seemed to settle down. He’ll have up to four seasons at the University of Michigan to iron out the kinks before he ever plays a game in Anaheim.

Goals were scored by Chris Wagner (4), Emerson Etem (2), Joseph Cramarossa (2), Devante Smith-Pelly (2), Andy Welinski, Tim Heed, Andreas Dahlstrom, Brett Perlini and Radoslav Illo. Rickard Rakell was at the rink but didn’t scrimmage because his equipment hadn’t arrived. Neither did Jake Newton, who is battling illness.

Those are the facts. They can be overestimated. I did longer interviews with Justin Schultz and Rakell, and will save their stories for a later post.

Since it was the only scrimmage that will be open to the public, here’s a few snap judgments:
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Schultz among 10 Hobey Baker finalists.

Ducks defenseman prospect Justin Schultz was named one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top player in the NCAA.

The University of Wisconsin sophomore had been partnered in Madison with defenseman Jake Gardiner, a 2008 first-round draft pick by the Ducks who was packaged with Joffrey Lupul in the trade that brought Francois Beauchemin back to Anaheim. Gardiner was deemed expendable in part because of the development of Schultz, who leads all NCAA defensemen with 18 goals and 47 points.

The other finalists are: Cam Atkinson, Boston College, junior forward; Carter Camper, Miami (Ohio), senior forward; Jack Connolly, Minnesota Duluth, junior forward; Matt Frattin, North Dakota, senior forward; Andy Miele, Miami (Ohio), senior forward; Gustav Nyquist, Maine, junior forward; Chase Polacek, RPI, senior forward; Paul Thompson, New Hampshire, senior forward; and Paul Zanette, Niagara, senior forward.

More on Schultz from the press release on the UW website:
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