The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim affiliation with the Portland Pirates has only just started, but so far, the partnership has been a huge success. Portland currently sits at the top of the Atlantic Division and third in the AHL’s Eastern Conference. With a record of 20-7-2, they are just two points behind the Hershey Bears for second in the East and have a game in hand. Interestingly enough, Hershey is the farm club for the Washington Capitals, who up until this season had an affiliation with Portland. A large number of the Bears players suited up for the Pirates last season.
The players who were young and inexperienced during their time as Cincinnati Mighty Ducks have turned the corner and now are promising AHLers. The team has also been fortified by some key free agent signings by the Mighty Ducks organization as well as benefiting from Anaheim sending some star players into the minors.
Three of those gifts from Anaheim are Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner. This trio of rookies initially made the Ducks opening day roster, although Penner did not see any action before he was sent to the minors. Getzlaf and Perry played in 16 and 15 games respectively, and Penner returned to the big leagues for six games of his own. Presently, all three are in Maine and form the Pirates top line. The results have been nothing short of amazing, with the Pirates unbeaten in their last four games and Getzlaf earning AHL Player of the Week honors for 10 points in three games. In total, Getzlaf has 25 points in 11 games, catapulting him into the team lead. He put up seven points in his 16 games with Anaheim. Penner is second in Portland scoring with 24 points in 19 games, along with four points in six NHL games. Third in team scoring is Perry with 23 points in 12 games and he also posted six points in 15 appearances with the Mighty Ducks. Perry earned the AHL Player of the Week honors for the week before Getzlaf’s award.
Looking beyond those three in the Portland scoring race, you’ll find Ryan Shannon. The diminutive forward joined the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks briefly at the end of the 2004-05 season. Shannon played four games with Cincinnati prior to the beginning of the AHL playoffs and he scored a goal (his only point) in his first game. When the playoffs rolled around, Cincinnati decided to instead go with Ryan Getzlaf as a replacement for their injured players. Ryan Shannon returned to the Anaheim organization for the Ducks rookie camp and gained an invite to training camp. He then joined the Portland Pirates and due to the merit of a fast start, he was signed to a two-year entry level contract by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim at the end of November. Shannon currently is playing on the second line, previously playing on the top line with Penner and Konopka. In 20 games, he has nine goals and 23 points as well as a team-high +11. He was named AHL Rookie of the Month for October but followed that up by missing nine games with an ankle injury. A former captain with Boston College, the 22-year-old needs to show he can consistently overcome his 5’9 stature if he hopes to have any NHL aspirations.
The rest of the forward corps has been equally successful. With 18 points, including 12 goals in just 29 games, Tim Brent has already equaled his output from last season. Seeing a lot of time in defensive situations, his focus this year is to remain healthy. Health has been an issue for both Joel Perrault and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau as well. Perrault has yet to play a game this year, still suffering from a concussion that took him out of the Cincinnati lineup prior to the playoffs last season. Parenteau broke his wrist in training camp and only recently returned to the Portland lineup. He has three goals and four points in six games. Igor Pohanka has benefited greatly from the job openings that occur due to injury and call-ups. A bubble player going into the year, Pohanka has settled in on the third line and already has an AHL career-high 16 points in 25 games. His five goals tie an AHL career high, and there’s still plenty of hockey left to play. Curtis Glencross and Shane Hynes round out Anaheim’s forward prospects in Portland. Glencross continues to bring his hard hitting style to AHL arenas and has 13 points, including eight goals in 24 games. Three of Glencross’ goals are game winners, tying him with Dustin Penner, Ryan Shannon and Tim Brent for the team lead, and second in the AHL. Hynes is having some difficulty finding ice time on the wing and adjusting to the AHL after leaving college early. To make matters worse, he is currently out with a knee injury. In the 12 games he has played, he has a goal and four points.
On the blue line, Shane O’Brien and Ladislav Smid headline a solid group of defensemen. The two could not be more different. O’Brien is a hard-nosed two way defender in his third AHL season. A late pick (eighth round) in 2003, he currently leads the Portland defense in scoring with four goals and 18 points in 28 games. He also leads the team in penalty minutes with 90. At 22, O’Brien is probably the most NHL ready of Anaheim’s prospects on defense. He is currently seeing plenty of time in all situations with the Pirates and is a huge reason why the club has been successful so far.
