Top 10 Prospects
1. Bobby Ryan, RW
2. Mark Mitera, D
3. Logan MacMillan, LW
4. Jean-Philippe Levasseur, G
5. Eric Tangradi, C
6. Brendan Mikkelson, D
7. Brian Salcido, D
8. Matt Beleskey, LW
9. John deGray, D
10. Ryan Carter, C
A year removed from their Stanley Cup Championship, there should be no surprise that the Ducks continue to have the majority of their core intact. However, everything isn’t sunny in California, with some glaring weaknesses exposing themselves over the course of the 2007-08 season. If there is one outstanding need in the organization, it is that of clarity, with questions abounding about the team’s future, due to both salary cap concerns and the indecisive nature of some key players.
First and foremost is the problem of secondary scoring. Anaheim was forced to deal forward Andy McDonald to make financial room for the return of Scott Niedermayer and they also had to absorb the blow of going half a season without their former leading scorer, Teemu Selanne. Doug Weight, the player the Ducks received in return for McDonald, could not fill the void and the 16-year veteran was relegated to spot duty, even spending a few games in the press box as a healthy scratch. Weight isn’t expected to return and the fate of Selanne is up in the air, again, forcing the Ducks to look once again for scoring solutions behind the top duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Anaheim will welcome back Chris Kunitz, Todd Bertuzzi and Bobby Ryan who should be able to fill out the top line as well as slot into the wing positions on any projected second line. Both Bertuzzi and Ryan will be looking to improve on last year’s results, but for different reasons. Todd Bertuzzi, a free agent signing last summer, is still trying to recapture his game after a pair of trying seasons. He struggled with a concussion early in the 2007-08 season and showed just flashes of his dominant power forward game, but the burly winger is entering a contract year and will need to step it up. , on the other hand, is a player on the rise. Seeing time in 23 NHL games, he could be a Calder Trophy contender in 2008-09 if he can build on his impressive AHL playoff performance that saw him lead the Portland Pirates to the AHL Conference finals.
The real question mark for Anaheim resides in the second line center spot. With the Ducks potentially scraping the cap ceiling once again, they may have to fill the position from internal candidates. Ryan Carter saw some time in the role prior to a stretch run injury, but questions remain if he can carry the load offensively. Andrew Ebbett has spent the past two seasons scoring up a storm in the AHL, however, he hasn’t been given the chance to fill an offensive role at the NHL level and there are concerns that his game may not be able to make the jump. Geoff Platt has also been a dependable producer in the minors, but during NHL auditions has yet to see the same results on the larger stage. The Ducks may require clearing some salary elsewhere in order to go outside the organization to address this need. And then, of course, there’s also the chance that Selanne will want to play another year.
Similar questions exist on the blue line. Like Selanne up front, Scott Niedermayer did not play the first half of the season and his absence and return threw the team into disarray. Prior to the aforementioned McDonald trade to accommodate Niedermayer’s return, Anaheim chose to sign Mathieu Schneider during the 2007 off-season to cushion the blow if their captain decided to retire. Should Niedermayer decide to play out the rest of his contract 2008-09, the Ducks will have over $20 million invested in their top six blueliners, including three defensemen making over $5.5 million each. More troublesome could be the fact that only one of those six defenders has a contract past the 2008-09 season, with the rest due to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2009. Behind the top six, there is a glaring lack of depth, especially if the Ducks choose to not bring Joe DiPenta back, couple with the off-season trade of Marc-Andre Bergeron to the Minnesota Wild. Out of the prospect core, only Brian Salcido appears to be close to the NHL, although the high-scoring AHL star has yet to see a minute of action with the Ducks. Mark Mitera, Anaheim’s first-round pick in 2006 will return to the University of Michigan to complete his senior year.
With the questions both up front and on the back end seriously affecting the team’s bottom line, Anaheim specifically needs answers on the fate of Scott Niedermayer. Should the captain decide to return, the Ducks will need to clear salary in order to sign restricted free agent Corey Perry and perhaps to address the hole in the second line. If Niedermayer decides to hang up his skates, then the Ducks have a large hole on the blue line and will need to improve their defensive depth in addition to the pivot position up front.
Despite the fact that the Ducks dedication for present-day success has resulted in the graduation or otherwise disappearance of a number of their top prospects from the past years, Anaheim continues to have some strong depth throughout their organization. More importantly, that depth has been able to pick up the slack when called upon. Four rookies saw their first taste of NHL action in 2007-08, while six freshmen made their big-league debut in 2006-07. In each case, the player performed well in a limited role, which, if not a good sign for future contributions, at least indicates that adequate backup options exist within the organization.
Despite the modest contributions of the organization’s depth players when called upon, questions remain whether any of them can make the next logical step development-wise and ever compete for a full-time spot. As the flip-flopping of players like Niedermayer and Selanne indicates, the team has to be able to absorb the losses of some of their veterans and currently, after Bobby Ryan, there aren’t top-flight solutions within the club, resorting to the team competing for free agents on the open market. With the team made up of a medley of young talent and veteran stars, the Ducks have to balance keeping their own players with filling holes that open up as the older player leave the organization. Due to the constraints of the new salary cap world, Anaheim needs to find a way to continue to produce and keep NHL quality talent through the draft, especially after the first round.
After waving goodbye to their own first-round pick to Edmonton as payment for Chris Pronger and their 2007 Stanley Cup, the Ducks welcome Edmonton’s own first-round pick, due to the Dustin Penner offer sheet signing. As a result, Anaheim "moves up" ten spots in the draft with their first selection.
Anaheim’s approach to the draft over the past six years, first under Bryan Murray and now guided by Brian Burke, is fully reflected in the makeup of their NHL squad. A typical Ducks draft pick is selected just as much due to character as he is on ability with a premium placed on two-way play, be they a forward or a defenseman, as well as the grit and tenacious attitude to make the opposition fight and pay for every inch of the ice.
Anaheim has shown a notable preference for North American players, with just three Europeans on their NHL roster. That is reflected in their drafting as well, with the Ducks averaging just a single pick each year from Europe over the past few drafts.
As has always been the case, Burke has once again publicly stated that he would be looking to either move up or down in the draft, depending on if he could find a deal that helps the team.
Myers epitomizes the ideals of a Ducks prospect: he’s a big, strong-skating, hard-nosed blue liner who is generally considered to be part of the top tier of defensive prospects in the 2008 draft. With the long-term future of the Ducks blue line in question, Anaheim cannot resist the potential of this Alberta native.