Just one year removed from bringing the west its their very first taste of the Stanley Cup, the Anaheim Ducks have much of the core group that won the right to hoist Lord Stanley. However, after being knocked out of the first round of the playoffs during their Cup defense, the Ducks do have a bit of work ahead of them but as both General Manager Brian Burke and Head Coach Randy Carlyle will attest, a complete rebuild is not necessary.
The top six heading into camp seems all but set with the following pairings: Pronger-O’Donnell, Niedermayer-Beauchemin, and Huskins-Montador. This takes into account that Schneider has been placed on waivers and will be claimed or traded. Schneider was arguably the Ducks most reliable defenseman last season, but is expendable thanks to Scott Niedermayer’s return.
Steve Montador is a speedy defenseman with good size at 6’ and 205 pounds. He’ll add some mobility to the blueline as Anaheim is a team that likes to be both tough as well as pinch.
Two rookies that may compete for a spot at camp are Brendan Mikkelson and Brian Salcido. Both possess good size with Mikkelson coming in at 6’2, 202 pounds and Salcido at 6’1, 196 pounds. Both are left handed shots.
Mikkelson emerged from just his first season in the AHL with 6 goals and 16 points in 66 games, but it was in the post season that the blueliner really stepped up. The Regina, Saskatchewan native notched 8 points in 14 games and helped the Pirates to a deep playoff run. With just one year of professional hockey under his belt, it’s likely that Mikkelson will be called up quite a bit but may need more seasoning. It does appear as though he has adjusted to the AHL and is beginning to excel.
But as far as offensively gifted defensemen go, Salcido may be the man. In his second year of professional hockey, Salcido was the Pirates second highest scorer and top scoring defenseman with 11 goals and 53 points in 71 games. His 53 points nearly doubled his total from the previous season when he scored 27 points in 76 games. While Salcido was effective during the regular season, he was less so during the post season assisting on just 6 goals in 18 games.
In terms of offense, the Ducks will be greatly boosted with the return of Teemu Selanne for a full season as well as Brendan Morrison, who is coming off of a sub-par season. Morrison who has previously been an NHL Ironman had a injury-plagued season last year. If he can stay healthy, he may be a force.
While Selanne and Morrison are great talents, all eyes will be on 21-year-old rookie Bobby Ryan this season. Ryan is expected to make the Ducks opening day roster. The Cherry Hill, New Jersey native has spent the offseason working closely with Ducks strength and conditioning coach Sean Skahan. Under Skahan’s watchful eye, Ryan has lost in his own estimation between 20 and 25 pounds of body fat and will enter camp in the best shape of his life.
In addition to being in tip top shape, the Ducks will benefit from the added experience Ryan gained in the AHL playoffs. Ryan was a force for the Pirates scoring 20 points in 16 games. He was the Pirates leading scorer in the playoffs. Ryan has also been participating in the Ducks unofficial practices at Anaheim Ice throughout September, giving him a chance to get acclimated to his NHL teammates. The Ducks have invested their time and Ryan has responded, so this will be a great chance to see what he can do.
Another player who will have a strong chance of making the team is Ducks center Ryan Carter. Carter impressed Carlyle last season by being a great utility player earning time filling in on the third line while Sami Pahlsson recovered from injury. He gradually improved as a faceoff man and moved up to play on the Selanne-Kunitz line before injuring his wrist in a freak accident on the ice. Carter is sure to enter camp with increased confidence and could earn a spot especially if the Ducks deal away Todd Marchant.
The Ducks will continue with Jean-Sebastian Giguere in net as their starter while Jonas Hiller will likely get a few more starts.