By comparison, Smid is new to the AHL this season and is still just 19 years old. In fact, he has been named to the Czech Republic’s World Junior squad for the third straight year, although it is unknown if the organization intends to release him to play. A first round pick in 2004, Smid has a goal and 13 points in 28 games. He’s seeing second pairing minutes, as well as some power play time where he is counted on to distribute the puck. Previously, it was thought that Smid would be able to join the Ducks shortly after he came over from Europe, however, it appears he would be better served with some extra time getting acclimated to the North American game. Although Smid was never known for his physical play, it would benefit him greatly if he began to use his size more to his advantage.
Aaron Rome, Jordan Smith and Nathan Saunders are the other defensive prospects at Portland. All three have had a hard time even being able to hit the ice. Rome is currently out of the lineup with a jaw injury that he suffered in the middle of November and Saunders has just recently returned after missing 13 games with a shoulder injury. A rookie this season, Smith has been able to stay injury free, but because of the numbers game on the back line, he has occasionally played as a forward. While it is not an ideal situation, Smith has benefited from injuries to others and in 26 games, he has scored four goals and has nine points as well as 60 penalty minutes. The versatility he displayed switching from defense to forward and back again could benefit him later on in his career. Speaking of benefits, Aaron Rome has obviously benefited from five years in the WHL and a strong rookie season in the AHL. In just his second year of professional hockey, he has stepped up as a defensive stalwart for the Pirates, seeing action at key times. In 14 games, Rome has six points, all of them assists. Like last season with Cincinnati, his usual defensive partner is Shane O’Brien. Saunders is the other rookie on the Portland blue line. He is being brought along slowly, seeing mostly third pairing minutes. He has a lone goal as his only point in 14 games, but has already shown his gritty edge, coming in second on the team so far in penalty minutes with 62.
That brings us to between the pipes. With the graduation of Ilya Bryzgalov to Anaheim, there were major questions about who would play goal for the Ducks new AHL franchise prior to the commencement of the season. The Ducks acted quickly to solve the situation, signing training camp invitee Michael Wall to a three-year entry level deal in late September. It was, however, another training camp invitee who stole the show in Portland. Nathan Marsters, a former Los Angeles Kings draft pick, took advantage of Wall being called up to Anaheim after Jean-Sebastien Giguere was injured. Marsters sizzled in Portland to a 7-0-0 record with a 1.91 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage. Like Ryan Shannon, his hot start propelled him into a two-year entry level contract with the Mighty Ducks. He has cooled off from that torrid pace. His record is currently 11-4-0 with a 2.74 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. A rookie in the AHL, Marsters played last season in the ECHL after completing four years at RPI.
Although not an official affiliate of the Mighty Ducks or the Portland Pirates, both organizations have been assigning players to the Augusta Lynx of the ECHL, who are now coached by Bob Ferguson. Parenteau played two games for the Lynx earlier this year after coming back from injury. Currently Wall and center Joel Stepp are Anaheim prospects who are lacing it up for the Lynx. Wall started the season as Portland’s starting goaltender and bounced between the Pirates and the Mighty Ducks as an injury callup. Although he did not see any playing time in the NHL, he did lose his job in Portland to Marsters. Anaheim decided he would be better served to see regular playing time in the ECHL then backing up Marsters in the AHL, which is why he was sent to Augusta. In seven games with Augusta, Wall has a record of 3-4-0 with an unenviable goals-against average of 4.69 and a .858 save percentage. During his time in Portland, he was 4-4-0 with a 3.53 goals-against average and a .881 save percentage. Stepp has fared much better for the Lynx. He was sent down after being pushed down the Pirates depth chart and needing an opportunity to regularly contribute. In 20 games with Augusta, Stepp has scored seven times and has 24 points, which places him second on the team in points. For a player who is supposed to be shutdown center, his -1 might seem a little low, but it is worth mentioning that as a team, Augusta is -16. Prior to being sent to the ECHL, Stepp had a goal and two points in seven games for the Pirates.
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