Ducks AHL/ECHL prospects season review

By Kevin Forbes

After finishing their inaugural year of their affiliation with the Anaheim Ducks atop the AHL‘s Eastern Conference and enjoying a long playoff run, expectations were high for the Portland Pirates entering the 2006-07. Unfortunately, for a multitude of reasons, the Pirates never were able to replicate their success of the previous season and ended the year with 28 fewer points and without a playoff berth. Trades, call-ups and long-term injuries all placed the Pirates roster in a near constant state of flux and as a result, they were unable to come together as a unit, when the lineup was changing on a weekly and sometimes daily basis.

Meanwhile in the ECHL, the first year of affiliation with Anaheim helped boost the Augusta Lynx to a minor improvement, jumping from a 66-point season that placed them sixth in the South Division to an 82-point year, good enough for fifth in the South Division this year.

Forwards

With a number of Portland’s top scorers from the 2005-06 season not returning, the team knew from the start that they would need to step up and carry a larger portion of the offensive load. Of the top 15 scorers for the squad last year, only AHL veterans Geoff Peters and Simon Ferguson finished the season with the Pirates at the end of the 2006-07 campaign.

Ryan Shannon, last year’s leading scorer, was rewarded for his efforts with a long-term audition in the NHL, playing just 14 games for the Pirates, scoring nine points. Veteran Shawn Thornton, who was signed in the off-season to provide leadership and stability to the young lineup, also soon found himself playing instead at the NHL level, with just 15 games with the Pirates, tallying eight points.

A multitude of trades also placed the rest of the Pirates forward corps in a constant state of flux. Zenon Konopka and Curtis Glencross were dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets in return for Joe Motzko, who finished the year as Portland’s top scorer with 65 points and Mark Hartigan, whose 57 points placed him second on the team in scoring. Meanwhile, Pierre Parenteau was dealt to Chicago and Colby Genoway was sent to Vancouver.

Two rookies headline the list of prospects who played the whole year in Portland. Both Ryan Carter and Drew Miller were thrust into larger roles thanks to the constantly state of flux that the roster experienced. As a result, they tied for fourth in scoring with identical stat lines of 16 goals and 36 points, although it took Miller 79 games compared to Carter’s 76. This was the highest total posted by a forward who spent his entire AHL season with the Pirates and both Miller and Carter have been rewarded for their solid play, having each appeared in playoff games with the Anaheim Ducks during their Stanley Cup run.

After the rookies, Tim Brent was also able to turn solid play into a call-up to the big show. In Brent’s case, he split time between the AHL and the NHL, scoring 30 points in 48 games as a Pirate, as well as seeing action in 15 games with a single goal as a Duck. His eight power-play goals tied with Ryan Carter for the second on the team, behind Hartigan’s 11 (although Hartigan only tallied twice with the man advantage while in Portland).

Rounding out the prospects is a pair of Europeans in Bjorn Melin and Petteri Wirtanen. Both players were in their first season in North America this year, with Melin also seeing time at the NHL level, playing in three games with a sole goal to his name. Melin, a Swede, finished the year with 22 points in 59 points with the Pirates, although reports indicate that he will be returning to Europe for the upcoming season. Meanwhile, Wirtanen tallied 18 points in 67 games with Portland.

The play of Miller, Carter, Brent and Wirtanen is encouraging for next season, even more so with three of the four experiencing time at the NHL level, which will undoubtedly benefit them in their future develop. However, it was by and large overshadowed by the dismal results of the unit as a whole. Offensively, the Pirates scored 81 fewer goals than the season before. Help is on the way, however, with prospects like Bobby Ryan, Bobby Bolt and Ryan Dingle all joining the squad late in the year for their first taste of AHL hockey. All three will no doubt see some time with the Pirates next season.

Defense

Like the forward corps, the defensive squad was also a shifting squad that even saw assistant coach Eric Weinrich strap on the skates and come from behind the bench to help the team. In 36 games, Weinrich scored two goals and had 14 points.

