Ducks CHL prospect season review

By Kevin Forbes

The Anaheim Ducks had 10 prospects playing across Canada in the CHL this season. The team had two prospects playing in both the Western Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, with the remainder playing in the Ontario. Depending on how things shake out, this could have been the last taste of junior hockey for seven of the prospects.

OHL

Bobby Ryan, RW – Owen Sound Attack
Drafted 2nd overall (1st round) in 2005

This season, probably his last in the OHL, can only be described as bittersweet for Bobby Ryan. Although the 20-year-old once again posted huge offensive numbers, leading his team and finishing eighth in the league, there was an overall feeling of ‘what could have been’ when describing the play of Ryan and the Owen Sound Attack. As captain of the Attack, Ryan drew criticism throughout the season for trying to do too much and over-exerting himself on the ice, often hindering, not helping his teammates. This may all be due to the ‘weight’ of the C on his sweater as Ryan found himself as the leader of a squad that never quite seemed to play up to the sum of its parts. Owen Sound featured a number of NHL drafted prospects and much more was expected from the team. Instead, they delivered a lackluster 31-30-3-4 season and bowed out quickly in the first round of the playoffs, being swept by the London Knights. Ryan scored just a single goal, with two points in the four game series.

To his credit, Ryan has already shown signs of putting any misgivings of the 2006-07 season behind him. Shortly after being eliminated from the OHL playoffs, he joined the Ducks minor league affiliate in Portland and brought a late spark to the Pirates with three goals and nine points in eight games to finish the AHL season. Ryan will be spending the off-season working as hard as he can to prepare for training camp in the fall. He has an outside chance of cracking the Ducks roster, but is more likely to see time in the AHL before becoming an NHL regular.

John deGray, D – Brampton Battalion
Drafted 83rd overall (3rd round) in 2006

John deGray is another Ducks prospect who captained an OHL team during the 2006-07 season, but the similarities with Bobby Ryan end there. Whereas Ryan is an offensive star on a team that had high hopes entering the season, deGray is a stay-at-home defenseman on an extremely young team with the potential to compete down the road. Named team captain at the age of 18, the honor highlights not only his poise both on and off the ice, but also says a lot about the team that he leads. With a record of 27-36-1-4, Brampton’s 59 points were the lowest of any playoff team in the OHL. However, with a roster filled mostly with players aged 18 years old or younger, this was not expected to be a strong year for the Battalion. deGray was a stable presence on the blue line, with 17 points in 65 games and a -2 on a team that was a -63 overall. That plus/minus rating is more notable when the fact that deGray often faced the opposition’s top lines on a nightly basis is considered. However, deGray’s solidifying play wasn’t enough when the Battalion drew the Barrie Colts as a first round opponent in the playoffs. Brampton was handily eliminated in a four-game sweep.

deGray will return to lead the Battalion in the 2007-08 season. An additional year under his belt and those of his teammates will undoubtedly raise expectations. With that said, the balance of power in junior hockey quickly changes so it is hard to say where Brampton will end up in a year’s time. deGray should be on schedule to turn pro after next season and join the Ducks farm system the following year.

Matt Beleskey, LW – Belleville Bulls
Drafted 112th overall (4th round) in 2006

Matt Beleskey has been a pleasant addition to the Ducks organization since being drafted a year ago. The Windsor, Ontario native enjoyed a breakthrough season with the Belleville Bulls, totaling more points during the 2006-07 campaign than he did in his previous two years in the OHL combined. His 68 points in 66 games was fourth on the team, where he also serves as an alternate captain. Beleskey’s contributions helped the Bulls secure top spot in the East Division and make significant noise in the OHL playoffs. Belleville first eliminated the Ottawa 67’s in five games, before sweeping the Oshawa Generals in four games straight. This set up an Eastern Conference final versus the Sudbury Wolves, who eventually toppled the Bulls in six games. Beleskey was again counted on to provide secondary scoring throughout the post season run, finishing fifth on the team with 14 points in 15 games.

With the Bulls’ two top scorers in Tyler Donati and Tyler Doig moving on, Beleskey will be called upon to play an increased role on the squad in the coming year. The pressure will be on for him to improve on the impressive growth he showed this season. If all goes according to plan, he should turn pro in a year’s time, but will no doubt need some seasoning in the Duck’s minor league system before he is ready to make the jump to the NHL.

