Ducks training camp preview

By Kevin Forbes

The Anaheim Ducks begin training camp at the Anaheim Ice facility
this weekend. This will be the Ducks’ 13th season of play in the NHL, however, it will be their first under their new shortened moniker.

After bowing out in the Western Conference finals last season against the Edmonton Oilers, the Ducks are looking to take the next step and see themselves as serious competitors for the Stanley Cup in the 2006-07 season. That being said, the Ducks will look quite different from the team that lost to the Oilers in the playoffs. In addition to their new logo and uniforms, Anaheim has made a number of significant moves this off
season, however, that leaves them with very few roster spots open for the upcoming season.

Twenty-five players who are considered prospects under Hockey’s Future criteria have been invited to training camp. Of those 25, all but one, Simon Ferguson are considered Ducks property, although Ferguson played with the Ducks’ affiliate in Portland last season and is signed to play there again this year. All the other prospects are signed to contract with Anaheim, except for WHL blueliner Brendan Mikkelson and QMJHL goaltender Jean-Philippe Levasseur, both of whom are expected to return to junior this season.

Three prospects who have little to fear are Ryan Getzlaf, Dustin Penner and Corey Perry. Getzlaf and Perry spent the majority of the 2005-06 season with the Ducks and will be expected to take on an even larger role with the team this season. Intended to be developed as linemates, the duo will slot in behind Andy McDonald and Teemu Selanne to provide secondary scoring and should also see time on the
power play. Penner only played in 19 regular season games with the Ducks last year, leaving him still considered a rookie for this year in the NHL’s eyes. He saw almost as much action in the post season, breaking out with an impressive showing in
13 playoff games which solidified his full-time spot on the roster. Penner will probably line up either beside McDonald and Selanne on the top line or round out the young gun line with Getzlaf and Perry.

With the departure of Jeff Friesen and Joffrey Lupul due to free agency and trade respectively, there are other openings among the forward ranks. At least one of those spots is expected to be taken by Stanislav Chistov, the former Anaheim first rounder who spent last season playing in Russia. Chistov’s first shot at the NHL was full of peaks and valleys and he is one of the biggest wild cards entering training camp. He could find himself anywhere from the first line to a checking line on the team. Chris Kunitz played alongside McDonald and Selanne for most of last season on the top line, but could find himself in a much reduced role this year.

The other possible roster spot may not even exist depending on how Anaheim’s bottom six is decided. If free agent addition Travis Green makes the team and one of centers Green, Todd Marchant or Samuel Pahlsson is pushed to the wing that may fill out the remaining forward ranks. It appears the only player who could potentially prevent that from happening is Anaheim’s top prospect Bobby Ryan.

Ryan has dominated the OHL in his past two seasons, and he finds himself at an interesting spot in the developmental curve. He may not benefit from another season dominating the OHL, but he may not be ready for a full-time spot in the NHL. With the new CBA rules in regards to free agents, teams have to be much more careful about graduating players. While a season learning the ropes of the NHL may seem like a good idea for the 19-year-old Ryan, Anaheim would certainly rather trade that for an extra season of service when Ryan is in his
mid-20s and approaching unrestricted free agency. Another factor that may influence the decision is the 50-contract limit. Although Ryan is signed to an NHL entry-level deal, his contract doesn’t count against the limit unless he plays
professionally. With the Ducks perilously close to the limit, they may rather have Ryan return to junior
than shuffle the organization to make room for him at this time.

To add fuel to the Bobby Ryan question, his play in the Pacific Division Shootout was not as dominate as some expected. Although Ryan has played well, he certainly has not put in the performance that
was expected after previous breakout displays by players like Getzlaf and Perry in years past. All these factors, coupled with the fact that Ryan would most likely only be able to see a third line role at best seem to point to another season in Owen Sound for the New Jersey native. Although the Ducks have often said they will not hold a player back if he has proven he is ready to compete at the next level, Ryan will benefit from playing on what is expected to be a stacked Owen Sound squad and it will allow him another season to continue to battle concerns over his skating ability and conditioning.

Barring any unexpected performances, the only other forward prospect that seems ready to compete for a spot at this time is Ryan Shannon. Shannon had a stellar AHL rookie season, although there is some question
about whether he can duplicate those results. He is the preseason favorite to be the first call-up in case of injury. Meanwhile, Swede Bjorn Melin and Finn Petteri Wirtanen, both signed over the
offseason may be able to fill in a role on a checking line if a player goes down early in the year. Ryan Carter was impressive in the Pacific Division Shootout and could become a serious prospect if he can carry that into the AHL regular season.

The Ducks experienced most of their offseason change on the blue line, most notably with the addition of Chris Pronger, although at the expense of top defensive prospect, Ladislav Smid. Meanwhile, Vitali Vishnevski, Ruslan Salei and Maxim Kondratiev will all find themselves playing somewhere new this season. Vishnevski was traded to Atlanta for
agitator Karl Stewart; Salei signed with Florida as a free agent and Kondratiev chose to play in Russia for a season. Jason Marshall also played a small role with the team last season and has left to play in Europe.

To help deal with this changeover, Anaheim signed veteran defender Ian Moran, although he is expected to play a role similar to the one Marshall filled. This leaves on spot open on defense alongside Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Francois Beauchemin, Sean O’Donnell and Joe DiPenta. The top candidate to move up into this role is Shane O’Brien who has spent the last three seasons honing his skills in the AHL. A hard-nosed defenseman with a decent amount of offensive talent, O’Brien will face competition from Bruno St. Jacques, Aaron Rome and Brett Skinner for the final spot.

St. Jacques has 67 games of NHL experience under his belt, but they are over the course of four seasons and he has been unable to hold a roster spot in previous chances. Both Rome and Skinner may still be a season away from seriously competing for a spot with the Ducks, although either are possible candidates for a call-up if injuries hit the Ducks blue line.

Between the pipes, Anaheim almost had a scare when rumors of difficult contract negotiations with goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov began to take flight. However, the Ducks were able to sign Bryzgalov to a two-year deal and he will battle Jean-Sebastien Giguere for the starting position all season long. Giguere is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and makes significantly more money then Bryzgalov, so there may be an opening this time next year.

Anaheim signed Michael Leighton for depth when first word of difficulty with Bryzgalov was made known and now that may have an adverse effect of the goaltending situation in the minors. David McKee is one of the Ducks only goaltending prospects and he may find consistent playing time hard to come by, battling with Leighton, Nathan Marsters and Michael Wall in the minors. If the Ducks expect to find an NHL backup goalie for next season within their own system, McKee currently appears to be the only viable choice, but he won’t be ready if he is stuck doing door duty in Portland.

Other News

Anaheim’s prospects were unsuccessful in their attempt for winning their third Pacific Division Shootout Tournament in a row. After coming away on top for the past two years, the Ducks had to resign themselves to winning the consolation game against the San Jose Sharks prospect squad.

Dirk Southern, a former Anaheim draft pick who was not signed after graduating from college this spring played for the Ducks in the tournament. Although not invited to training camp for the big club, it is still possible that Southern could be invited to the AHL training camp for the Portland Pirates.

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