Mighty Ducks AHL prospects update

By Gregory Maker

Out of the 25 players on the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks who have played in 15 or more games, 18 of them are prospects with the parent, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim system. The season in Cincinnati started pitifully, with the Mighty Ducks had only 24 points in their first 30 games. They had a seven-game losing streak from Nov. 3 to Nov. 18, winning only two games in the entire month. That has all changed in the last 30 games, when they have gone 20-8-1-1, gaining 42 points in the standings, which is good enough for third in the West Division, and sixth in the Western Conference. The team has come together well and with winning records against the two teams ahead of them in their division; the Mighty Ducks are in striking distance to passing Chicago for second place. Here’s a look at how Anaheim’s prospects have played with Cincinnati.

Defensemen

Mark Popovic – In his third season in Cincinnati, the 6’1, 212-pound blueliner has remained consistent. Through 56 games this season, Popovic has surpassed last season’s assist total of 10 with 12 helpers so far this year. He has a total of 13 points, one shy of 14 in 74 games a year ago. With more depth on the Cincinnati blue line this year, Popovic has been able to take a more defensive role. He is a smart player, serving only 39 penalty minutes this season, while leading the Mighty Ducks with a +7 rating. The former second round draft pick (35th overall in 2001) has helped Cincinnati’s penalty kill rise to the top half of the league. Popovic, who played one game for Anaheim last year, should have a good chance to crack Anaheim’s defense when operations resume.

Shane O’Brien – The second year pro has five goals and 21 points so far this year, more than doubling last season’s output. The 21-year-old has proven to be durable, playing in all 61 games this season. At 6’2, 235 pounds, the Port Hope, Ontario native is not afraid to stand up for himself and his teammates and he leads the Mighty Ducks with 233 penalty minutes, second among AHL defensemen. He has two power play goals this season on a team that leads the AHL in chances, but ranks in the middle of the league in actual conversions. Originally an eighth round selection in 2003 by Anaheim, O’Brien will need more time in the minors.

Aaron Rome – The 21-year-old rookie has also played all 61 games this season, recording 13 points including 12 assists. Tough and gritty, Rome has received 119 penalty minutes. He’s also a good skater and handles the puck well, but is not much of an offensive presence. Rome is currently -3, but he is improving his defensive ability. His future in the Mighty Ducks’ system will depend on his physical play and his smarts on the ice.

Kurtis Foster – The 6’5, 230-pounder has been a force for Cincinnati this season. He has 31 points this season in 59 games, leading all AHL defensemen with 14 goals. Foster is also second among AHL defensemen with seven power play goals, courtesy of his well-known slap shot. Foster spent last season in Chicago (AHL), and played three games in the NHL for Atlanta. His play has been more disciplined since coming to the Mighty Ducks in a trade that sent Niclas Havelid to the Thrashers. He has taken only 55 penalty minutes this season, which is 40 less than last year and is +1. Foster has improved overall, and Anaheim will likely give him at least a look when play resumes.

Sheldon Brookbank – In his second season in Cincinnati, the 24-year-old Saskatchewan native continues to be an enforcer. After leading the Ducks in penalty minutes last season, Brookbank is at it again with 138 this season in 42 games. Although Brookbank is not an offensive threat, he does have seven points including six assists. He is also playing well defensively and he is one of eight Mighty Ducks’ players with a positive rating, at +1. Brookbank will have a tough time cracking an NHL roster, but his toughness will determine that.

Tomas Malec – The 6’2, 193-pound Slovakia native is durable and tough, playing in all 61 games for Cincinnati this season. The 22-year-old has recorded four goals and 17 points, which is three off his career high, that he set last season with Lowell. Malec has 45 games of NHL experience, all with the Carolina Hurricanes. After being acquired in the Martin Gerber deal, Malec was set to challenge for a spot in Anaheim this season. Instead, the lockout led him to Cincinnati to develop his skills. Originally seen as not tough enough, Malec has silenced his critics, taking a career high 102 penalty minutes this season. Malec is a good two-way defenseman, but he needs to shoot more. He has only taken 66 shots this season. Malec needs to improve his defensive game as well, as he is last on the team with a -17 rating.

Forwards

Chris Kunitz – The road to the pros has not been easy for the Regina, Saskatchewan native, but the undrafted 25-year-old has proven he can play at a high level. After playing four years at Ferris State University, Anaheim took a chance on Kunitz, signing him as a free agent. His rookie season included 21 games in Anaheim where he recorded six assists. He was also successful in Cincinnati with 44 points (19 goals and 25 assists) in 59 games, plus five more in nine playoff games. This year, Kunitz leads the team in power play goals with ten, but has only played in 37 games this season, missing 22 games with injuries and the first two games of the season due to a suspension. The Ducks won only eight of the 24 games Kunitz missed, which shows his contribution. Kunitz, a fast skating left winger, scores goals through hard work. He is not afraid jump into a play. If he can stay healthy, Kunitz’s future in Anaheim could be bright.

