The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim have had a wonderful off sesaon. They have made some new acquistions, watched prospects mature and for once, they had a relatively quiet off season unlike the past which was full of contract squabbles, ego trips, coaching changes and the occassional front office swap. The only problems this year stem from the possible sale of the Ducks by Disney to the billionaires Henry, other wise known as Henry Nicholas and Henry Samueli. The Ducks dont seem to care about what happens up top, instead they are focusing on the future and getting ready for the season.
The Ducks’ training camp motto is “Take the Next Step”. Apparently the fans are ready. A capacity crowd showed up at Disney ICE when camp opened bringing plenty of energy to camp. Heres a look at those trying to take the next step and make the big club and those who are on the verge of being there this time around. And a note for those wondering the “borderline” monikers, etc, it is only meant as their chances of making the team out of camp this year, not in the future or their future as an NHLer.
Niclas Havelid, D
So Havelid wasnt the biggest name in the 1999 entry draft but he may be one of the few to take the step to the NHL level already. The catch is he is a 26 year old veteran of the Swedish Elite League. The Ducks liked Havelid so much they were ready to pick him in 1998 but decided to hold off and see how he performed in 1998-99. He put up strong numbers and immediately after he was drafted, Ducks GM Pierre Gauthier announced they had an NHLer now and not later.
He has shown teriffic speed and skill and fits in very nicely with the new Ducks system. He is slightly small at 5’11, 198 and has had some trouble adjusting to the ice surface but theres no reason to believe he cant have more nights like an exhibtion performance against San Jose, where he was the club’s best defenseman.
Mike Leclerc, RW
Leclerc has been trying to crack the lineup for the last few seasons and it appears he has finally done it for good. Coach Hartsburg is a big fan of his and it would be a real shock if he doesnt make the opening the night roster. Playing on a line with Antti Aalto and Jeff Nielsen, he has shown plenty of intensity which complements Nielsen perfectly. He also plays a very physical style. If he starts putting the puck in the net more, he will definitely stick with the Ducks for years to come.
Vitaly Vishnevski, D
He was definitely the most hyped up prospect at camp and has lived up to his expectations for the most part. He had an awesome exhibiton game against the Avalanche that even had Colorado in awe when talking to the media about it. The physical play in that game is still talked about today. Unfortunately, there is no exact number of hits in that game but, it would almost be a guarantee that he led in that category that night. Teemu Selanne also has come up bragging on the feisty youngster. Even with all this bragging, Vishnevski is headed to Cincy. Theres little room on the Ducks roster for him to play regularly and Gauthier and Coach Craig Hartsburg want to bring him along very slowly and have him progress through the ranks. His saving grace might be injuries to Kevin Haller and Pascal Trepanier. While Trepanier is supposedly near 100 percent, the jury is still out on Haller. Vishnevski might be the guy to take his spot on the opening night roster.
Bob Wren, C/RW
For the first time, the Ducks are actually giving this pesky scorer a long look. Wren has impressed Hartsburg with his good work ethic and he knows Wren has skills, as proven by the numbers he has put up in Cincy. However, it doesnt look good for Wren. This lineup is hard to crack especially when you consider the depth at center. Had this been last year, Wren may have made the team. When injuries arise, the Ducks just might call on him.
Maxim Balmochnykh, LW
The other of the hyped up prospects has also had a great camp. His wonderful skating abilites and free flowing style of play was immediately noticed by the club and the fans. However, he is stuck with a deep roster to crack this year, and like Vishnevski, the Ducks are moving him up slowly through the ranks and want Maxim to to adjust to a more physical style of play. Should a top Duck get hurt, he will likely get the call but for now, he will spend time with the baby Ducks in Cincy.
PACKING THEIR BAGS
Tom Askey, G
The Ducks gave Askey the opportunity to beat Dominic Roussel for the backup goaltending duties but it appears it will be Dom’s once again. Askey has had a good camp but the team likes Roussel and would like to give Askey continual depvelopment. The best way for him to develop is to be the number one guy in Cincy.
