Mighty Ducks AHL prospects season review

By Kevin Forbes

The 2004-05 season saw the strongest performance of the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks in the three years that the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were the sole affiliate of the team. The team earned 93 points in the regular season, 21 more then the previous year and advanced to the second round of the playoffs before being ousted by Western Conference Champion, Chicago Wolves. A young team, 18 of Cincinnati’s regular players were prospects of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The season did end on a sad note for the fans of the Baby Ducks, as Anaheim decided to not renew their affiliation with the club and instead signed a deal with the Portland Pirates, formerly the Washington Capitals farm team.

Below is a look at how Anaheim’s prospects fared this season.

Defensemen

Mark Popovic
In his third year with Cincinnati, Popovic continued to be a steady mainstay on the Ducks blue line. Seeing time in all situations, the former St. Mike’s captain had a goal and 17 assists in regular season play to tie for third on the team in scoring by a blueliner. He was also tied with his defensive partner, Kurtis Foster for team lead for plus/minus.

Popovic raised his game even more in the playoffs, scoring two goals and three assists in 11 games of action as well as being tied for team lead in plus/minus with a +2. One of his goals invoked memories of Niklas Lidstrom’s famous playoff goal on Dan Cloutier and Belorussian Vladimir Kopat’s tally against Tommy Salo in the 2002 Olympics. In Game 7 of the West Division semi-final between Cincinnati and the Milwaukee Admirals, Popovic flipped a weak shot towards the net that somehow eluded Brian Finley with 12.9 seconds remaining. The Ducks won the game based on that goal and also won the series after being down three games to one at one point.

Popovic is now ready to step into the lineup in Anaheim. He has played with poise and maturity beyond what would normally be expected from a 22-year-old. He was called upon to be a leader on a young team and rose to the task. He’s become a complete defenseman and is more than ready to move on to the next challenge of the NHL.

Kurtis Foster
Foster improved tremendously during his first year in Cincinnati. Acquired last summer from Atlanta, at one time Foster was considered to be simply a big guy with a big shot. He has since rounded out his game tremendously and enjoyed a career year in the AHL. Foster led all Ducks defensemen in every offensive stat, including goals, assists and points. He was tied with Popovic for team lead in plus/minus and was second in the league in goal scoring from the blue line.

An important part of Cincinnati’s power play, Foster unloaded his heavy shot often and was second on the team in shots. He wasn’t as effective in the playoffs, and was actually scratched the final two games of the West Division final against Chicago. In his nine games of play, Foster had two goals and three assists, but only 20 shots and was a -5, second lowest on the team. His -3 performance in Game 3 of the West Division final led to him watching the end of the season from the press box.

Foster should challenge for a spot when the NHL training camps open up again. Despite still requiring some additional work, his offensive skill, especially his shot is something that is desperately needed in Anaheim to help with the power play.

Shane O’Brien
O’Brien spent his second year of AHL duty firmly entrenching himself as a force to be reckoned with. He led the team in penalty minutes and was second in defensemen around the league for time spent in the box. When he wasn’t sitting across the ice from the players’ bench, O’Brien scored five goals and 20 assists for second on the team in scoring by a defenseman. He was also a respectable +2.

The playoffs were a different story for the 21-year-old. He still led the team in penalty minutes, but was a team low -7. He scored one power play goal and added three assists, while being one of only two Cincinnati defensemen to play all 12 playoff games.

O’Brien probably needs another year of seasoning before he can challenge for a spot in the big league. He would benefit greatly from additional ice time, but that also requires that he chooses his spots much more carefully and spends less time in the penalty box. Next season will be a telling year for the Ontario native.

Aaron Rome
Rome was a standout in his first year of professional hockey. He was solid at both ends of the ice, tallying two goals and 16 points, with an even plus/minus. Rome also posted 130 penalty minutes.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, Rome had really found his stride. He led all defensemen and was tied for third on the team in scoring with three goals and three assists, including 2 power play goals. He also was one of just two defensemen who played in all 12 playoff games.

Rome’s future is bright but he’ll return to the AHL next season. He should be one of the leaders on the blue line for Portland in the fall, and could be ready for the NHL by next year at this time.

Tomas Malec
Malec was a bit of a disappointment this year. He was thought to be ready to challenge for an NHL roster spot when he was acquired in the Martin Gerber deal from Carolina, but he proved there is plenty of work left to be done. Malec scored four goals and added another 14 assists in 66 games as well as 104 penalty minutes. But he was also a team low -17 and had the least amount of shots for all regular defensemen, not much of an accomplishment for a supposedly offensive defenseman.

