Ducks 2007-08 rookie review

By Kevin Forbes

As the defending Stanley Cup Champions with most of their veteran squad returning, it is no surprise that the Anaheim Ducks did not give much opportunity to  first-year players over the course of 2007-08. In fact, of the six rookies who did lace up the skates for the Ducks, only goaltender Jonas Hiller spent the majority of the season in California. Here’s a look at how the rookie class of 2007-08 performed for Anaheim.

Ryan Carter, Center – Signed as free agent in 2006
NHL Games: 34 regular season games, 6 playoff games

Of the five skaters listed, Ryan Carter is the closest one can get to a full-time NHL player. Indeed, if it wasn’t for an unfortunate broken wrist suffered in February that caused him to miss 16 games, Carter would have spent the entire second half of the NHL season as a regular contributor with the Ducks. When it was all said and done, Carter appeared in 34 games, scoring four goals and finishing with eight points. His modest offensive totals do not tell the full story about the role he carved out for himself prior to his injury, where he was regularly seeing second line minutes. Carter was able to return to the Ducks for the last game of the season and appeared in all six playoff games, without a point.

Armed with a new three-year deal, Carter will be looking to fill the question mark that currently exists at the Ducks second line pivot position. Although he has not shown anything to indicate he could be a long-term solution in that role, the Minnesota native has proven that he can be an effective stop-gap and anything less than a full season at the NHL level should be considered a failure.

Drew Miller, Left Wing – Drafted 186th overall (6th round) in 2003
NHL Games: 26 regular season games

Along with Carter, Drew Miller was one of the rookies to make their NHL debut during the Ducks Stanley Cup playoff run. Unfortunately, Miller was unable to stick with the Ducks for the full season and spent the year shuttling between Anaheim and their AHL affiliate in Portland. Playing in 26 NHL games, the New Jersey native scored two goals and had five points while playing a primarily fourth line role with minimal time on special teams. Spending most of the second half with the Pirates, Miller was hampered by a high-ankle sprain down the stretch.

Though he was top among Portland Pirates in points per game during the regular season, Miller’s scoring abilities have yet to make an appearance at the NHL level. With that said, his role with the Ducks expects to be more defensive than offensive. With some openings expected to appear on the checking line for the upcoming season, Miller should aim for full-time role with Anaheim in 2008-09. A restricted free agent this offseason, Miller’s strong play in the AHL after being returned to the Pirates should only help his cause.

Jonas Hiller, Goaltender – Signed as a free agent in 2007
NHL Games: 23 regular season games

A much sought-after free agent in the summer of 2007, Hiller signed a one year deal with Anaheim and broke into the squad full-time early in the season after long-time backup Ilya Bryzgalov moved to Phoenix. Hiller, a Swiss native, impressed not only with his very strong play during his short time in the AHL, but also with his exemplary relief work for the Ducks. He continued to improve as the season went on, climaxing with a solid 2-2 record with a .947 save percentage during the end of March while starter J.S. Giguere sat out with back spasms. All told, Hiller finished the season with a 10-7-1 record, a 2.06 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.

Though losing Bryzgalov to the Coyotes hurt, Hiller was quick to erase any misgivings about handing a roster spot to goaltender who has never before played in North America, especially when there was no discernible alternative inside the organization at the time. A veteran of the Swiss League at 26, Hiller’s steady demeanor is perfectly suited for the Ducks, but with the netminder entering into contract negotiations this summer, it’s easy to think the draw of more ice time and perhaps a starring role elsewhere may soon call to him. Like his fellow countryman and former Duck, Martin Gerber, before him, Hiller has the ability to be much more than an NHL backup.

Bobby Ryan, Right Wing – Drafted 2nd overall (1st round) in 2005
NHL Games: 23 regular season games, 2 playoff games

Much was expected from this New Jersey native in his first year of professional hockey. After averaging 95 points a year over the course of his last three seasons in the OHL, Ryan made the Ducks out of camp and joined them on their season debut in London, England, scoring a goal in his first NHL game. However, despite this initial success, the Ducks chose to take it slow with the burly winger and soon sent him to the minors to work on his game. Ryan split the season between Anaheim and the Portland Pirates, Playing a limited role with some power-play time, Ryan tallied five goals and ten points in 23 games, including 3 goals with the man advantage. He also played in two playoff games, being held without a point.

Anaheim has dedicated to taking it slow with Ryan, a decision that can only help his development. As can be seen by his impressive numbers in the AHL (scoring at a point-per-game pace), especially during the Pirates playoff run (tied for second in the league in post season scoring), Ryan has the talent and the size to impose his will on the ice. A big part of the Ducks future, Ryan’s next step will be gaining a full-time role in the NHL.

Petteri Wirtanen, Center – Drafted 172nd overall (6th round) in 2006
NHL Games: 3 regular season games

Already a polished player when he arrived in North America soon after being drafted in 2006, it’s little surprise that Petteri Wirtanen has already enjoyed a cup of coffee at the NHL level. He stepped in for checking line forward Todd Marchant when he was ailed by an ankle injury in mid-October. Wirtanen made the most of his limited ice time, scoring a goal in his first NHL game on his only shot during the three-game stint, a game winner against the Nashville Predators.

With Wirtanen just 21, the Ducks can afford to continue to take it slow with the Finnish native. Focusing more on the play in his own end, his eventual role in the NHL expects to be quite similar to the player he replaced for that brief period of time in October: that of a checking line forward, working in primarily defensive situations and on the penalty kill.

Andrew Ebbett, Center – Signed as a free agent in 2007
NHL Games: 3 regular season games

It has been quite the year for this graduate from the University of Michigan. After going undrafted and spending a season in the Ottawa Senators minor league system, Andrew Ebbett grew in leaps and bounds in his first season with the Ducks. Not only did he lead the Portland Pirates in scoring during the regular season, but his strong play in the AHL also led to his NHL debut. Filling Todd Marchant’s roster spot when the veteran was ailing from a shoulder injury at the end of February, Ebbett was held pointless in the three games he appeared in, while seeing third line minutes as well as second unit power-play time.

Already 25, Ebbett’s professional career began a bit later than most due to his full four years in the NCAA. His scoring ability is undeniable at the minor league level, averaging nearly a point-per-game in both of his AHL seasons. However, he has yet to be given the chance to prove his worth at the NHL level. With the Ducks looking for answers at the second line center spot, Ebbett has a great chance to make the most of the opportunity, but first, he needs a new contract.