Ducks Top 20 prospects

By Kevin Forbes

There’s an old adage that says ‘you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs,’ meaning sometimes sacrifices need to be made for a greater good. In the case of the organizational pipeline of the Anaheim Ducks, prospects and picks have been casualties for the goal of winning the Stanley Cup sometime in the near future. Once one of the more promising wells of prospect talent in the league, a mix of graduations, trades and team decisions has significantly depleted the Ducks prospects list. However, if the team finds themselves on the winning end of the playoffs, it will all be worth it.

In the days leading up to the NHL trade deadline, Anaheim GM Brian Burke stated many times that he was unwilling to mortgage the future of the team for a quick boost to the lineup. Standing by his word, the top five prospects for Anaheim remain virtually unchanged from last fall. Behind them, however, there has been significant upheaval with the entire list of 20 featuring six new faces. The future still remains bright, with plenty of depth at all positions.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Bobby Ryan   
2. Mark Mitera
3. Jean-Philippe Levasseur
4. Brendan Mikkelson
5. Bryce Swan
6. Ryan Shannon
7. Drew Miller
8. Tim Brent
9. Brian Salcido
10. Aaron Rome
11. David McKee
12. John deGray
13. Doug O’Brien
14. Clay Wilson
15. Matt Beleskey
16. Kyle Klubertanz
17. Brett Skinner
18. Shane Hynes
19. Brett Festerling
20. Petteri Wirtanen

1. (1) Bobby Ryan, RW – 19
Acquired: Drafted 2nd overall in 2005
Continuing his reign as the top prospect for Anaheim, Bobby Ryan has enjoyed another strong year in what will probably be his final season in the Ontario Hockey League. As captain of the Owen Sound Attack, Ryan led his team and was eighth in league scoring with 43 goals and 102 points in 63 games. This marks the third consecutive year that Ryan has found himself among the top 10 scorers in the league. Ryan’s productive junior career has also led him to setting franchise records for goals, assists and points with an impressive 325 points in 249 games. He was named the OHL‘s player of the week twice, one of only three other players to win the award more than once during the 2006-07 season  (along with Atlanta’s Bryan Little and 16-year-old phenom John Tavares).

Despite all these accomplishments, all is not rosy for the New Jersey native. Owen Sound struggled mightily throughout the season, finishing with a record just over the .500 mark at 31-30-3-4. Considering the potential of the Attack’s lineup, with three NHL first-round picks and, at one point, a half dozen NHL drafted prospects in total, a lot more was expected from Owen Sound. To his own credit, Ryan has been noted as single-handedly carrying the team at different points during the season, but he is not exempt from some of the blame for the disorderly year in Owen Sound. Coupled with the underachievement on his own team, Ryan also found himself left off another team: Team USA for the World Junior Tournament. Despite finishing third in team scoring during the 2006 World Juniors in Vancouver, Ryan was not invited to play for his country in Sweden. A testament to the type of player he is, Ryan seemed to use the snub as motivation, scoring at a rate of almost two points a game after the tournament started and through to the end of January.

2. (5) Mark Mitera, D – 19
Acquired: Drafted 19th overall in 2006
It would almost be fair to judge Mitera‘s season as two separate entities, with a first half of the year rife with struggles and inconsistency and a return to the solid defensive coverage for which he was drafted in the second half of the year. Indeed during the first half of the season, the entire Michigan squad lacked a solid defensive identity, like one would expect given the other highly touted names on the Wolverines blue line, ranging from Jack Johnson (LA) to Chris Summers (LA) to Matt Hunwick (BOS). However, once the calendar turned, so did their fortunes, as they tightened up in their own end as well as continuing to stoke their potent offense. Michigan possesses the NCAA‘s strongest offense (averaging more than four goals per game) while their defense is a respectable sixth.

Mitera’s own play mirrored the fortunes of his team. He set career highs in goals, assists and points with one goal and 18 points in 40 games played. At times, his play in the first half of the season could be described as tentative and it is thought that these troubles had a lot to do with why he wasn’t chosen to play for Team USA at the World Juniors, despite playing the previous year. Echoing the Wolverines as a whole, Mitera appeared to play with increased confidence and poise in the New Year, once again working hard in his own zone and playing a solid defense-first game.

