Portland Pirates season preview

By Sandor Roberts






Portland Pirates Season Preview

Last season, as the Washington Capitals celebrated their
30th anniversary, the organization made the tough decision to unload
high-priced veteran players for prospects. Fans must accept the short-term
growing pains of this rebuilding effort, meanwhile the Portland Pirates,
courtesy of the NHL lockout, will field one of their best teams in years. Tim Army is back for his third season at the
helm, and he will helped by assistant coach Jay Leach.

 

Departed

 

Two players expected to make an impact with the Portland
Pirates this season have made the decision to play in Europe. The Washington
Capitals had assigned Alexander Semin to Portland, but Semin decided not
to report so that he could remain in his native Russia to suit up for Lada
Togliatti. As a result of violating the terms of his standard entry-level
contract, the Capitals have suspended him. Goaltender Rastislav Stana,
an unsigned restricted free agent who has spent parts of the past three seasons
in Portland, is spending this season with Södertälje of the Swedish Elite
League. Stana still figures prominently in the Capitals goaltending plans for
the future.

 

Some veteran contributors with last year’s squad will also
not be returning. Ivan Ciernik, Francois Methot, and Andrej Podkonicky will be
playing overseas this season. The trio accounted for 84 points last season.
Also, prospect Roman Tvrdon will play with the Nottingham Panthers for
the 2004-05 season.

 

Goaltenders

 

With a big assist to the NHL lockout, the Portland Pirates
will be solid between the pipes thanks to the return of Maxime Ouellet.
Ouellet is entering his fourth season in Portland, and will again shoulder a
tremendous workload. Ouellet is a big goaltender (6’2, 195) and he certainly
uses his size to his advantage, as he plays his angles well.

 

It remains to be seen who his backup will be this season. Maxime
Daigneault
, a first-year pro and highly-regarded prospect, was dispatched
to the Capitals new ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays, to increase
his ice time. The battle for backup in Portland is now between rookie Justin
Eddy and Derek Gustafson.

 

Defense

 

On the blue line, the Portland Pirates will be extremely
mobile. Led by top prospects Jakub Cutta, Steve Eminger and Shaone
Morrisonn
, the defense corps is strong. Expect to see these three players
get a lot of specialty teams time. Here they can develop their offensive
skills, make the proper reads and jump up into the play in transition from time
to time.

 

Morrisonn, who has an abundance of talent, is in a position
where he can take advantage of his time in Portland, so that when the NHL
lockout reaches its inevitable conclusion, he should be ready to step right in
and be a solid contributor in Washington. Cutta had seemed to have fallen out
of favor with the Capitals prior to last season, but his play during the second
half of last season has renewed optimism. Cutta has great speed and
elusiveness, but he has yet to show his offensive skills on a consistent basis.

 

Due to the fact that Nolan Yonkman sustained an
injury over the summer, the defensive unit will be rounded out with Jeff Paul,
Louis Robitaille and Dwayne Zinger.

 

Forwards

 

Up front, the Portland Pirates have a slew of highly-skilled
forwards, many of whom were first- and second-round draft choices. Due to Semin
not reporting, they only have one natural left wing, that being Tomas
Fleischmann
.

 

Amongst the forward ranks, the Pirates have a good mix of
veterans to augment their young prospects. Fleischmann, Jonas Johansson and
Jakub Klepis
are all first-year pros who are being looked at to provide an
offensive flair as they possess great puck-handling skills. Another prospect
who should be a big offensive contributor this season is 22-year-old Jared
Aulin
. Aulin played in only 10 games late last season for Portland. Also, Owen
Fussey
and Boyd Gordon are sparkplugs who possess solid offensive
skills and are also good forecheckers. Brooks Laich, acquired in a trade
from Ottawa, is a high-energy center who is a tough checker and is willing to
pay the price in front of the net.

 

The most experienced forward in Portland is Trent Whitfield.
Whitfield has spent a lot of time in Washington, and is being counted on to
pass along his knowledge to the younger players. Two other players who have
seen time with the Capitals are Brian Sutherby and Darcy Verot. Verot, a fan
favorite, favors an agitating style of play and is willing to mix it up with
anyone. Filling out the remainder of the roster are Graham Mink, Garret
Stroshein and Jason Ulmer.

 

Outlook

 

Thanks in large part to the realigned divisions (Portland is
one of seven teams in the Atlantic Division), plus the fact that there are so
many top-echelon prospects spending time this season in the AHL, the Pirates
will have to come out of the starting blocks strong to stay in contention.
Portland does have a young team, but they have a great equalizer with Ouellet
in net. If this team can avoid the injury bug, and they assert themselves more
on the offensive end than they did last season, there is no reason why this
team cannot make the playoffs. The Pirates will need time to gel, but by the
second half of the season, they should be a very cohesive unit and a fun team
to watch.

 

Portland just completed a 4-0 preseason, and is eagerly
anticipating their first game, which will be at home on Oct. 16th vs. the St.
John’s Maple Leafs.

 

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.