Kent Huskins, a defensive rock for the Pirates during the beginning of the season, was called up by the Ducks twice, sticking with the squad permanently during the second call-up. In his 39 games with the Pirates, he had three goals and 15 points with a +3.

Stepping up on the Portland blue line was Clay Wilson and Brian Salcido. Wilson took advantage of the opportunity caused by the player movement and ended the season third in team scoring with 43 points, including nine goals in 79 games. Salcido on the other hand, enjoyed a solid first season in the AHL, with seven goals and 27 points in 76 games. Of particular note is Salcido’s +15 rating, placing him tops on the team among players who finished the season in the Ducks pipeline.

Aaron Rome finished his third season of AHL hockey with more of the same, ending with eight goals and 25 points in 76 games. Rome also experienced his first taste of NHL hockey, appearing in one regular season game as well as one playoff game to date with the Ducks.

Brett Skinner found himself as the odd man out on the blue line and was sent to the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights in an AHL deal in February. He finished the year with 24 points in 62 games and was also able to contribute three assists in five games during the Knights short taste of AHL playoff hockey.

After graduating Shane O’Brien and Kent Huskins this year, Portland’s blue line will undergo many more changes in the off-season with some new recruits coming from the major junior ranks, as well as any other trades or free agent signings that could be expected.

Goaltenders

While it may be hard to believe, the most change over the course of the season may have occurred between the pipes for the Pirates. Starting the season with Michael Leighton and Michael Wall as their goaltending tandem, the season saw seven goaltenders play for Portland.

Gerald Coleman joined the team shortly before the NHL trade deadline from the Tampa Bay organization. He played 11 of his 14 AHL games with the Pirates going 4-5-0 with a 2.89 GAA and a .895 save percentage. He is expected to return next season, although it is not known in what role.

The goaltending job for the Pirates was thrown into disarray after Leighton was claimed on recall waivers and the team suddenly found themselves without a starting goaltender at the AHL level. They were able to acquire Sebastien Caron shortly thereafter and Jean-Philippe Levasseur is expected to move to the pro ranks next season. In addition, the Ducks have recently signed Jonas Hiller, a 25-year-old goaltender from Switzerland who turned a few heads with his impressive play during the World Championships this spring.

ECHL

The constant movement of players at the AHL level also affected the ECHL roster, with a number of Portland players also seeing some time as members of the Augusta Lynx. The notable trio who played the majority of their season with the Lynx was forward Shane Hynes, defenseman Nathan Saunders and goaltender David McKee.

Hynes was sent to the Lynx at the beginning of the season to ease his recovery from a serious knee injury suffered a year before. In 49 games with the Lynx, Hynes had 17 goals and 45 points and was named to play in the ECHL All-Star Game, but was unable to participate due to injury. He was held without a point in five games with the Pirates in the AHL, but should challenge for a spot with Portland next season.

Saunders also was with the Lynx to aid in his recovery from injury; in his case, it was a shoulder injury from the previous season. In 59 games with the Lynx, he scored a goal and had 14 points with 107 penalty minutes. He saw time in 16 AHL games with Portland, contributing three assists. A full-time assignment with the Pirates next season may be difficult but as always, it all depends on how many players are in the mix when training camp rolls around in the fall.

McKee is perhaps one of more well-traveled of the Anaheim prospects this year, jetting from Augusta to Portland to Anaheim and back. Although he did not see time at the NHL level, he did serve as backup for the team on two occasions due to injuries, which also allowed him to work with goaltending consultant Francois Allaire. In 52 games with the Lynx, McKee had a record of 29-5-1-1 with a goals-against-average of 3.35 and a save percentage of .898.  In the ECHL playoffs, McKee posted a 2.23 GAA and .911 save percentage in two games.

During his seven-game stay with the Portland Pirates, he went 5-2 with a 2.85 GAA and a .899 save percentage. 

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