Ducks Top 10 Prospects
Coming off their first Stanley Cup Championship, the Anaheim Ducks will continue to ice a competitive squad in the fall no matter what the outcome of the off-season brings. They really only need to address their notable free agents, either by finding room to bring everyone back or replacing those that have to be let go. Anaheim benefits from having most of their core roster players such as Andy McDonald, Ryan Getzlaf, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Samuel Pahlsson under contract for at least another year, if not longer.
The first question mark that does arise is between the pipes. Jean-Sebastien Giguere is an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and while both sides seem to be saying the right things to the media, it can be expected that GM Brian Burke will only bring Giguere back if the price is right. Behind Giguere is Ilya Bryzgalov, who has played well at stretches but hasn’t shown enough yet to be handed the starting reigns. It is expected that one of the two goaltenders will not be returning to Anaheim for the 2007-08 season. The Ducks also have recently signed standout Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller to a one-year contract. Hiller opened many eyes at the World Championships this spring and recently led Davos to the Swiss league title. He could be ready to step into the void as a backup, behind either Giguere or Bryzgalov.
After Giguere, all eyes are on Teemu Selanne. There’s not so much a question of whether the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent will sign with another team, it is more a question of whether he’ll be back for another season of hockey. Selanne has now won his elusive Stanley Cup and while Anaheim certainly could use another season of 40+ goals and 90+ points from the Finn, he may decide to hang up the skates. If Selanne does decide to continue his career, it is highly unlikely he’ll sign anywhere other than Anaheim. If not, the Ducks have a large hole on one of their scoring lines, either to be filled via a trade or free agent signing. Bobby Ryan is the closest prospect capable of filling role on a scoring line and he is at least a year away.
Finally, and perhaps most troubling is the status of the Ducks blue line. With just three defensemen signed for next season, the Ducks have some holes to fill. The team has signed restricted free agent Maxim Kondratiev, who returns to the organization after a season in Russia. He should be able to fill a bottom pairing role and Kent Huskins is another player who should be expected to return, albeit with a decent raise. Meanwhile, Sean O’Donnell, Joe Dipenta and Ric Jackman are all unrestricted free agents. Anaheim would no doubt like to bring back O’Donnell to fill a top four role again with the squad, but as is always the case with Burke, the price has to be right.
Having graduated or otherwise moved many top prospects over the past two seasons, the Ducks prospect pipeline is a shadow of what it once was, although no one in Anaheim is complaining. Up front, behind top prospects Bobby Ryan and Bryce Swan, there are still a number of players who could become third-line types in the future, such as Drew Miller, Tim Brent and Ryan Carter. On the blue line, there is plenty of depth, even behind top prospects Mark Mitera and Brendan Mikkelson. Aaron Rome could be filling a role in the NHL as soon as next season, while John deGray has looked impressive in the OHL.
Strangely enough, the Ducks have found a bit of depth in the goaltending department, which has always been high on quality but low on quantity for the organization. Jean-Phillipe Levasseur will begin his pro career this fall and David McKee continues to improve. The signing of Hiller adds depth and the team also has Sebastien Caron as a restricted free agent.
As mentioned, the Ducks’ recent success has come at a cost for their organizational depth. It was extremely apparent when injuries struck both among forwards as well as defensemen. Anaheim made moves at the trade deadline specifically to add depth on the blue line (Ric Jackman) and up front (Brad May), but with both those acquisitions now free agents, the Ducks are back to square one. The graduation of a number of junior prospects to the professional ranks may help establish a clearer pecking order, but overall there’s not many standouts, nor are there players within the organization that seem ready to step up. The lack of a cohesive third pairing or a solid fourth line puts added pressure on the top players for Anaheim, who at times last season seemed fatigued. A restocking could be needed to ensure that the Ducks continue their success.
As was often noted during the playoffs, Anaheim is, for the most part, a North American born and bred team, with just three Europeans in the entire roster. The entire defensive core that Anaheim used was Canadian. The whole Ducks organization reflects this preference as Anaheim has selected just six Europeans at the past five drafts.
With the 2002 draft appearing to be the first sign of a change of strategy for the Ducks, it is worth noting that one of the main initiators of that change, former Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Chuck Fletcher had moved on. Fletcher, who joined the Ducks just before the 2002 draft, left for the Pittsburgh Penguins prior to the 2006-07 season and although his guiding hand helped bring the Ducks to the level they currently enjoy, his departure should not signal too much of a shift in Anaheim’s tendencies.
While they always go with the idea of drafting the "best player available", Anaheim’s definition of the best player may not be the same as other organizations. The Ducks are a big fan of character in a player as opposed to just talent. Not surprisingly, a number of the Ducks prospects have served or are serving as either captains or alternates for their respective squads. While the selection of Bobby Ryan two years ago surprised many, it was often reported after the fact that GM Brian Burke was very impressed by the New Jersey native’s interview and that had significant bearing on the selection.
Since 2002, the team has also shown a tendency to draft players who have displayed, to borrow Burke’s infamous words: "the requisite level of pugnacity, truculence, belligerence, hostility and testosterone." Indeed, the Ducks team identity has changed dramatically and they are now known for being a punishing and hard-nosed squad, a quality that has also shown in their draft selections.
More specifically to just preferring North Americans, the Ducks have favored the Ontario Hockey League, the NCAA and the Western Hockey League in that order. While there are numerous former college players throughout the organization, the Ducks are often just as active signing undrafted college free agents as they are at the draft.
As he has each year since assuming the general manager position in Anaheim, Burke has publicly stated that he would entertain offers to trade Anaheim’s first round pick. Acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning at the trade deadline for Shane O’Brien, the pick was thought to be a temporary asset to be used for another deadline deal, however, Burke was unable to find a trading partner.
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft selection: Nick Petrecki, D
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