After discontinuing their top minor league affiliate in Adirondack, the Detroit Red Wings recently announced a deal that will see approximately eight of their prospects placed in Cincinnati for the 1999-2000 season. The AHL’s Cincinnati Mighty Ducks are Anaheim’s top minor league affiliate. With Detroit’s new farm club not beginning play in Toledo until 2000-2001, the organization needed to find a home for their top prospects. How will the Cincinnati roster take shape this season?
Beginning in the crease, there is little room for Detroit’s top young net minders, Jason Elliott and Aren Miller. Last season’s starter, Tom Askey, is expected to return after a sparkling 1998-1999 season. Askey posted a 2.72 goals against average along with a .918 save percentage, and also saw NHL post-season minutes against Detroit when Guy Hebert was lost to injury. The backup position also appears to be set, with Gregg Naumenko recently signing a two-year pact with Anaheim. Naumenko, an undrafted free agent, was named to the WCHA first all star team and received the WCHA rookie of the year award. Detroit’s top prospect in the crease, Jason Elliott, will likely be loaned to an IHL franchise to earn a starting position. Elliott was the starter in Adirondack for much of last season, but after a spectacular first half he struggled down the stretch. Aren Miller could find himself anywhere this year – likely as a backup in the AHL or IHL, but without a strong training camp possibly the ECHL.
On the blue line, Dan Trebil, Scott Ferguson, Joel Kwiatkowski and Shane Hnidy are expected to spend the majority of the season in Cincinnati. Trebil, at 6’3″ and 215 lb., is a reliable stay-at-home defenseman who has seen time in Anaheim over the past two seasons. Ferguson is a minor league journeyman who provides steady veteran leadership in the defensive zone. Kwiatkowski enjoyed a very solid AHL rookie season in 1998-1999, notching 12 goals and 33 points in 80 games. Hnidy, a tough veteran rearguard, will round out the top four. Anaheim top prospect Vitaly Vishnevski will compete for a position in Anaheim at training camp, but the young Russian is expected to develop his pro game as a regular in Cincinnati. Maxim Kuznetsov, Detroit’s 1995 first round pick, will round out the blue line in Cincinnati. At 6’5″, 235 lb., Kuznetsov is an enormous force. However, his development stalled last season and he struggled to stay in Adirondack’s lineup.
Other potential blue liners in Cincinnati include Jesse Wallin, John Wikstrom and Niclas Havelid. Detroit has opened up several positions on their blue line for youth, and Wallin is a top contender to earn a position. However, he may still spend time in the AHL, and if that occurs, he would become one of Cincinnati’s top defenseman. Wikstrom spent last season playing in Sweden’s first division where his physical style was ineffective. Although he may begin the year in the ECHL, the Red Wings are hoping Wikstrom is able to earn a position at the AHL level. Havelid, 26, was drafted in the third round of the 1999 draft. A defensive defensemen, Havelid will likely earn a roster spot in Anaheim or be returned to Sweden. Nevertheless, there is a chance he could see some AHL time. In addition, Lloyd Shaw could see time as a depth defensman in Cincinnati.
The Cincinnati Mighty Ducks have been led offensively by Bob Wren for two consecutive seasons. Wren, who once notched 145 points in the OHL, is one of the AHL’s top centers and has been an AHL all-star for two seasons. Behind Wren down the middle will be Yuri Butsayev and Darryl Laplante. Butsayev recently signed a three-year contract with Detroit and is expected to spend several seasons at the minor league level developing his game as a two-way forward. Laplante is in his contract year with Detroit, and while he plays a solid defensive game and possesses good hockey sense, he struggled in Adirondack last season. He needs to improve his speed and separate himself from Detroit’s stable of prospective grinders. Also vying for ice time down the middle will be Marc Chouinard and Torrey DiRoberto.
On the left side, the top wingers will be Mike LeClerc and Philippe Audet. LeClerc is a classic power forward who notched 25 goals last season as one of Cincinnati’s top wingers. However, with a solid training camp, LeClerc may earn a full-time position in Anaheim this year. Audet is a sniper who led Adirondack last season with 20 goals without much support. Hopes are running high that he can improve to the 30- to 40-goal range this season in Cincinnati. Highly-touted Anaheim prospect Maxim Balmochnykh will also find a position on the left wing if he is unable to earn a spot on Anaheim’s roster. Jay Legault, a 40-goal scorer from the OHL, may also earn a position in Cincinnati. Jeremy Stevenson, a tough customer, may see spot duty as may Tony Mohagen, who sat out last season with post-concussion syndrome.
Frank Banham, a former 80-goal scorer in the WHL, will lead the way offensively on the right side. From Detroit, BJ Young is a feisty winger who can score, and he has something to prove after a sophomore slump last season. Peter Leboutillier, a tough, physical winger who racked up 189 penalty minutes and 24 points last season, should spend the majority of the season in Cincinnati. Alexandre Jacques, an undersized offensive sparkplug, will also see some time on the Mighty Ducks’ right side. Kent McDonell, 20, taken by Detroit in the 6th round of the 1999 draft, will also vie for a depth position on Cincinnati’s roster. Another potential addition from the Anaheim side is Tony Tuzzolino.
The 1999-2000 Cincinnati Mighty Ducks roster is taking shape. Although not spectacular, their depth is strong and each position is solid. After a last place 76-point finish in the Mid-Atlantic Division, the added depth from Detroit’s organization will help them climb in the standings, and potentially put together a strong playoff run. In the end, the deal between Detroit and Anaheim will benefit the development of both teams prospects.