3. (8) Jean-Philippe Levasseur, G – 20
Acquired: Drafted 197th overall in 2005
Moving steadily up the charts since he was drafted in 2005, Levasseur has continued to show why he could be considered one of the steals of the 2005 draft. Signed to an entry-level contract in December, the Quebec-born goaltender is proving his mettle as one of the top goaltenders in the QMJHL. In 58 games played (3rd most in the Q), Levasseur has posted a record of 31-21, tied for the lead league in wins. Meanwhile, his save percentage of .889 and his goals against average of 3.50 place him 12th and 13th respectively among goaltenders appearing in at least 25 games. All of this while playing for the offensively focused Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and facing an average of 31.5 shots per game. Perhaps one of the more impressive statistics is his success in the shootout, stopping 31 of 36 shots for an average of 86.1 percent. This is second only to Moncton’s Jhase Sniderman among goaltenders facing at least 20 shots. Levasseur was named the QMJHL‘s defensive player of the week twice over the course of the season.

4. (6) Brendan Mikkelson, D – 19
Acquired: Drafted 31st overall in 2005
It has been a long road back for Brendan Mikkelson. His 2005-06 season after being drafted was knocked off course by a number of injuries that left him playing only 22 games. The lowlight was a torn ACL that left him off the ice for three months and out of the game for almost half a year. Understandably, this season has been one of catching up and finding his game again after such a catastrophic injury so early in his career. His team, the Vancouver Giants, lost a number of defensemen during the off season and the hope was that Mikkelson could step into the void. Struggling initially, he eventually regained his sense of the game and finished the season third amongst defensemen on his team with six goals and 29 points in 69 games. Most impressive is Mikkelson’s improvement in his own end, which can be seen by being a minus player throughout the first half of the season (a -4 at the end of January) and yet finishing the year at +6. Among the final cuts at Team Canada’s World Junior Selection Camp in December, Mikkelson appears to have used that as motivation, scoring all of his goals after returning to the Giants.

5. (7) Bryce Swan, RW – 19
Acquired: Drafted 38th overall in 2006
It is hard to say when Anaheim scouts saw Swan play prior to drafting him in the summer of 2006. Due to a number of injuries, the Nova Scotia native played in only 34 games during the 2005-06 season. In comparison to that, this season has been a huge success. An alternate captain for the Halifax Mooseheads, Swan has set career highs in practically every statistic that is tracked by the QMJHL. In 61 games, he led the team with 35 goals and had 54 points. Known for his rough-house style, Swan also served 70 minutes in the penalty box. Twelve of his goals came on the power play, where he usually sets himself up in front of the net.

Enduring plenty of struggles early in the season, Swan missed five games due to injury and another three because of a suspension. However, soon after returning to lineup, he pulled his game together and it’s no surprise that the Mooseheads also played much stronger as a result.

6. (12) Ryan Shannon, C – 24
Acquired: Signed as a free agent, 2005
Shannon first drew attention last season after leading the Portland Pirates in scoring. This year, he has seen only minimal time in the AHL, spending most of the year with the Ducks in the NHL. A speedy forward, Shannon played in 14 games for Portland, scoring two goals and nine points, well off his 1.2 point-per-game average of the previous season. Meanwhile, in 50 games with the Ducks, he has tallied a goal and 11 points. Shannon has played mostly spot duty, averaging just over 10 minutes a game with minimal time on the power play. He hasn’t always found the room to play his game, but his speed and hard work has been an added boost to the team.

A former college star with Boston College, the next step in Shannon’s development is to bring the scoring touch he showed in the minors to the NHL. He’s slowly but surely establishing himself as an NHL regular. A sign of this growth was his exclusion from the Pirates clear-day roster, which, although the Pirates are not in good shape for playoff competition, is a safe indication that his AHL days are over. He will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

7. (15) Drew Miller, LW – 23
Acquired: Drafted 186th overall in 2003
A former captain at Michigan State, Miller‘s first year in the AHL has been solid. Although the Pirates have struggled mightily with multiple trades and call-ups changing the makeup of the team on an almost nightly basis, Miller has been a steady contributor. The only Pirates player to appear in all 67 games to date, he has scored 11 goals and has 27 points, leading Portland rookies. He’s also contributing on special teams, with two power-play goals and more importantly, two short-handed markers. Miller was known for being a short-handed threat during his time in the NCAA and his two goals while down a man are tied for second on the team.