Matt Auffrey, RW – Kingston Frontenacs
Drafted 172nd overall (6th round) in 2004

Playing in his final year in the OHL, Matt Auffrey continued to work hard to show that his decision to leave the NCAA ranks and play major junior hockey in Canada was the right decision. The 21-year-old forward bounced between three OHL teams, starting the year with the Kitchener Rangers before being shipped to join fellow Ducks prospect, John de Gray on the Brampton Battalion and than finally joining another Anaheim draft pick, Bobby Bolt on the Kingston Frontenacs. Overall, in 65 games, he posted 57 points, while bringing a hard-working style to the rink for each game. The Frontenacs faced the Oshawa Generals in the first round of the OHL playoffs and despite Auffrey’s contributions of 7 points to tie for the team lead; they were eliminated in five games.

Thanks to the signing rules regarding NCAA draft picks, the Ducks were able to hold onto Auffrey’s rights until the conclusion of what would have been his fourth year at the University of Wisconsin. That timing coincides with Auffrey’s over-age season in the OHL and now Anaheim has to make a choice about offering a contract or letting him become a free agent. It should mainly boil down to a question of organizational depth in addition to keeping an eye on the 50-contract limit mandated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It is possible that Anaheim feels there are other prospects, perhaps younger ones with a higher potential and it is worth noting that prior to Kingston’s short playoff run, the Ducks did sign Auffrey’s team mate, Bobby Bolt to a three-year entry level deal.

Jason Bailey, RW – Ottawa 67s
Drafted 63rd overall (3rd round) in 2005

Like Matt Auffrey, Jason Bailey is also working hard to show that his decision to leave the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA for the Ontario Hockey League was a sound idea. The Ottawa native’s 2006-07 season was split between college hockey and junior hockey. He left the Wolverines late in the 2006 calendar year to join the 67’s, his hometown team who owned his OHL rights. In 35 games with the 67’s, Bailey tallied 16 points, placing him 13th on the team in scoring. Those are certainly not the gaudiest statistics, but it is worth noting that pro-rated over a full season of play, Bailey’s production would have placed him eighth on the team in scoring. When the playoffs came about, Bailey was held without a point, playing in four of the five games against the Belleville Bulls, with one game missed due to injury.

Like Auffrey, the Ducks have the freedom of continuing to hold onto his rights until the end of what would have been his fourth year of college. That’s another two years away for the hard-working forward, which means he will most likely return to the 67’s again next season as an over-ager. Bailey left Michigan due to concerns about playing time and lack of opportunity to play on a scoring line in the deep Wolverine lineup. Unfortunately for him, he may have found himself in a similar situation with the 67’s, with many talented players on the roster.

Bobby Bolt, LW – Kingston Frontenacs
Drafted 127th overall (5th round) in 2005

On a personal level, Bobby Bolt would be hard pressed to have a stronger season. The 6’3 forward blossomed under the direction of new coach, Bruce Cassidy even while the Kingston Frontenacs as a whole struggled somewhat and had their playoff run come to an end far sooner than expected. Bolt’s growth was leaps and bounds ahead of previous years, finishing with more goals, assists and points than he had in all his other OHL seasons combined. With 50 points in 62 games, Bolt finished seventh on his team as all the pieces of his power forward game fell into place. Statistically speaking, he was even stronger in the post season, with six points, all of them assists in the five games played against the Oshawa Generals.

All in all, Bolt’s strong season drew the attention of the Ducks, who rewarded him with a three-year-entry level contract. Bolt made the jump to professional hockey almost immediately after his OHL season came to a close, signing an Amateur Tryout contract with the Portland Pirates. In five games with the Ducks AHL affiliate, Bolt totaled a goal and two points. He’ll no doubt return to Maine for additional time developing in the 2007-08 season.

QMJHL

Jean-Philippe Levasseur, G – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Drafted 197th overall (7th round) in 2005

Jean-Philippe Levasseur, Anaheim’s top goaltending prospect enjoyed another strong season in what should be his final year in the QMJHL. One of the busiest goaltenders in the league, Levasseur played a total of 3117 minutes, third most in the league. He finished with a record of 31-21 and a goals-against average of 3.50 as well as a save percentage of .889. While these are only average statistics for a league known to be a hotbed of goaltending development, the Huskies have had troubles playing tight defensively in front of him at times. Those misgivings aside, Rouyn-Noranda was able to mount a very impressive playoff run. Making it all the way to the third round of the playoffs, the Huskies knocked off higher seeded teams from Gatineau and Drummondville before bowing out to the Lewiston Maineacs in a four game sweep. Levasseur went 8-6 with a 3.59 goals-against average and a .876 save percentage, all the while dealing with a leg injury that saw him miss a game during the second round.

