On the job for a couple of months with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, GM Brian Burke has been hard at work putting together his NHL roster. He has also spent a substantial amount of time assessing the club’s prospects. Burke is currently in San Jose, California, attending the 2005 Pacific Division Rookie Tournament.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Burke after Anaheim’s second game in tournament. He offered some insight into the Anaheim’s development system and gave some of his overall impressions of the team’s play in the tournament.
HF: How does it feel to be back in the action with the Ducks?
BB: It’s been great. I think we’re in an underrated hockey market. Anaheim is in an excellent hockey market. I also think the fans have supported the hockey team in the past and I feel if we give them a reason to support us now, they will do that.
HF: Even though your primary responsibility right now is to ice a NHL squad, you have taken time to come up to San Jose and take in some prospect games. What is your overall impression so far?
BB: We didn’t have the luxury of doing this when I was up in Vancouver. The Alberta teams were willing to do it, but they wanted the Canucks to travel out there every year. I like the format they have here. I like the fact that our kids get some live competition against other top kids. I think it is a great setup.
HF: The team had a lopsided victory over the Sharks. This also happened to be the first game you had a chance to see. What were your overall impressions from that game? >
BB: Well if you look at the scoring sheet, we were killing off two penalties to one they had to kill off. We also had a couple of 5 on 3 situations. However, at even strength, I think we had the better of play by a wide margin. Individually, I thought (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry stood out.
HF: Are there any other prospects that you are high on that weren’t able to make the tourney?
BB: The first would be Bobby Ryan, our second overall pick form this past draft. He has a sore shoulder, so he’s going to miss the entire tournament. We have very high hopes for him. He’s a very big winger who can score. The other would be Ladislav Smid, who probably rates as our top defensive prospect. The former first rounder is a pretty big kid who can move the puck. Unfortunately, he has some immigration issues, so we’re hoping to see him in a couple days.
HF: One of the bigger topics for discussions during this past year’s draft was the Bobby Ryan vs. Jack Johnson debate. What was your position heading into the draft and do you think you were right to take one over the other, when many around the prospect world had Johnson going second?
BB: We may not be right. You never know when you draft these guys. We really liked Jack Johnson as well. I think he’s going to be a quality NHL player in the future. He’s got great leadership skills and he’s tough. It is no secret we liked him, but there were many guys we liked. We liked Benoit Pouliot too. We felt the biggest upside for a goal-scoring winger was Bobby Ryan.
HF: Over the past drafts, the Ducks scouting department has been crucial in identifying and selecting some young raw talent that has moved on to the NHL. Did it help knowing that you were coming into a draft with a scouting department who has proven itself in the past?
BB: Yes. I think their track record is such that a new GM would be a fool not to listen to them. I had not seen Bobby Ryan even though I had video on a lot of the top kids. I was confident with their decision.
HF: With talent in the development program and with players moving up in the ranks, are there any prospects who you feel will get an honest chance to prove themselves at the main camp starting next week?
BB: Everyone is going to get a chance. Our blueprint is to have all our top kids spend a year in the AHL. However, I’m willing to erase certain parts of the blueprint. If someone plays well enough to make the big club, they’re going to stay.
HF: You just changed your AHL affiliation from Cincinnati to Portland. How crucial is that in the bigger picture?
BB: We’re trying to make sure we have a competitive team in Portland from the start. I believe that your players should play in winning environments before they get to the NHL. We’re also going to have the same blend there as we would with the big club. We want a team that can skate, but a group that also likes the physical aspect of the game.
HF: Is there anyone else in the development system who you might view as being overlooked or overshadowed by some of the bigger-named prospects in the franchise?
BB: Dustin Penner is a 6’4, 245-pound winger who I think will play in the NHL one day and be a pretty good player. He’s a good example of someone that doesn’t get mentioned a lot. We’ve got some other kids who played in Cincinnati who aren’t here yet. (Shane) O’Brien and (Zenon) Konopka are a couple of guys I feel will compete for a spot as well.
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