With less than two weeks before the regular season kicks off, the Anaheim Ducks are still a few cuts away from having their regular season roster solidified. And despite the Schneider trade, the team remains over the salary cap, although just slightly.
What is certain, however, is that the NHL club looks poised to make another strong run for the Stanley Cup and their pool of talent looks reloaded as well thanks to the maneuvering of Ducks GM Brian Burke.
Now with just four games left in the preseason schedule, the Ducks will begin making cuts to the 35 players currently on the roster and the team’s regular season roster will begin taking shape.
Entering camp, the defensive trio of Brett Festerling, Brian Salcido and Brendan Mikkelson were expected to compete for a roster spot.
However, the likelihood of any of the blueliners to make the team remains doubtful due to the acquisition of veteran defenseman Ken Klee from the Atlanta Thrashers as part of the Schneider trade. Klee will most likely be the Ducks seventh defenseman and will allow the Ducks to send the trio of blueliners to Iowa where they can play big minutes in all situations.
That being said, this trio of blueliners have had a great camp and should a trade play out, they could be competing for a spot on the Anaheim bench. And according to Brian Burke, their performance hasn’t been a surprise:
“Well, those three guys were the guys that we expected to challenge. Brian Salcido had his best offensive year [last year], Brett Festerling’s more of a stay at home guy. He got up to 215 pounds. He really put on some beef in the summer and Mikkelson is probably the most well rounded of them. He’s really a blend of the two.”
And four games into the pre-season schedule, both Burke and Head Coach Randy Carlyle agreed that of the three, Festerling may be the closest to being NHL ready.
“I let our coach pick the team,” said Burke, “but so far I think Brett Festerling has been the most impressive of the three for me.”
Added Carlyle, “In the situation that we’re looking at, Festerling has really played well for us. We’re very, very happy with the progression that he’s shown from last year to this year specifically in training camp…”
And with four preseason games already in the books, Festerling and 26-year-old Brennan Evans are the only prospects left in camp at the defense position. For Festerling in particular, a player who went undrafted, the chance to compete for a roster spot has been a thrill.
“I mean it’s exciting,” said Festerling. “I feel like I have had a good camp, but I know the other guys have too. That being said they got seven old guys here so I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. There’s still a job to do so I’m going to compete every day I can.”
Despite Anaheim’s bevy of defensemen, Quesnel, BC native hasn’t allowed Anaheim’s glut of defensemen distract him from having a good camp and going after a roster spot.
“I can’t really worry about things I can’t control. I’ve just got to work hard and hope they like me and want to keep me. So I just take it day to day.”
Festerling credits his weight gain during the offseason for allowing him to compete against veterans for a roster spot.
“I knew I needed to get stronger. These guys are men and they’re a lot stronger. So you need to be able to battle with them and I think I achieved more muscle and better strength this summer.”
And despite the fact that he’s competing for a job, that doesn’t mean training camp has been without its special moments. Festerling had the opportunity to be paired with one of his childhood idols, Scott Niedermayer, in a preseason game, an experience he says he’ll remember for a long time.
“I mean you can’t really describe it. That’s something special you know. He’s a guy that I’ve looked up to since I was young. He’s one of those stars so he’s easy to play with to say the least but it was fun and I enjoyed myself.”
And while the Ducks future blueline looks stocked with rising stars, the Ducks forwards also look good. Perhaps the most highly anticipated storyline of the Ducks 2008-09 NHL season has been the coming of age of Ducks forward Bobby Ryan.
After shedding 20 pounds during the offseason and working closely with Ducks strength and conditioning coach Sean Skahan, the 2005 first-round draft pick showed up in camp ready to fight for a roster spot. According to Ducks goaltender J.S. Giguere, the difference in Ryan isn’t just in his weight loss.
“He’s more mature," Giguere said. "He’s really taken care of himself this summer. He’s prepared himself and preparation is everything in this game. You play against guys that are all prepared and ready to go so you need to be ready to go too. I think he finally understood that last year. It’s a big year for him right now. It’s his coming out year and he needs to take advantage of it. He’ll be given a chance and he needs to take charge of his career right now.”
Through three games, Ryan has scored two goals and notched three points. But while he has had an impressive camp, Ryan may fall victim to the salary cap. With the Ducks over the cap once again, the team may send Ryan down temporarily if they can’t find the right trade to move cap dollars.
“Yes, [Ryan’s] done some good things," Burke said. "He’s done some things where he looks like a 20-year-old as well. We let our coach pick the team, but if that’s the only solution and we get to the end of camp and that’s the only solution that works we’re sure gonna look at it…We’re gonna do what we have to do to win as many games as we can like we do every year. So that’s a distinct possibility, but it’s clearly not at the top of the list. We’re gonna see if there’s another way for us to skin that cat.”
Both players have had a good camp but it’s Carter who has really managed to stand out.
Through the preseason, Carter has bounced around on various lines but also spent some time playing on the Teemu Selanne – Chris Kunitz line and thus far the line has looked effective.
Carter’s play has turned heads and earned him praise from none other than the Finnish Flash himself.
“He’s a very fast skater and he has speed if he wants,” said Selanne. “He’s very strong, very good defensively. He’s a workhorse that guy, you know and he doesn’t really have a weakness and that’s what makes him special.”
Carter’s versatility and speed makes him a virtual lock to make the team out of camp.