Mikael Holmqvist – In his second year in North American hockey, the former first round pick (18th overall in 1997) is second on the Mighty Ducks with 35 points and leads the team with 24 assists. The 6’3, 212-pound Swede is a playmaker, rather than a goal scorer. Holmqvist played 21 games last season for Anaheim scoring two goals. The left winger is more aggressive this season, having taken 103 penalty minutes compared to serving 45 in 45 combined AHL and NHL games during all of last season. Turning 26 in June, it is his time right now to show what he has.

Tim Brent – The rookie from Cambridge, Ontario has played strong in 29 games for the Mighty Ducks, with 16 points (5 goals and 11 assists) and 27 penalty minutes. He missed 20 games due to an ankle injury early in the season. A former junior teammate of fellow Mighty Duck, Mark Popovic with the St. Michael’s Majors of the OHL, the 6’0, 188-pounder has shown his ability as a defensive forward. Brent is second on the team with a +6 rating and is good at faceoffs, but will need to develop his strength if he has any chance of making it to the NHL. The Mighty Ducks have shown a strong belief in the center, who will turn 21 on March 10. They drafted him in 2002, and again in 2004.

Alexei Smirnov – In his third season of pro hockey, the former first round pick (12th overall in 2000) has not played up to his expectations. In 51 games, he has only 15 points (8 goals, 7 assists) with Cincinnati. The 6’3, 215-pounder has the size and skills to compete, but does not show the determination. He tends to shy away from physical play although he is strong enough to fight through checks. Smirnov has spent time over the last two seasons in Anaheim, playing in 52 NHL games and recording 6 points (3 goals and 3 assists). He also played four games in Anaheim’s Stanley Cup playoff run in 2003. Smirnov is a good defensive center, currently at +3 and has again seen time as a defenseman. The 23-year old has all the skills necessary to be an All-Star. The question is his level of commitment to both the game and his team.

Joel Perrault – In 40 games this year, the second year pro has recorded 23 points, five shy of his total from last season in 65 games. The 6’2, 202-pound center has already passed last season’s assist total of 14, with 16 so far. The Montreal, Quebec native is a playmaker who sees the ice well however his defense needs to improve and he is currently -8. Perrault will have to get stronger if he is going to make it to the NHL.

Curtis Glencross – The 23-year-old from Red Deer, Alberta has shown promise in his first full pro season. He is tough, hard-nosed and a solid grinder on left wing. After two seasons at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, the 6’1, 190-pound Glencross turned pro and finished last season with Cincinnati including all nine playoff games. In 32 games this year, Glencross has five points (four goals and one assist). An ankle injury suffered on Dec. 3 in a game in Edmonton has limited Glencross’ action this season. He has returned and is looking tough, seemingly not fazed by the injury. Glencross is a good checker although his -4 plus/minus rating does not reflect it.

Pierre Parenteau – Through 58 games, the Hull, Quebec native is three goals shy of his output from last season when he recorded 30 points (14 goals and 16 assists). He has already surpassed his assist total from the previous year, with 17 markers so far. Despite his average size at 5’11, Parenteau can play a physical game. The 21-year-old right winger will develop with Cincinnati for the foreseeable future.

Zenon Konopka – The 23-year-old from Niagara Falls, Ontario is developing into the center the Mighty Ducks hoped for when they gave him a two-year deal over the off season. Originally undrafted out of the OHL, Konopka is having a breakout year. He has more than tripled his AHL point total from last season, recording 34 points in 57 games, tying him for third on the team. His 15 goals are tied for the team lead. Konopka, who helped lead the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL to the Kelly Cup Championship last season, plays like a grinder, but produces in every aspect of his game. A vital part of Cincinnati’s special teams, he has six power play goals, and one short-handed goal. The 6’0, 210-pounder, who led the Utah Grizzlies in penalty minutes last season, is second on Mighty Ducks with 187 penalty minutes this season. He should have a shot to make it to Anaheim when operations resume.

Dustin Penner – At 6’4, 240 pounds, Penner is a great find for the Mighty Ducks. Originally undrafted out of the University of Maine, the Winkler, Manitoba left winger has been impressive in his rookie season. He has 19 points (9 goals and 10 assists) in 58 games including four power play goals. Penner is a grinder and is not afraid to play tough and take checks for the team. He is also a quality defensive player with a +3 plus/minus rating.

Joel Stepp – The 21-year-old left winger from Estevan, Saskatchewan is developing slowly in his second season of pro hockey. A 2001 draft pick of Anaheim (3rd round 69th overall), Stepp is fast and willing to play hard. He is a good penalty killer and is smart on the ice, only taking 21 penalty minutes this season. In 52 games with the Mighty Ducks, he has three goals and 11 points. Assigned to the ECHL in order to get playing time, he has played one game for the San Diego Gulls, scoring one goal.

Cory Pecker – The 23-year-old right winger from Montreal, Quebec has only 11 points in 45 games with the Ducks as he tries to convert from a goal scorer to a role player, in his third pro year. Pecker was sent to the San Diego Gulls of the ECHL for three games this season.

Igor Pohanka – The 21-year-old center has only six points in 32 games, low for a player who is supposed to be a top six forward. He played 11 games in the ECHL last season and time there could be in his future again.

Kevin Forbes contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.