The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are off to one of their best starts of their young history. The same can be said for their AHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks. The baby Ducks have been helped thanks to depth and their new partial affiliation with the Detroit Red Wings.
The addition of the Wings has turned around the AHL team and has certainly helped the baby Duck players. They are now getting a chance to play with more skilled players. A welcomed change for a team that has never had much depth in their AHL system.
With the first quarter of the season already done, its time to get out the report cards and start grading.
Vitaly Vishnevski – Defense; Grade: B+ (Cincy)
Vitaly has been pretty good in his first AHL season. Nothing real fancy, and he has been doing some good work. A disappointment has been in the offensive department. Although he is not considered an offensive player, he should be contributing more. Fortunately, he is improving at that making him a much more solid player. He has racked up 35 penalty minutes in 17 games and had a tremendous pre-season delivering his trademark big checks. Vitaly will have to be more offensive when he joins the high flying NHL Ducks.
Niclas Havelid – Defense; Grade: A- (Anaheim)
Niclas continues to learn the North American style of play and just keeps getting better. He’s starting to play more physical which is welcomed on a defense that sometimes lacks in the department of pushing players around. Coach Craig Hartsburg has added him to the second power play unit and has been happy with his play. Overall, a nice effort and he should get better as the year goes along. With just a little more improvement, he gets an A.
Mike Leclerc – Left Wing; Grade: A (Anaheim)
Mike started off the year very hot, forming a great line with Antti Aalto and Ladislav Kohn. His year then came to a screeching halt after getting an infected elbow which put him out of action for several weeks. Only now, is he regaining his form. He has proved he can be an offensive force, scoring five goals to this point but he continues to be very physical and pesky as well. He has added tons of energy to the team and has become a favorite of Hartsburg’s.
Tom Askey – Goalie; Grade: B- (Kansas City)
For the second straight year, the Ducks sent a goalie to Kansas City of the IHL. Last year, Patrick Lalime played very well for them there and they were hoping for the same from Askey this year. Unfortunately, it has been a struggle as he played behind a weak KC Blades team. His stats dropped , but not all a fault of his own doing. The Blades, looking for help picked up Tyler Moss from Calgary which has relegated Askey to battle for second string honors with Bruce Racine. A tough break for Askey who had a very good NHL camp. The Ducks may want to find a new home for Askey so he can get more ice time and fave the veteran shots they so badly wanted him to face.
Antti Aalto – Center; Grade: A+ (Anaheim)
Ok, so Aalto doesnt belong in this list. He’s now on his second NHL season but he deserves some notice. The young Finn has been everything the Ducks had hoped for. Hartsburg took some sharp criticism last year when Aalto was only used on the fourth line. The critics can stop chirping because it is now paying off as Aalto has developed into an aggressive checking center who can chip in some goals. He has already scored three goals, equaling last year’s total. Hartsburg is now using him on the penalty kill as well, looking for a solution for the awful special teams.
Joel Kwiatkowski – Defense; Grade: B (Cincy)
The young defenseman has taken over Mike Crowley’s spot in Cincy very well. He’s playing well offensively but is not a defensive liability. In the last several games, he has picked up some points on the power play, quarterbacking it with Dan Trebil.
Jeremy Stevenson – Left Wing; Grade: B (Cincy/Anaheim)
Stevenson got the call to Anaheim for the first time in two years after Jim McKenzie went down with a hand injury. He got to play two games and fought with Jason Wiemer hoping to impress the Anaheim brass. So far, Stevenson is off to a decent start in Cincy, with seven points in 14 games. The hope is that Stevenson may develop into that power forward the Ducks always thought he could be. Comparing him to another Duck, just call him the poor man’s Mike Leclerc.
Frank Banham – Right Wing; Grade: D+ (Cincy)
As one of the professors at Mighty Ducks University, Frankie should know all about grades. Now, if only he could figure out how to raise them. Banham was off to a horrific start but fortunately, he is starting to pick it up. He is still having problems making the most out of his chances. There are several games where he has missed great opportunities. In the past six games, he has four points. He still needs to do some work on his defensive play but for those who love the plus/minus stat, he is a +4, one of the tops for the Ducks.
Jordan Leopold – Defense; Grade: B+ (University of Minnesota)
The Golden Gopher defenseman is in his sophomore year and is off to a good start. In 10 games, he has four points but the Ducks dont expect him to go pro early like Mike Crowley did. He has great hockey sense and his great skating ability fits in perfectly with Ducks’ defensive style.
Maxim Rybin – Right Wing; Grade: C+ (Sarnia)
Rybin is playing in his first North American season with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL. A very small player, he has great skills but most have questioned him as non NHL caliber due to his size. He is listed as 5-6 at 160 pounds. But you cant deny he has the skills. With some more development and hopefully, a growth spurt, Rybin may get a shot. In 17 games, he has seven points.
Lloyd Shaw – Defense/Right Wing; Grade: C (Cincy)
Shaw is the working man’s AHLer. A strong role player, he fits in well in the AHL but it would be a stretch to consider him NHL material at this point. In 13 games, he has no points but he does have 46 PIM’s which is his main role. Mainly a mucker and grinder, it would be nice to see him put a few points on the board once in awhile. He is a good leader on and off the ice and plays both defense and the wing.
Chad Wagner – RIght Wing; Grade: Incomplete (Cincy)
Wagner has made a name for himself in the WCHL as a checker and fighter but he is yet to step on the ice as a Mighty Duck. After winning a job in the AHL training camp, work visa problems have left him stranded in his hometown of Calgary. Once he does get on the ice, you pretty much know what to expect; fights. That will be his job and thats the most you can expect out of Wagner although he also has a reputation as a big time hitter.
Look for Part 2 coming soon.