Ducks look to their youth late in season

By Kevin Forbes

With playoff hopes growing dimmer, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks are looking
to their young players and prospects in an attempt to find something that
works. This season so far has seen the NHL debut of six players and
plenty of callups of Cincinnati players to the big leagues.

Defense has seen a great turnover. Sandis Ozolinsh’s long-term injury, followed by Todd Simpson’s trade to Ottawa have lead to openings on the blueline.
Currently, Lance Ward and Chris Armstrong are battling over the sixth roster spot,
however 21-year-old Mark Popovic could be called up for another look before
the season is done with. Popovic has already played one game in Anaheim in early
January, with no points scored. Twenty-five-year-old Mark Mottau is another Baby Ducks blueliner who could see some time, however he just returned from injury.

Last year’s rookie sensation Stanislav Chistov was banished to the
minors after only scoring one goal in his first 46 NHL games this year. Rookie Chris Kunitz took Chistov’s place in the Anaheim lineup after his stint in Cincinnati saw
him rocket to the top of the AHL rookie scoring race. Newly acquired Petr
Schastlivy has bumped Kunitz down to the fourth line, but it looks like
he still may stick in Anaheim for a while. Kunitz represented Cincinnati,
playing for the Canadian All-Stars at the AHL All-Star Classic. He had
a goal and an assist in the game as the Canadian All-Stars beat the PlanetUSA All-Stars 9-5.

Wingers Mikael Holmqvist and Joffrey Lupul are two rookies who started the
season in Anaheim, have seen time in Cincinnati and are now both back in Anaheim
again. Holmqvist is currently out with injury, while Lupul represented
Anaheim at the YoungStars game during the NHL’s All-Star Weekend.

Back in Cincy, both center Tony Martensson and left wing Alexei Smirnov are young players who have NHL experience and could see more time in Anaheim in
the coming months. Twenty-three-year-old Martensson was originally chosen to play for the PlanetUSA All-Stars in the AHL All-Star Classic, but had to miss the event due to
injury. Smirnov missed 13 games in December and January due to a
shoulder injury. Meanwhile, 20-year-old right wing Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau has been hot for Cincinnati with 14 of his 24 points this season coming in the last 16

Earlier this season, it looked like Ilya Bryzgalov would force Anaheim
to make a move as the Russian netminder was one of the top goalies in the
AHL. But Bryzgalov’s inconsistency reappeared however and he returned back to
earth, but he has since rebounded and has a .961 save percentage in the month
of February. Bryzgalov just recently recorded his 50th career AHL victory
in 3-2 victory over the Chicago Wolves.

While Anaheim hasn’t completely thrown in the towel yet, they are taking the time to callup and look at what they have in the system. Any NHL experience they give to their prospects will no doubt benefit them in the long run.

Another situation worth looking at is which CHL prospects could be playing
in the AHL after their season is over. Last season, defenseman Brian Lee played nine games on the Cincinnati blueline after his Erie Otters failed to
qualify for the OHL playoffs. Erie may be in a similar situation this year as well.
Lee is having a career year with 35 points in 55 games this season. All the
other CHL prospects are on teams that look poised to be competing in
the playoffs this spring.

Another key situation worth watching for the Ducks isn’t one on the ice, but in the
boardrooms. Cable giant Comcast Corporation is trying to buy the Walt Disney Company. Comcast owns the Philadelphia Flyers and Disney, of course, owns the
Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Under the NHL’s ownership rules, one of the teams would
have to be sold if the Comcast acquisition of Disney is successful. With financial security questionable in today’s NHL and the CBA expiration looming overhead, a potential buyer for the Ducks could be hard to find.