Iowa Chops 2008-09 season preview

By Tanya Lyon

It’s the first year of the Anaheim Ducks affiliation with the Iowa Chops and it reflects Anaheim’s desire to move all of their affiliates closer to the West Coast.  In the their move to Iowa, the Ducks AHL affiliate lost their coach Kevin Dineen, but have kept the coaching job in the family and hired Gord Dineen, Kevin’s brother and the team’s former assistant coach.

One can expect a successful drive as the Ducks GM Brian Burke has restocked the team’s farm system as well as infusing the team’s NHL club with talent.  The result will mean that a number of very good prospects will play in Iowa thanks to stiff competition in Anaheim for roster spots. 

Forwards

Starting the season in Iowa will be a crop of forwards highlighted by right wing Bobby Ryan. Throughout the offseason, Ryan had been penciled in by Burke to be in the Ducks top-six forwards but a salary cap situation has forced the Ducks to move Ryan to Iowa.  This will give Ryan a chance to build confidence and dominate.  Given the amount of work that Ryan has already committed to his fitness this offseason, it is widely expected that this year will be a breakout year for the Cherry Hill, New Jersey native.

Ryan lost 20 pounds during the off-season and has noticed a dramatic effect on his play on the ice.    

“It’s like night and day from last year,” said Ryan.  “I feel a little bit quicker, my acceleration’s a lot better my first couple of steps getting to the puck.  When you’re losing good weight instead of muscle it means I can still be strong on the puck and play the kind of game that I’m interested in playing.  So it’s like night and day.”

Veteran Ducks also believe that he will have a breakout year when he returns to Anaheim.

“Absolutely,” stated Teemu Selanne.  “I think he has been working so hard the whole summer and he lost 20 pounds from last year.  Some guys need a little more time to get to this level even if you’re a first round draft pick and I think that was Bobby’s case a little bit but obviously coming into this team we have such great players  it’s not so easy [to make the team].  But I have 100 percent trust in Bobby.  He’s done great things so far and I know he can do it.”

Starting Ryan in Iowa could pay big dividends for the Ducks as the move will allow the 21-year-old to play big minutes in all situations and ultimately allow him to build his confidence.  Of course Ryan will eventually be called up — how soon is the only question. 

Scoring help will come in the form of Drew Miller and Andrew Ebbett, who both had great training camps. Miller may also be ready for a breakout year.  Last season the New Jersey native matched his 2006-07 point total in less than half the games while Ebbett led the team in scoring with 72 points in 74 games. 

A few other Chops who are expected to have big seasons include forward Josh Green, Eric Boguniecki and Joakim Lindstrom.  All three players have NHL experience.  Green is a former Kings prospect who spent last season playing in Europe where he scored 57 points in 58 games.  At 6’3 and 215 pounds, Green has good size, but at 30 years of age the journeyman will also be battling time and younger prospects for a chance to be called up to Anaheim. 

Like Green, Boguniecki also spent part of last season playing in Europe.  The 5’8, 195 pound center played in Germany scoring 18 points in 16 games. 

This will be Lindstrom’s fifth AHL season and at just 24 years old he looks to be the most promising of the three.  The 6’, 187-pound Swede scored 60 points in 49 games at the AHL level and may be looking to have a breakout year of his own. 

Defensemen

Defense should be a strong point for the Chops thanks to stiff competition for roster spots at the club’s NHL level.  The Chops will have Brett Festerling who the Ducks referred to as the surprise of training camp.  Festerling narrowly lost a roster spot in the last few days of training camp and was sent down to Iowa to play big minutes in all situations. 

Festerling will have help from Brian Salcido, Brennan Evans and Brendan Mikkelson

All four of these defensemen were expected to compete for Anaheim’s sixth and seventh spot on defense but were sent down for additional seasoning.  Expect all four of these defensemen to play big minutes in all situations.

Salcido had his best offensive year last season, scoring 11 goals and 53 points in just 71 games.  Salcido can be expected to continue to contribute offensively as will Mikkelson.  Mikkelson scored 16 points last season, a slight drop off from his last season in the WHL.  Expect Mikkelson’s production to increase as he adjusts to the AHL.  The Ducks see Mikkelson as a blend between Festerling and Salcido, a stay-at-home defenseman who can contribute offensively.

A newcomer to the Ducks organization will be Brennan Evans.  Evans has spent five seasons in the AHL and will be the undisputed heavyweight on the blueline – ready to drop the gloves and deliver justice on the ice. 
 

Goaltenders

In the net, the battle looks to be between David Leneveu, a promising goaltender formerly from the Coyotes organization and JP Levasseur, who spent last year with ECHL Augusta.

At just 25 years old, Leneveu is a veteran of five AHL seasons and has had his fair share of NHL experience as well.  Last season, he had a combined record of 17-10-5 between Hartford and San Antonio.  Leneveu was a former stand out goaltender at Cornell University.  He led Cornell to the frozen four and had a record of 28-3-1 in his last season there.  While leneveu has shown that he has what it takes to make it to the NHL, he has never played for strong organizations.  That being said, the 2002 second-round draft pick will greatly benefit from playing in an organization that has a balanced amount of talented prospects and proven journeymen.