Malec’s defensive miscues seem to resolve themselves in the postseason when he tied for the team lead in plus/minus with a +2 in just six playoff games. He lost his regular spot in the lineup to NHL veteran Chris McAlpine and only saw time when players like Mark Popovic and Kurtis Foster didn’t play.

Malec will need a strong season to establish himself as an NHL-ready prospect from here on out. He’s already played in 43 games in the NHL, but his play next year in Portland will dictate how much more he will get to see. The team will be counting on him to contribute, especially if Foster plays in Anaheim.

Sheldon Brookbank
Brookbank played most of the season on Cincinnati’s third pairing. He was a surprise regular inclusion in the team’s shootout lineup at the beginning of the year, but otherwise he simply played a solid game. With O’Brien taking care of most the action after the gloves came off, Brookbank relinquished the team lead in penalty minutes, but still ended with 181, good enough for third on the team. He also scored a goal and added 11 assists.

During the playoffs, Brookbank was held scoreless in the 11 games he played in, but was second on the team in penalty minutes with 40.

At this time, Brookbank’s NHL future looks to be relatively dim. He works hard and is great in the dressing room, but he’s simply not skilled enough to play regularly at the highest level. He’ll continue to be a solid contributor as the team moves to Portland. Brookbank’s prospect eligibility expires in September.

Forwards

Zenon Konopka
Zenon Konopka has been a pleasant surprise for the Ducks and along the way, winning himself many fans. An undrafted OHL star, Konopka played most of the previous two seasons in the ECHL. After a strong tryout at the Mighty Ducks rookie tournament, he was signed to a contract and sent to Cincinnati. No one could have expected what would happen next. Konopka was tied for second on the team in scoring with 17 goals and 46 points after spending the majority of the year on the top line. He was a +7 and also served 212 penalty minutes, second most on the team.

He continued his strong play into the playoffs with three goals (all power play markers) and three assists, good enough to tie for third on the team in scoring. He was an even plus/minus and prudently trimmed down his trips to the penalty box, serving just 26 minutes.

While a year ago, he wasn’t even on the map, Konopka is knocking on the NHL’s door. He’s expected to challenge for the role of a fourth-line agitator with the big team next season and depending on his play, he could eventually see an even larger role. Konopka’s prospect eligibility expires in September, but he’s already the feel-good story of the Ducks prospect list.

Michael Holmqvist
Stuck taking in another AHL season after expecting to be in the NHL by now, Holmqvist played well and tied for second in team scoring. He had 14 goals and 32 assists, was a -2 and had 111 penalty minutes. He was also Cincinnati’s representative in the 2005 AHL All-Star Classic.

Holmqvist also played strongly in the playoffs, scoring two goals (one on the power play and one shorthanded) and adding two assists in 11 games. His +2 was tied for team league and he had 10 penalty minutes.

Almost 26, Holmqvist probably won’t be developing much more then he already has. He’s already proven that he can play at the NHL level with 21 games last season. He will no doubt return to a third or fourth line role when NHL play resumes.

Pierre Parenteau
Pierre Parenteau’s season is an epitome of what happens when opportunity knocks. He was stuck behind the additional players provided by the NHL lockout when an injury struck star winger Joffrey Lupul. Parenteau took advantage of the extra ice time and ended the season with an 11 point improvement over the previous year. He had 17 goals and 24 assists for 41 points and was a -1 with 58 penalty minutes this season. His eight power play goals tied for second on the team.

Parenteau wasn’t as effective when the post season rolled around. In nine games of play, he scored twice, once on the power play and was -1. He was a healthy scratch for two games against Milwaukee.

Parenteau has always been a work in progress. The ninth round pick has made significant strides, but still needs much more work. It was expected that he would have been called upon to be a big contributor offensively this season, but the NHL lockout knocked him down in lineup and so he received less ice time. He’ll benefit from another year in the AHL when the NHL resumes.

Chris Kunitz
Like Holmqvist, Kunitz is a player who is a bit older and has already proven that he can play at the NHL level. The former college star had a frustrating season, spending a fair chunk of it on the injured list, but when he was healthy, he proved how well he could play. Kunitz’s 22 goals were second on the team and he also had another 17 assists in just 54 games. He was second on the team in plus/minus with a +13 and had 71 penalty minutes. What was really impressive is how timely his goal scoring was. Ten of his goals were on the power play and two of them were shorthanded, both leading the team. Six of his goals were game winners, a feat that was second on the team.

