Mighty Ducks 2000 Draft Review – Quality over Quantity

By Martin Dittman
Smirnov is one of the draft’s true wild cards but will probably be gone by the time the Ducks pick. He has all the size,
skill and talent the Ducks are looking for but unless they trade up, there’s a good chance he’ll already be drafted which
is a shame. For a team that’s desperate for power forward, Smirnov is worth the risk.

I wrote that in my draft preview here at Hockey’s Future. Apparently, there was some good karma going around that day.
Saturday afternoon, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim got the chance to select Alexei Smirnov, and sure enough, they couldn’t
pass on him. Smirnov became the Ducks’ first round pick and they didn’t even have to make a trade to get him.

Consider that some good luck for a team that usually seems cursed when it comes to anything decided by luck. The Ducks
had a successful draft, choosing a group of very talented players who might be considered high risk. They also used a surplus
of draft picks to their advantage. The Ducks had made several side deals the last few weeks and it paid off in the second
round. The Ducks relinquished third, fourth and fifth round picks to Montreal for their second round pick. They ended up
choosing Ilja Bryzgalov. In theory, the Ducks received two goalies in the second round. They gave up their original second
round pick to Calgary for J-S Giguere. The Ducks also dealt sixth and seventh round picks to Toronto in return for a European
prospect.

While trading to get Bryzgalov is a nice concept, there is some bad that went with it. The Mighty Ducks minor league system
desperately needs to be re-stocked and this draft seemed to be the perfect opportunity to do just that. Unfortunately, it appears
this will have to be done through free agency rather than the draft as the Ducks decided to stock the draft with a group of
Europeans who will probably add very little help to a system that badly needed it.

Here’s a round by round look at the Mighty Duck draft picks:

FIRST ROUND

Alexei Smirnov was once considered a future superstar but after several high profile struggles in major tournaments, Smirnov
was considered a risk. Even with that risk, the Ducks think they got a superstar. Ducks GM Pierre Gauthier is heralding him as
a first liner but like fellow prospect Maxim Balmochynkh, Smirnov is wildly inconsistent. Some consider him a Pavel Bure
while others believe he’ll wind up like another Alexander Selivanov. Either way, the Ducks think they found a gem and were
more than enthusiastic about the choice.

“The thing we like most about Smirnov is that when he’s at his best, I don’t think anyone would question that his game is the
best of any player in this draft,” explained Gauthier. “He is a powerful person, an excellent playmaker and will go to the net very
hard, but he has some growing up to do, some maturity to gain and some strength to put on.” Gauthier also felt that the
pressures of being a top prospect might have hurt his play at several world tournaments.

The Ducks plan to put Smirnov back at his natural position of center. His strong playmaking abilities certainly can be put to
better use there and the belief is this will make him a more productive player rather than being a winger. The question is whether
his Russian team will buy into that theory. Smirnov has been playing left wing there but don’t count out a switch.

Patience will be a key when dealing with Smirnov since he is such a volatile player. It has become obvious he doesn’t handle
pressures well so there will be no rush for him to move to North America to play. Smirnov has expressed a desire to join the
Ducks for training camp but whether he does or not will probably be a mystery up until camp begins.

SECOND ROUND

The selection of Ilja Bryzgalov makes goaltending the Ducks’ strongest area. A far cry from the past when the Ducks often had
no depth at the position. Why would the Ducks trade picks to get Bryzgalov when they already have two strong goalie
prospects? Because the Ducks think he might be as good as Rick DiPietro. While that might be a stretch, the Ducks point to
the World Junior Championships where Bryzgalov’s numbers were as strong as DiPietro’s. Bryzaglov’s performance at the
World Championships also impressed the team leading them to take a chance on him.

Bryzgalov’s older than most prospects at 20 years old but his past is cloudy. He has suffered several medical problems in the
last two years including a vicious motorcycle accident which set him back two years in development. Over those two years, he
has honed his game in the Russian and European developmental leagues. It has apparently paid off as the team envisions him as
a future number one goalie. Unlike Smirnov, Bryzgalov is not expected to be at training camp.