Despite being so new to the AHL, Miller should be counted on to be a leader both on and off the ice next season for the Pirates. His pedigree indicates he is more than capable of handling the challenge and with a little luck, he could be seeing his first taste of NHL action within a year.

8. (17) Tim Brent, C – 22
Acquired: Drafted 75th overall in 2004
It should be no coincidence that Brent‘s first healthy season also led to his first look at NHL hockey. Splitting the season between the Pirates and the Ducks, the former OHL star has rebounded after missing 77 of 160 regular season games over the previous two seasons. This year, in 42 games with the Pirates, Brent has scored 14 goals and has 27 points, including eight power-play goals, which is good enough for second on the team. Meanwhile, in his 13 games at the NHL level, Brent has a single goal, the first of his NHL career, scored against Vancouver in late February. Currently on the Ducks roster, Brent has been a healthy scratch the last two games. He’s seeing minimal time, averaging just over 7 minutes of ice time per game. It is thought that he will return to Portland when Todd Marchant returns from injury.

A restricted free agent at season’s end, Brent is slowly moving towards becoming a full-time NHL player. It can be expected that next season will be another step in the process, once again splitting time between the minors and the NHL. After missing so much time at the beginning of his pro career, Brent is finally managing to get back on track.

9. (16) Brian Salcido, D – 21
Acquired: Drafted 141st overall in 2005
One of four rookies to appear in more than 60 games for the Portland Pirates, Salcido is the only defenseman amongst the group. A former standout offensive defenseman for Colorado College, Salcido was a bit of a surprise addition, signing a contract in August. His 22 points are third amongst Pirates defensemen, while two of his seven goals have come with the man advantage. In fact, he started his pro career with a bang, scoring the game-winning goal in his first regular season AHL game. For a player who is known for his flair in the attacking zone, his +7 (tops amongst players who have spent the whole season with the Pirates) is particularly impressive, while also an indication that he isn’t responsible for shutting down top players on opposing teams.

Salcido’s debut at the pro level has been more than impressive and he’s shown that he is on the right track to potentially becoming a power-play specialist in the NHL. He’ll no doubt return to the Pirates next season, where he’ll be counted on to contribute with the man advantage as well as continue to develop the rest of his game.

10. (18) Aaron Rome, D – 23
Acquired: Signed as a free agent, 2004
It is difficult to say what the future holds for Rome. A former Los Angeles Kings draft pick, Rome has been a member of the Ducks organization for the last three years, playing almost exclusively in the AHL. A restricted free agent at season’s end, Rome has already watched another hard-nosed defenseman in Shane O’Brien graduate to the NHL level from the minors and later move out of the organization completely. The next year will be very important for Rome’s future.

In 66 games this season with Portland, Rome has scored six goals and has 22 points, good enough for second amongst defensemen, along with 122 penalty minutes, which ties him for second on the team. A veteran on the Pirates blue line at the age of 23, Rome also saw a single game at the NHL game due to a number of injuries on the Ducks blue line. Playing against the Detroit Red Wings in early January, Rome was a -1 with a single shot in a 2-1 loss for Anaheim.

11. (11) David McKee, G – 23
Acquired: Signed as a free agent, 2006
David McKee has had quite the season, to say the least. Although he has only played in the ECHL with the Ducks affiliate in Augusta, McKee also saw two stints serving as a backup goaltender in Anaheim when injuries struck the Ducks normal tandem of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov. Although he did not see any ice time at the NHL level, the experience was no doubt huge for the rookie pro. A record-setting net minder for Cornell University, McKee has a 27-15-1 record with the Augusta Lynx, fourth in wins in ECHL and first among rookie goaltenders. His other statistics aren’t as sterling, with a goals-against-average of 3.35 and a save percentage of .898. However, it is all part of the learning process as McKee explained in an interview earlier in the season with Hockey’s Future. He is modifying his style under the direction of Anaheim goalie guru Francois Allaire.