Kunitz was fortunate enough to remain healthy in the playoffs, but his goal scoring feats didn’t make the trip to the post season. He scored just one goal and had another seven assists, which was good enough for second on the team. He was a +1 and had 20 penalty minutes in 12 games of play.

Kunitz is NHL ready. His two-way play and timely offense should help him solidify a spot on the Ducks third line. He should be able to help Anaheim on the penalty kill.

Dustin Penner
Dustin Penner’s rookie season was solid. He scored ten goals and had 18 assists for 28 goals. He also was a +10 and had 82 penalty minutes. A hard worker, Penner scored four of his goals on the power play. In the playoffs, Penner played in nine games, scoring twice (once on the power play) and adding three assists.

Penner was signed with the understanding that he was a project and the team is willing to take it slow with him. He will need additional time in the AHL, but in the long run, it will serve him well. A big player, Penner is a power forward in the making.

Joel Perrault
Joel Perrault suffered through a frustrating season that saw him play just 51 games due to injury. He scored nine goals and had another 19 assists, equaling his offensive output from the previous season in 14 games less. He was a -6 with 40 penalty minutes. A concussion forced him to miss all 12 playoff games and the hope is he will be healthy in time for training camp in the fall.

A year ago, Perrault looked ready to take the next step and compete for an NHL roster spot by the end of the season. However, the NHL lockout resulted in less ice time for the former Quebec League star, and then he got injured. Perrault will need to get back on his feet and establish himself once again next year to put his development back on track.

Alexei Smirnov
It was another frustrating year for Alexei Smirnov. In 65 games, he scored nine goals and had 18 points. He was a +4 and had 53 penalty minutes. One of his goals was on the power play, another one was shorthanded and two of his goals were game winners. In the playoffs, he played in four games and was held pointless, with a -1. Once again, Smirnov’s results were underwhelming considering his talent.

Time is running out for Smirnov to finally “get it”. He’s already seen 52 games in the NHL, but he has the ability inside him to be a consistently solid third line power forward type. Unfortunately, the mental aspect is lacking.

Tim Brent
Brent suffered through an injury-filled first season in the AHL, playing in just 46 games. He scored five goals and added 13 assists in that time, and was an impressive +7. He also had 42 penalty minutes. In the playoffs, Brent played in all 12 games, but only earned one assist, and was a -3.

Brent will no doubt return to the AHL, where he will hope that he spends much less time on the injured reserve in his sophomore year. If he can stay healthy and earn a top line position, he could be ready to be one of the team’s leading scorers.

Cory Pecker
Pecker again found himself finishing off the year on a different team after seeing only partial time with Cincinnati. He played in 49 games with the Ducks, scoring 4 goals and 12 points before being transferred to the Manitoba Moose, where he played in 12 games with a goal and an assist. Pecker played in just five of Manitoba’s 14 playoff games, scoring one goal.

Gone are the memories of the season where Pecker, as an AHL rookie, led the Mighty Ducks in goals scored. He’s still dangerous around the net but simply has not developed enough to warrant additional ice time. His NHL window is closing fast and in September, he will no longer be considered a prospect.

Joel Stepp
Stepp was an important part of Cincinnati’s penalty kill. A wizard in the faceoff circle, he scored three goals and 12 points in 63 games. In the playoffs, he scored once in 12 games, but the goal was a game winner in double overtime against Milwaukee in Game 2.

Stepp is another player who would have benefited from additional ice time, if the NHL lockout hadn’t sent so many players to the AHL. He still has a chance at developing into a fourth line center.

Curtis Glencross
After such a dominating performance at the Mighty Ducks rookie camp and the Pacific Division rookie tournament, all eyes were on Glencross as the season began in Cincinnati, but he didn’t live up to his billing. He suffered through some injuries and played in just 51 games, scoring six times and finishing with nine points. He was a -6 with 63 penalty minutes. The playoffs were more of the same, playing in all 12 games, but only scoring twice (once shorthanded) while being a -2 and having 10 penalty minutes.

As Glencross showed before last season, he can dominate a game physically and offensively. He just needs time to put all the tools together. The team can afford to take it slow with him.

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