Mighty Ducks AHL/ECHL prospects season review

By Kevin Forbes

If short-term results are any indication, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Portland Pirates couldn’t be happier about the first year of their new affiliation. Portland had a banner year, winning the Atlantic Division and competing in the AHL Eastern Conference finals for the first time in
10 years.

Although the team boasted much of the same roster as the Ducks farm team in Cincinnati from the previous year, the team’s fortunes were much improved, thanks to key prospects taking another step in their development as well as veteran players solidifying the lineup. It was all done under the direction of first year coach Kevin Dineen, who was named the AHL coach of the year at the season’s end.

Portland’s 306 goals was the second most in the AHL and tops in the Eastern Conference, all while suffering numerous long term injuries to key players and missing five of the top seven scorers from the previous year’s team in Cincinnati.

Goaltenders


Portland entered training camp with a question mark between the pipes. The two goaltenders from the previous season, Ilya Bryzgalov and Frederic Cassivi had both moved on. Former WHL star goaltender, Mike Wall was signed in Anaheim’s training camp and assigned to Portland. After a strong start, he was called up to Anaheim to play Bryzgalov’s backup as Jean-Sebastien Giguere sat out with injury. When he returned, he had lost his starting position to free agent netminder Nathan Marsters. In fact, Marsters, a former Los Angeles Kings draft pick played so well that he was signed by the Ducks at the end of November.


Wall spent the rest of the season bouncing between the Pirates and the Augusta Lynx in the ECHL. In 11 games with Portland, Wall had a 5-5 record with a 3.38 GAA and a .887 save percentage. During his time in the ECHL, he appeared in 21 games, with a 8-11-1 record and a 3.81 GAA and a .879 save percentage.


Unfortunately for Marsters, his position as Portland’s starting goaltender was far from set. His inconsistent play led the team to acquire the services of Dieter Kochan and Jani Hurme. In 37 games with the Pirates, Marsters had a record of 23-9-2 with a GAA of 3.10 and .900 save percentage. He also saw time in the ECHL with Augusta, playing in four games with a 1-1-2 record and a 3.84 GAA along with a .851 save percentage.


With neither goaltender solidifying himself as even an AHL grade starting goaltender, Anaheim may be forced to look elsewhere to set up a goaltender pipeline. One answer could potentially be David McKee, a star at Cornell University who was signed at the end of his college career. McKee will be given every chance to succeed in Portland next fall.

Defensemen


Missing Cincinnati blueliners such as Mark Popovic, Kurtis Foster and Tomas Malec, more had changed with this defensive core
than just the crests on the front of the sweaters.


Shane O’Brien established himself as the leader on the back line. He led all Portland defenders in scoring,
en route to career highs in goals (8), assists (33) and points (41). Always a player with an edge to his game, he also led all Pirates in penalty minutes with 287, which placed him sixth in the league. In the playoffs, it was more of the same, leading all AHL players with 81 penalty minutes, as well as tying for second on the Pirates in scoring with 22 points.


After O’Brien, there was a virtual revolving door of players, due to trades, free agents and injuries. The most notable injury was the career-ending eye injury suffered by Jordan Smith in late February.


Maxim Kondratiev was acquired in a midseason trade with the New York Rangers. Although it took a while for him to fit in with the team, he was able to step up his play during the playoffs and finish with 14 points in 13 postseason games. Provided a contract can be worked out for next season, he will be competing for a full-time spot in the NHL in the fall.


Another player looking to move to California in September is former first round pick, Ladislav Smid. Nineteen years of age for most of the season, Smid was one of the youngest players in the AHL and finished with 28 points in 71 regular season games. His playoff contributions left much to be desired however, with just a single assist in 16 games.


Both Aaron Rome and Nathan Saunders suffered injuries that led to them missing long periods of time. Rome played in 64 games with 24 points, while Saunders was able to play in just 20 games with a single goal for his AHL rookie campaign. Rome was able to improve his fortunes slightly in the playoff, missing just one game to have five points in 18 games. Meanwhile, Saunders saw only nine games of action and was held without a single point. Both players will be looking for improved play next season and they should benefit from the graduation of others above them on the depth chart.


Although not with the Pirates, Brett Skinner had a decent rookie campaign in the AHL. The former University of Denver blueliner was acquired at the trade deadline from Vancouver and it was decided that he would remain with the Manitoba Moose, the Canucks farm team, for the remainder of the season and the playoffs. In 65 regular season games, Skinner tallied four goals and had a total of 25 points. In 13 postseason matches, he had four assists. Skinner should play in Portland next season.

Forwards


With top prospects Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner splitting time between Portland and Anaheim for the majority of the season, it was Ryan Shannon who established himself as the Pirates go-to guy on offense. Shannon led the Pirates in scoring as an AHL rookie, with 86 points in 71 games, ninth in the league. In the postseason, he was just as productive, tied for second on team scoring with 22 points in 19 games. Shannon will most likely return to Portland next season, but he only has to look as far as Anaheim forward Chris Kunitz as proof that success in the minors will one day get him noticed.


Pierre Parenteau’s development has been in leaps and bounds. After missing the first part of the season with a broken wrist, the former QMJHL star was an offensive force in the second half of the year. He finished third on the team with 49 points in 56 games and he continued that strong play in the playoffs with 22 points in 19 games.


Unfortunately, the remainder of the forward prospects all suffered injury-plagued seasons. Curtis Glencross’s hard-hitting style led to a hip injury that limited him to 41 games. This was the second year in a row that injuries had resulted in the former college star missing large parts of the season. Meanwhile, Tim Brent also suffered long-term injuries for the second year in a row. After playing in 46 games last season, Brent was limited to just 37 with Portland. The good news is that both were able to return for the playoffs and contribute.


The same could not be said for Shane Hynes. In his AHL rookie campaign, a knee injury kept him out of all but 12 games of the season. Hynes also missed the playoffs and will hope for a healthy season next year to re-establish himself as a viable NHL prospect.


Although it’s likely he would never admit it, Igor Pohanka benefited greatly from the injuries to players above him on the depth chart. The former New Jersey prospect had a career season with 11 goals and 35 points, playing the entire season in the AHL for the first time since turning pro.

Other Notes


Two of Anaheim’s CHL prospects joined the Pirates after their OHL teams concluded play. Kitchener Ranger Matt Auffrey had an assist in two regular season games and top prospect Bobby Ryan of the Owen Sound Attack had a goal and eight points in 19 playoff games for the Pirates.


Former Michigan State captain, Drew Miller also joined Portland after his college career came to a close. He strapped on the skates for a single playoff game. Shortly thereafter, he signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Mighty Ducks.

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