Mighty Ducks 2000 draft evaluation

By Kevin Forbes

Despite having only five selections, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim had a strong 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Three out of the five selections have seen time in the NHL so far, and two of those players are still being counted on to make a larger impact for Anaheim.

Leading up to the draft and on draft day, the Ducks were dealing numerous players and picks. The spring of 2000 saw the acquisition of goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere from the Flames for Anaheim’s 43rd overall selection in 2000 (Calgary then sent the pick to Washington who used it to select Matt Pettinger). Meanwhile, Anaheim shipped their sixth rounder (179th overall, Vadim Sozinov) and their seventh rounder (209th overall, Markus Seikola) to Toronto in exchange for Swedish agitator Jonathan Hedstrom. This transaction could mean more when NHL play resumes, as Swedish media has been reporting that Hedstrom might return to the NHL and Anaheim.

For as much talent as Anaheim was acquiring, there was just as much leaving Orange County. Anaheim traded Prince George Cougar Trent Hunter to the New York Islanders for a fourth round, 98th overall selection in 2000. Hunter had just finished a promising year in the WHL and found himself in the AHL the following season. Today, he is an important part of the Islanders forward ranks, a role that should only expand in the future. Anaheim also dealt their 32nd overall selection in 1998, Stephen Peat to Washington for a fourth rounder, 124th overall in 2000. Peat continues to be a part of the Capitals organization and as we shall see, the 124th overall selection didn’t remain in Anaheim’s grasp for long. Finally, Anaheim dealt veteran Dan Trebil to Pittsburgh for a 5th rounder, 153rd overall.

The five picks that Anaheim eventually did make have played a combined 92 games in the NHL, for a draft class average of 18 games per pick. This is certainly not comparable to the 1999 class average of just over 80 games per player, which was tops in the NHL, but about average for what amounted to being a weak draft for the entire league. Below are each of Anaheim’s picks and how they have turned out so far.

Alexei Smirnov, LW – 1st round, 12th overall (Moscow Dynamo, Russia)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 52

At the time of the draft, Smirnov was touted as a player who could dominate a game physically and offensively, but the question was his mental makeup. Since being drafted, he has proven both of these to be true. Leading all Anaheim 2000 picks with 52 games of NHL experience, Smirnov was signed by the team prior to the 2002-03 season and had a goal and an assist in his first game as a Mighty Duck. He split his first year between Anaheim and Cincinnati, but did play in four games of Anaheim’s impressive run to the Stanley Cup finals.

The following year, Smirnov saw only a handful of games at the NHL level and has continued on that path ever since. He has spent the last two seasons almost exclusively in Cincinnati, where his laziness and inconsistencies have caused much stress and grey hair for the coaching staff. Smirnov could be described as two completely different players at this point. There is one who can dominate a game physically, while producing offensively and taking care of himself defensively. Then there is the Smirnov who is often disinterested and indifferent to the game around him. Smirnov played in only four of Cincinnati’s playoff games this spring, sitting out the remainder as a healthy scratch. His contract will soon be up and it will be interesting to see what direction Anaheim takes with this young player. He possesses plenty of promise, but how much patience does the team have left for him?

Ilya Bryzgalov, G – 2nd round, 44th overall (Tolyatti Lada, Russia)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 2

Ilya Bryzgalov was the top rated European goaltender going into the draft and he was the third goaltender selected. Drafted as a 20-year-old, Bryzgalov was struck by a motorcycle when he was 18, delaying his development tremendously. However, that did not stop Anaheim from trading their third (78th overall), fourth (124th overall) and fifth (145th overall) round selections to Montreal for the 44th overall draft choice to select Bryzgalov.

After spending the next season in Russia, Bryzgalov joined the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks in 2001-02 and also saw time in the NHL that year. He spent the next two years almost exclusively with Cincinnati, with one game at the NHL level. Finally, going into the 2004-05 season, the path was paved for Bryzgalov to become Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s backup after the trade of Martin Gerber. Unfortunately for the 6’4 Russian, bad luck stuck again as the lockout saw him spend another year in the minors, fighting for time alongside of veteran Frederic Cassivi.

Bryzgalov possesses all the attributes to be a top goaltender in the NHL, and right now the only thing holding him back is experience. He has struggled with consistency at times and he still needs work on his puck moving skills, but he has proven to be able to raise his game when it counts. One of his best skills is his confidence: he’s convinced he can beat Giguere for the starting position. As soon as the NHL returns, Bryzgalov will be the Mighty Ducks backup.

Jonas Ronnqvist, LW – 4th round, 98th overall (Lulea HF, SEL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 38

Per normal for drafting during the reign of GM Pierre Gauthier, the Ducks selected a veteran European player with their fourth round selection. Jonas Ronnqvist was a 26-year-old forward coming off his best season in the SEL when he was picked. Immediately brought to North America, Ronnqvist split his first season between the NHL and the AHL before spending all of his second year with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks. As is often the case with veteran Europeans, Ronnqvist didn’t want to come to North America to play AHL hockey and when that was all he was offered, he soon returned to Europe. In the 38 NHL games he played, Ronnqvist tallied just four assists. Back with Lulea in the Swedish Elite League, he continues to be one of the top scorers on his team.

Peter Podhradsky, D – 5th round, 134th overall (HC Bratislava, Slovakia)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 0

Podhradsky was ranked 57th among Europeans by the Central Scouting Bureau going into the 1999 draft, however, he had to wait another season before he was drafted. Immediately signed to an NHL deal, he spent three seasons in Cincinnati, before deciding that North America offered little for him. Returning to Europe, Podhradsky has bounced around the Czech leagues before returning to Slovakia to end the 2004-05 campaign.

Bill Cass, D – 5th round, 153rd overall (Boston College, NCAA)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 0

A solid defensive defenseman, Cass was drafted after Boston College was the runner up in the NCAA championship. They won the championship the following year, and Cass played out his eligibility with Eagles. After finishing the 2002-03 season, he joined the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks for short tryout. Despite scoring two assists in these two games, Anaheim decided not to sign him. After playing last season in the ECHL, Cass’ current whereabouts are unknown. There is another defenseman named Bill Cass who is a year older then Anaheim’s draft pick, not to be confused with this one. This second Cass also played college hockey (with Quinnipiac) and has been bouncing around the minors over the past two years as well.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.