The Anaheim Ducks are the only NHL team this season that does not have its own AHL affiliate. Anaheim broke ties with last year’s affiliate, the Iowa Chops, who were later involuntarily suspended for the season by the AHL for violating league by-laws. Without an affiliate of their own, Anaheim has spread their players out over three different AHL teams — San Antonio, Manitoba, and Toronto — and to their ECHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, who are just two hours from Anaheim.
The majority of Anaheim’s players were sent to the San Antonio Rampage, the Phoenix Coyotes‘ AHL affiliate. The Rampage then sent some of those players down to Bakersfield, where Anaheim will be able to recall them directly if needed.
The most promising Duck prospect starting the season in San Antonio is Matt Beleskey. On a team that finished near the bottom of the league in scoring last year, Beleskey has the opportunity to earn himself a regular spot on a scoring line, and even some power-play time. His physical, offensive style is an element that isn’t seen as much among the players that Phoenix has sent to San Antonio.
Joining him are Troy Bodie, Dan Sexton, and Ryan Donally. Bodie saw four NHL games last year and earned himself a long look in Anaheim before they eventually sent him down. Bodie is a big body who will likely end up in a crash and bang role on San Antonio’s bottom two lines. Sexton, signed this offseason after a breakout season with Bowling Green, is a rare rookie on a relatively seasoned Rampage lineup, and will need a quick start to the year to earn some ice time. Donally is another big body who will also enforce, having racked up 159 penalty minutes last season.
Maxime Macenauer, Shawn Weller, and MacGregor Sharp were assigned to San Antonio, but were reassigned to Bakersfield. They’re joined by Logan MacMillan and Bobby Bolt, who were sent down directly by Anaheim. Bolt and Weller have some pro experience already, but the other three are all starting their rookie seasons. All three are certainly players who would start in the AHL if Anaheim had their own affiliate, but it could be beneficial for them to play bigger minutes in the ECHL right out of the gate. Anaheim also sent swingman enforcer Matt McCue to Vancouver’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.
Former 2006 first-round pick Mark Mitera, coming off an ACL injury that kept him out for most of his senior season at Michigan, has finally turned pro and is starting the season in San Antonio. The Rampage have a very seasoned and talented blueline to start the season, so Mitera may not play a prominent role to start the season. He’s joined by Brett Festerling, who played 40 NHL games last season and could eat up a lot of minutes while some of the younger players cut their teeth.she
Anaheim will also have two players suiting up for the Toronto Marlies in Brendan Mikkelson and Brennan Evans. Like Festerling, Mikkelson played more in the NHL than the AHL last season, so he should have an opportunity to seize a lot of minutes in all kind of situations for the Marlies. Mikkelson was a late cut at camp though, so he certainly looks like the front runner to be the first call-up to Anaheim should they run into injuries.
Anaheim also has three defensemen starting the season in the ECHL, all entering their second professional seasons. Stu Bickel was assigned to San Antonio before being sent to Bakersfield. John de Gray and Eric Regan both fit into the physical, stay-at-home mold. All three still need time to develop, so this will be a crucial season. They’ll all be given much bigger roles than they had in the AHL, and will be fighting for potential AHL call-ups all season long.
The area that hurts Anaheim most in not having an AHL team is goaltending. Anaheim has three in the professional ranks. The organization is looking for any one prospect to rise above the rest, however, a year with scarce playing time could hurt the development of some of these netminders.
Acquired from Toronto this offseason, Justin Pogge was sent to San Antonio, but they had no room for him with Al Montoya and Josh Tordjman, so he’s now in Bakersfield. Pogge has several seasons of AHL experience under his belt already, and could be moved around by Anaheim to try to find a spot in the AHL.
Anaheim also has rookie Timo Pielmeier and Jean-Philippe Levasseur in Bakersfield. Pielmeier is coming off two strong seasons in the QMJHL and Levasseur started about half of Iowa’s games last season. Right now three’s a crowd in Bakersfield, but the result should give Bakersfield one of the best goaltending tandems in the league.