The Anaheim Ducks have made some dramatic changes to their pool of prospects over the recent years. Most of the team’s top-end talent has graduated and now the prospect pool has been restocked with a different breed of Ducks player.
This marks the first full season where the Ducks AHL and ECHL team will be filled entirely with prospects from the Brian Burke regime. The affiliates moved from Portland, Maine to Des Moines, Iowa and from Augusta, Georgia to Bakersfield, California. Both moves were made to be closer to Anaheim.
We caught up with Ducks General Manager Brian Burke who discussed the biggest difference between past Duck prospects and the current version.
“Yes, well, we had a small, skilled team in Portland the last three years and we had success there but it wasn’t our team, it wasn’t our kind of team,” said Burke. “The Chops, this edition, is much bigger and more aggressive so much more like our team.”
But don’t mistake a bigger, more aggressive system of prospects for a lack of skill. Those who fill the Ducks prospect pool now have the size, skill and aggressive nature that will make them fit more seamlessly if the main club has the need this season or in future seasons.
While Burke and his team have managed to weed out and trade players and prospects who don’t fit the system, they also restocked their talent and farm system this past offseason.
“Most of the work we did this summer was adding draft picks we had [four] picks in the top 42 picks I think.”
The Ducks had a total of 10 picks in the 2008 draft and the prospects that the Ducks added look promising.
“We’ve got two kids that we think will play for the Canadian national junior team in the World Juniors in Eric O’dell and Nicolas Deschamps," Burke said. "They’re both extremely hard working, versatile players very high hockey IQs. And then Josh Brittain was a kid we took who was a career defenseman, he’s 6’5, who came to camp with about five and half percent body fat which for a kid who weighs 215 pounds that’s almost impossible and he’s off to a good start. He’s not on a very good team but he’s scored like 25 goals the second half of the year last year the first time ever playing forward they moved him from defense so we think there’s some numbers there and some quality.”
While these picks may be two years away from donning a Ducks uniform, one thing is clear. Don’t expect Burke or his team to rush any prospects at any level.
“I worry about some of these kids," he said. "The number of drafts from ’08 that are playing in the league I’m not sure how many of them are ready. I think Drew Doughty (LA) is clearly ready and he’s playing extremely well, Luke Schenn (TOR) appears to be fitting in but some of the other guys — [Steve] Stamkos you knew was gonna be there — but some of these other kids appear to be finding their way still so I think you’ve got to be careful rushing especially defensemen. If you rush them, sometimes you can ruin them so I’m not sure it’s wise to have as many guys in the NHL right out of their draft year as you do this year.”
But in addition to adding draft picks to the talent pool, Burke and his team were also very smart to add some journeyman type prospects. David LeNeveu, Brennan Evans and Josh Green have all spent a few years in the AHL and have bounced between the AHL and NHL. They will add leadership, depth and a some competition for other prospects giving the Ducks system a very balanced and deep appearance.
Obviously the biggest names and top-ranked prospect in the Ducks system remains Bobby Ryan. The first-round draft pick was sent to Iowa partially due to salary cap restrictions and asked by the Ducks brass to play well. The Cherry Hill, New Jersey native has responded well to this challenge, leading the team in scoring and ranking fifth in the AHL in points scored with six goals and 11 points through nine games.
Behind Ryan, the Chops have five players within two points of each other including Andrew Ebbett, the team’s top scorer last season. Ebbett is a smaller player by the Ducks standards. At 5’9 and 174 pounds, the centerman more closely fits the smaller, speedy player mold but he provides depth and was one of the Ducks final cuts before the start of camp.
Drew Miller is another player who has seen time with the Ducks. At 6’2 and 175, Miller has the size, but will need to bulk up a bit more if he hopes to make it to the NHL level. Thus far, Miller may be the most versatile of the Ducks prospects in Iowa. He plays on both the power play and the penalty kill and has been effective in both situations. In fact, Miller has the team’s lone short-handed goal and is second on the team in power-play goals with two. Behind Ryan, Miller is perhaps the most promising.
Joakim Lindstrom is one of the few European-born players playing in the Ducks system. Lindstrom spent time in the NHL, playing in 25 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Thus far, the Swede has been fairly successful, scoring seven points in nine games in the AHL. Last season, Lindstrom scored 60 points in 49 games so he can be relied upon to put points up on the board and thus far looks as though he’s fitting in nicely with the Chops.
The challenge for all of these forwards, aside from perhaps Ryan, is to prove that they are anything more than just depth players.
Perhaps the position the Ducks are deepest at is at the blueline. Just as their NHL club has one of the best defenses in the league, their system looks very promising with defensemen like Brendan Mikkelson, Brian Salcido and Brett Festerling rising up through the ranks.
And these three defensemen are three very different types. Salcido is an offensive defenseman, Festerling is a stay-at-homer while Mikkelson is a blend of the two. Thus far this season, Festerling and Salcido are tied with three points this season in the AHL.
Burke discussed a few of the guys that stand out at this position.
“The guys Mikkelson and Festerling have come along really nicely. [Brennan] Evans has been excellent down there and of course you have [Mark] Mitera who’s unfortunately out for the year with a knee injury now at Michigan. We got him coming so I’d say our top prospect is still is Bobby Ryan then after that probably a couple defensemen.”
The position of goaltender for the Ducks is locked up with J.S. Giguere as the undisputed starter and Jonas Hiller as the backup. However, should both go down with an injury the Ducks picked up David LeNeveu. LeNeveu has NHL experience playing in 21 games with the Phoenix Coyotes. The Cornell alumnus had a promising college career and early on looked great for the Coyotes. He will be looking to bounce back and behind a solid defense can be expected to be a solid third choice for the Ducks. Thus far, LeNeveu has a record of 4-3-0-0 through seven games with a 2.41 GAA in the AHL.
Behind LeNeveu, the Chops have J.P. Levasseur who has a record of 1-1-0-0 through two games.