FOURTH ROUND

As I wrote in the draft preview, the Ducks love to take European veterans in the draft. Last year they nabbed Niclas Havelid
who stepped right up into the NHL. This year, they selected forward Jonas Ronnqvist. Ronnqvist is a left winger who has
decent size and is coming off his best season in the Swedish Elite League. Ronnqvist has been compared to Phoenix Coyote
forward Mika Alatolo and if that is true, Ronnqvist will probably get a shot on the third or fourth line if he opts for the NHL. He
played in the World Championship, netting three assists for Team Sweden.

Ronnqvist has terrific hockey sense and like most Swedes, is very disciplined. At 26, Ronnqvist might have already peaked but
in his three years in the SEL, he has improved every season. He has good speed which seems to be a must if you want to play with
Anaheim. Unfortunately, most see Ronnqvist as never being an offensive threat in the NHL but don’t be surprised to see the
Ducks offer him a deal for the NHL.

FIFTH ROUND

Traditionally, the Ducks have taken someone that scouts forget in drafts. They’ve done that once again with the choice of
Slovakian defenseman Peter Podhradsky. Podhradsky was ranked 57th among Europeans in the 1999 CSB’s but was
completely passed over. This year, the Ducks decided to draft him after a strong season.

Podhradsky has decent offensive skills and might just be a darkhorse to be a future NHLer. His game has improved year after
year and he was part of Slovakia’s World Championship team. A good two way who has a slight edge to his game, you might
want to write Podhradsky down as an underdog.

With their second pick of the fifth round, the Ducks drafted Boston College defenseman Bill Cass. Cass was ranked 81st
among North Americans in the CSB rankings and at one time was considered a future college standout. Cass played for Team
USA’s developmental program for two seasons.

Considered a top NCAA recruit when he committed to BC, Cass’ stock has dropped tremendously as a freshman this season.
A good two way defenseman Cass is dogged by inconsistency and lackluster play. When he is on his game, Cass is one of the
better defenseman unfortunately, that doesn’t happen enough. There are also concerns about his weight. At 5’11, Cass has
battled weight problems through the years and that has continued into college. Cass is considered a project that will probably
amount to nothing more than the minor leagues depending on his development with BC.

DUCKS TRADE FOR EURO PROSPECT

The Ducks gave up two late round picks to Toronto in exchange for Swedish Elite League forward Jonathan Hedstrom.
Hedstrom
was chosen in the 1997 Draft by Toronto in the ninth round. At 23 years old, Hedstrom still has plenty of growing
to do but he plays an aggressive game.

Most in Sweden compare him to Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom. If he is anything like the “Demolition Man”,
the Ducks might have found a gem for nothing if Hedstrom would be interested in coming to North America. Considered a
power forward with good passing skills, Hedstrom plays a very physical game. His 6’2 200 pound frame would fit in good with
Anaheim. With a menacing shot and plenty of skills, expect the Ducks to take a look at bringing Hedstrom to Anaheim.

EXPANSION DRAFT

While Pierre Gauthier and the media hail their gamble paying off in the expansion draft, the reality is the Ducks still lost a
valuable asset. It was nice to see Columbus and Minnesota pass on Guy Hebert but the real problems were further down the
unprotected list.

The Ducks left three of their better defensive prospects unprotected. They included IHLer Mike Crowley and Europeans Timo
Ahmaoja and Ladislav Benysek. Minnesota couldn’t pass on homestate player Jeff Nielsen but more surprisingly, they passed
on fellow Minnesotan Crowley who is coming off a strong IHL season. Instead, they grabbed the best prospect of the three in
Benysek. While the loss of Benysek is not a huge blow, it does hurt the depth at defense and more importantly, Benysek was
probably ready to make the NHL roster.

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