Dan Trebil, D
All Duck fans remember the outstanding play by Trebil in 1996-97 when he burst onto the scene and became the number four defenseman but injuries have hampered his development and it just hasnt been the same guy since that rookie year. The Ducks love his big size but he cant make up for his lost speed. He is a slow skater and that just does not fit in with the Ducks’ defense anymore. However, when a Duck d-man goes down, Trebil is the guy to call. He has been the best defenseman in Cincy the last few years and if he would gain some speed, he could be a Duck regular again. Depending on the severity of the injuries to Haller and Trepanier, Trebil will again spend the balance of the year in Cincy.
Peter LeBoutillier, RW
LeBoutillier is still up with the club which is quite a shock when it is considered Jeremy Stevenson is the better of the power forward/enforcer prospects. If Peter can overcome injuries and show some flash with more than his fists, he has a good chance of making the club in the future. Stu Grimson’s contract is up soon and LeBoutillier just might be the guy to take his place.
FINDING A PLACE IN CINCINNATI
Frank Banham, RW
When the name Frank Banham comes up, sniper is usually close behind it. That isnt enough to please Craig Hartsburg. Even though Frankie showed he could score in the NHL by having a strong rookie season, Hartsburg preached to Banham at camp last year to work on defense. If he did, it didnt show up as he spent all of last year at Cincy. It looks like he will again this year. Once again at camp, Banham showed offensive skills but his defensive play was awful. Unless Hartsburg decides to let Banham loose and let him go out all offense, the chances of Banham having a real future is cloudy. Hartsburg wants to see defense out of Banham but Frankie seems less willing to go that route.
Torrey DiRoberto, C
Awesome. Thats one word to describe DiRoberto’s camp with the Ducks. His performance got him outstanding remarks by the coaching staff and fans alike. The former Buffalo draft pick seems to have stuck with the Ducks and this might become one of their best acquistions of the year if camp was any indication of his future. If he can overcome his size, Torrey should be in an Anaheim sweater sometime soon.
Marc Chouinard, C
The “other guy” in the Teemu Selanne trade, Chouinard has been hampered by many injuries which has slowed down his development tremendously. His 6’5 200 pound frame is a bonus and something to work with. He appears to be a long-shot NHLer.
Scott Ferguson, D
Ferguson will be one of the top D-men in Cincy but like Trebil, lacks any sense of speed. He is very slow but does have a physical side to his game. His slow speed contradicts the Ducks’ new flashy defensive style. He may fit in on some other team in the NHL but his future with the Ducks organization is cloudy.
Joel Kwiatkowski, D
Kwiatkowski is built in the mold of Mike Crowley. Like Crowley, Joel put up big numbers in college and has some offensive flair. He has decent size and had a strong rookie year in Cincy last year, so he may have a future within the team in the NHL.
Jeremy Stevenson, RW
If Stevenson can have one year without any injuries, he may finally develop into the power forward the Ducks think he can be. He’s had several stints with the team but never sticks and will again spend the year in Cincy. His best chance to make the team may be next year.
Gregg Naumenko, G
Naumenko had a spectacular season playing in the WCHA and hopes to use that experience in the AHL this year. He is slated to backup Askey but the Ducks think he has a very bright future. They want Naumenko to see plenty of action since they think Naumenko may be the heir to Guy Hebert.
Jay Legault, RW
Legault will likely spend the year back at juniors as an overager since the Red Wings will also send prospects to Cincy as well this year. Rather than having Legault battle for ice time at Cincy, he would be better off playing on a top line with London. Legault had a decent camp and showed flashes of becoming a decent power forward. The Ducks think highly of Jay and like his future.
MISSING IN ACTION
Mike Crowley, D
Crowley isnt really missing but he has been through a war with the front office this off season. He and agent Brian Lawton apparently looked at the numbers and thought there was no room in the Ducks organization so they rejected Anaheim’s qualifying offer. Gauthier saw this as a trade ploy and has vowed not to trade Crowley under any circumstances. Meanwhile, Crowley has signed with the IHL’s Long Beach Ice Dogs. It has been an interesting couple of seasons for Crowley. He left the University of Minnesota early to go pro and became one of the Ducks’ top prospects but after making the team out of the gate last year, his lack of size and defensive liabilites showed up and he was sent back to Cincy. At Cincy, he was quickly supplanted by former defensive partner at Minnesota and good friend Dan Trebil as the top all purpose defenseman. He had very few short stints with the team afterwards and rarely played when he was with the club after the early part of the year.