As is often the case with young goaltenders, they need to play to develop. Depending on how the positions ahead of him shake out, McKee would be best served either returning as the starter in Augusta or playing a regular role with Portland next season.

12. (NR) John deGray, D – 19
Acquired: Drafted 83rd overall in 2006
It seems the Ducks are never at a loss to develop defensive defensemen. John deGray is a perfect example of that. The captain of the Brampton Battalion, the 2006-07 season hasn’t been without its struggles. Brampton iced a relatively young team this year and finished the season with a record of 27-36-1-4, squeezing into the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. deGray himself had a fairly strong season. He posted career highs in goals, assists and points with four goals and 17 points in total. He was a -2 on a team that was -63 altogether, which is quite remarkable considering he usually faces the opposition’s top lines. He was also named to the OHL‘s Eastern Conference All Stars, where he was credited with an assist.  deGray will return to the OHL next season and is on track to turn pro a year after that.

13. (NR) Doug O’Brien, D – 23
Acquired: Trade with Tampa Bay, 2007
One of the newer faces to the Ducks organization, O’Brien was acquired prior to the NHL trade deadline, only a few days after the Ducks shipped another O’Brien (in this case, Shane) to Tampa Bay. Splitting the season between the Springfield Falcons, the Lightning’ AHL affiliate and the Portland Pirates, O’Brien is a perfect example of the benefits of a change of scenery. In his 53 games with the Falcons, he had six goals and 19 points and was a -14. Since coming to the Pirates, he’s had two assists and is a +3 in 10 games. A two-way defenseman, O’Brien drew some ire for his inconsistent play with Springfield, which may have led to his ticket out of town. While he hasn’t shown much of his offensive game in Portland, it can be imagined that he is attempting to recover what’s left of the season. A restricted free agent at season’s end, he’ll try to benefit for another chance with a new organization.

14. (NR) Clay Wilson, D – 23
Acquired: Signed as a free agent, 2006
Clay Wilson has been a bit of a shrewd pickup by Anaheim. Playing last season with the Grand Rapids Griffins as an undrafted free agent, he was signed to a contract by the Ducks prior to this year and has responded by leading the Pirates blue line in scoring. Although his six goals and 35 points in 66 games are slightly down from his pace last year, he remains an intriguing prospect. Known more for his offensive game, he also has posted a respectable +2 on a Portland team that is collectively a -15. A former Michigan Tech blue liner, Wilson might not have the ability to play regularly at the NHL level, but there’s still time for him to develop further. He’ll more than likely return to the Pirates lineup next season.

15. (NR) Matt Beleskey, LW – 18
Acquired: Drafted 112th overall in 2006
A pleasant surprise for the Ducks, Beleskey broke out in his third season in the OHL, scoring more points than his first two seasons combined. Playing in 66 games for the Belleville Bulls, Beleskey scored 27 goals and 68 points, good enough for fourth on his team. In addition to his scoring prowess, he has a bit of grit in his game, as can be evidenced in his 124 penalty minutes, second most on the team.

16. (20) Kyle Klubertanz, D – 21
Acquired: Drafted 74th overall in 2004
It was a bit of a disappointing year for defenseman Klubertanz. He was expected to help fill the void left behind on the Wisconsin blue line by the graduation of Tom Gilbert (EDM) but instead he struggled all season just trying to replicate his own contributions from the previous year. Finishing second amongst Badger defensemen with one goal and 13 points in 34 games, Klubertanz’s contributions represented an eight-point drop compared to the previous year and were the lowest totals of his college career. It seems the whole Wisconsin team had troubles clicking after a NCAA championship winning season the year before. Finishing the year tied for sixth in the WCHA with a record of 12-13-3, Wisconsin beat Denver and Michigan Tech in the WCHA Tournament, only to fall to Minnesota in the semi-finals, ending their year. Klubertanz has one more season left with Wisconsin and he’ll need to get his game back on track to assure himself a pro contract after graduation.