Signing an entry-level contract earlier in the season, Levasseur is penciled in to join the Portland Pirates next season. He will hopefully provide some stability to a position that has seen nine different players strap on the pads over the past two years. He will need to continue improving and will no doubt benefit considerably from working with Francois Allaire, Anaheim’s goaltending consultant on a regular basis. While the Ducks goaltending at the NHL level appears solid at the moment, it is hard to predict what the situation will look like in a few years when Levasseur could be ready to make the jump.

Bryce Swan, RW – Halifax Mooseheads
Drafted 38th overall (2nd round) in 2006

Bryce Swan enjoyed a career year in 2006-07, if only due to the fact that he played almost twice the number of games this year compared to his previous two seasons in the QMJHL. Known as a hard-nosed player, staying healthy has always been a concern for Swan, and while this year he was able to play in 61 games, he did go through some struggles earlier in the year, thanks to a broken arm. An alternate captain with the Mooseheads, Swan was counted on to provide secondary scoring behind highly touted rookie, Jakub Voracek. Tallying 35 goals and 54 points in 61 games, he also was not afraid to bang and crash which got him in trouble at times, earning him 70 penalty minutes. Like Islander forward Ryan Smyth, whom he models his game after, Swan potted most of his goals from standing in front of the net, tipping pucks and potting rebounds, while taking punishment from defenders. Unfortunately for Halifax, Swan, along with many other members of the Mooseheads were effectively shut down by the defensive play of Lewiston Maineacs in the second round. Lewiston eventually eliminated the Herd in five games after the Mooseheads were able to knock off the Moncton Wildcats in seven games to start their playoff run. Swan finished his post season run with six goals and nine points in 12 games.

Due to his age and the year that he was drafted, Swan could potentially play in the AHL next season. However, at present, he isn’t signed to an entry-level NHL deal and the Ducks do not need to sign him until next summer. It is expected that he will return to the Mooseheads for a fourth season and he’ll be part of a squad that is expected to be much improved.

WHL

Brendan Mikkelson, D – Vancouver Giants
Drafted 31st overall (2nd round) in 2005

It may have most of the season, but reports from Vancouver point to Brendan Mikkelson finally being at 100% after working to come back from a 2005-07 season that was waylaid by multiple injuries, the most traumatic being a severe knee injury. Mikkelson is known for his skating ability and while that part of his game doesn’t appear to have suffered, missing almost a year of development made stepping back into the Giants lineup a challenge. In 69 games, he scored six goals and finished with 29 points, with his game improving throughout the season at both ends of the ice. This consistent improvement can be seen when looking at his playoff stats. Through three rounds, Mikkelson leads Vancouver defensemen with nine points in 16 games. His defensive game is also much improved, going from a regular season +2 on a team that was +102 overall to a more respectable +8 on a +34 team. Regardless of the outcome of the WHL Championship series against the Medicine Hat Tigers, the Giants will be playing in the Memorial Cup, due to the fact that they are hosting the tournament this year.

Mikkelson signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Ducks earlier in the season and he is old enough to make the jump to professional hockey after this season ends. It is hard to say whether he would be better served returning for another year in Vancouver or playing in the Ducks minor league system. Something worth noting is that returning to junior would guarantee him plenty of minutes; however the quality of play at the AHL level would obviously be stronger. It may come down to how the defensive pairings shake out in Portland, as he might not benefit from the jump if he can’t receive quality minutes.

Brett Festerling, D – Vancouver Giants
Signed as a free agent, 2005

The heart and soul of the Vancouver Giants, Brett Festerling is making sure his final WHL season is one to remember. As captain of the B.C. Division winning team, Festerling was second only to teammate Jonathon Blum in plus/minus in the WHL with a +35. He’s also a key reason why the Giants were fourth in the league in effectiveness on the penalty kill. While known for his defensive play, he also enjoyed a career season at the other end of the ice with five goals and 21 points. In the playoffs, he continues his strong defense, tied for second in the league with a +13, while also posting five points in 17 games. Festerling already experienced competition in the Memorial Cup last year in Moncton, this year his goal is to end his junior career with a Memorial Cup championship.

An over-ager this year, Festerling will make the jump to the professional ranks next year. The graduation of stay-at-home defenseman Kent Huskins provides the ideal NHL model for Festerling to follow, but it should also be noted that he will have plenty of competition. Festerling is probably a few years away from being able to challenge for an NHL spot, but he will need to not only bring his solid defensive game to the ice every night at the pro level, but work hard to set himself aside from the other defensemen in the Ducks pipeline.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.