17. (10) Brett Skinner, D – 23
Acquired: Trade with Vancouver, 2006
Skinner joined the Pirates at the beginning of the 2006-07 season and never really found his place. After being acquired by Anaheim from Vancouver at the trade deadline last season, Skinner finished the season with the Manitoba Moose, his former team’s AHL affiliate. Joining Portland for this season, he started the season strong, but endured long cold streaks throughout November and December. He soon found himself out of favor, spending a five-game stint in the ECHL and later, the odd man out on the blue line. This culminated in mid-February when he was loaned to the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights for the remainder of the season. In 41 games with the Pirates, Skinner scored six goals and had 18 points, meanwhile in the 12 games he has played to date with the Knights, he has had five assists. In his five games with Augusta in the ECHL, he scored a goal and had four points. The loan to Omaha might be a blessing for the Manitoba native, as the Knights are second in the West Division and third in the Western Conference with a record of 40-22-4-1.

18. (NR) Shane Hynes, RW – 23
Acquired: Drafted 86th overall in 2003
In just his second year of pro hockey, Hynes finds himself playing catch-up. A devastating knee injury, including a torn ACL in his rookie season limited him to just 12 games and now he’s trying to claw his way back to being viewed as a noteworthy prospect. Spending the entire season in the ECHL with the Ducks affiliate in Augusta, Hynes is making a case for himself that he’s ready for the next challenge. In 47 games with the Lynx, he has 17 goals and 45 points along with 90 penalty minutes. This places him seventh among ECHL rookies, with a point-per-game average behind only rookie scoring leader Colton Fretter. Hynes was selected for the ECHL All-Star Game, however, an injury prevented him from playing.

19. (NR) Brett Festerling, D – 21
Acquired: Signed as a free agent, 2005
A defensive defenseman, Festerling is enjoying a larger role in his final season in the WHL. After playing a depth role for most of his junior career, the British Columbia native is being counted upon by the Vancouver Giants to provide key defensive play and leadership this season as the team defends their WHL Championships. The captain of the Giants this year, Festerling scored five goals and 21 points in 70 games, which mark career highs in games played as well as most offensive categories. The real story could be his +35 plus/minus, second only to teammate Jonathan Blum in the WHL. He was also a key part of Vancouver’s top ranked penalty kill. Teammate to fellow Anaheim prospect Mikkelson, the perfect end to Festerling’s WHL career would be a Memorial Cup.

20. Petteri Wirtanen, C – 20
Acquired: Drafted 172nd overall in 2006
Anaheim fans often speak favorably about Swedish forward Sami Pahlsson for his hard work and steady play during his five years in the NHL. Most would love to have another player just like him. That’s exactly what Petteri Wirtanen might become. Drafted at the age of 20 and immediately signed and brought over from Finland, Wirtanen is slowly navigating his way through his first year playing hockey in North America. In 63 games with the Pirates, he has seven goals and 17 points. Certainly not eye-popping numbers, but Wirtanen was known in Finland for his defensive play and penalty-killing attributes. Still young, the Ducks can afford to take it slow with him.

Missing the cut

Jason Bailey, RW – 19
Acquired: Drafted 63rd overall in 2005
Last season, a story of note was Ducks prospect Matt Auffrey leaving the University of Wisconsin (who eventually went on to win the NCAA championships) to play in the OHL. This year, a similar story took place with Jason Bailey. After playing in 19 games for the Michigan Wolverines and being held scoreless with an ugly plus/minus (-11) and many untimely penalties (28 minutes worth), Bailey joined the Ottawa 67’s. He provided an immediate spark to the lineup with 11 points in his first 15 games, but slowed down shortly thereafter. In 35 games for the 67’s, Bailey has seven goals and 16 points, along with 88 penalty minutes. Known mainly as a grinder, it’s still unclear whether his gamble to switch to the OHL will pay off, although it appears his game is much more suited for the league.

Bobby Bolt, LW – 19
Acquired: Drafted 127th overall in 2005
Bolt was drafted as a project and has just recently started to come to fruition. The new owner of a three-year entry-level deal, Bolt broke out this season with the Kingston Frontenacs. His 50 points in 62 games doubles his previous career high, as does his 22 goals. A monster of a player at 6’4, 216lbs, Bolt put all the tools to his game together in his third full year in the OHL. Also of note: he was a +1, one of only five players with a positive rating on a team that was collectively -15.

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