Ducks Top 20 prospects, Fall 2007

By Kevin Forbes

When the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup in June, it was thanks to no small amount of contributions to players that the organization had developed internally. From top center Andy McDonald, to the ‘kid line’ of Dustin Penner, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, a healthy amount of Anaheim’s success can be credited to the strength of the Ducks organizational pipeline.

While the Ducks prospect system may not feature as many flashy players as in years past, Anaheim continues to boast depth in two-way players, both at the forward position such as Drew Miller and 2007 first-round pick Logan MacMillan and on the blue line with Brendan Mikkelson and Brian Salcido. Mirroring the character of the NHL squad, the system is also rife with players not afraid to grind it out and get their noses dirty, like Bryce Swan and Aaron Rome. Finally, after adding four goaltenders through various means since the turn of the calendar, Anaheim is beginning to build depth in a position that has historically been an organizational weakness.

Once again, there is significant upheaval on the Top 20 list with eight new faces, including two of Anaheim’s selections from the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and three free agents picked up over the offseason.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (1) Bobby Ryan, RW, 20
2. (2) Mark Mitera, D, 19
3. (NR) Logan MacMillan, C, 18
4. (3) Jean-Philippe Levasseur, G, 20
5. (4) Brendan Mikkelson, D, 20
6. (5) Bryce Swan, RW, 19
7. (7) Drew Miller, LW, 23
8. (9) Brian Salcido, D, 22
9. (NR) Eric Tangradi, C, 18
10. (12) John deGray, D, 19
11. (15) Matt Beleskey, LW, 19
12. (NR) Ryan Dingle, LW, 23
13. (NR) Bobby Goepfert, G, 24
14. (10) Aaron Rome, D, 23
15. (NR) Ryan Carter, C, 24
16. (16) Kyle Klubertanz, D, 21
17. (NR) Andrew Ebbett, LW, 24
18. (NR) Stephen Dixon, C, 21
19. (19) Brett Festerling, D, 21
20. (14) Clay Wilson, D, 24

1. (1) Bobby Ryan, RW, 20

Drafted: 2nd overall, 2005

Bobby Ryan‘s last season of junior hockey was definitely a year of ups and downs. Although he once again led his team in scoring and challenged for the OHL scoring title, there was plenty of criticism heaped upon both the New Jersey native and the team he captained, the Owen Sound Attack. As was a common story throughout his OHL career, Ryan once again found himself part of a  team that was unable to rise to the next level. Taking over as the franchise all-time scoring leader midway through the 2006-07 season, the weight of the captain’s C on his sweater appeared to be a burden at times as he often was caught trying to do too much on the ice. In addition to this, he was left off Team USA’s World Junior team, despite averaging a point per game in the 2006 tournament.

Already a veteran of 27 AHL games, most of them in the playoffs, Ryan could require less seasoning in the minors than some expect. Although he is still a long shot to start the season with the Ducks, retirements or injuries could give him a spot. The Ducks may need this New Jersey native’s help in Anaheim sooner rather than later and it is up to him to prove he is ready to answer the call. He’ll soon be on his way to proving he’s more than just the player drafted immediately after Sidney Crosby.

2. (2) Mark Mitera, D, 19

Drafted: 19th overall, 2006

The two halves of Mark Mitera‘s sophomore year with the University of Michigan couldn’t be more different. Mirroring the struggles of the Wolverines blue line during the first half of the season, Mitera appeared to have lost his confidence to start the season. Although he went on to post career numbers offensively, he was also left off of Team USA’s World Junior squad, after playing the previous year. However, with the turn of the calendar, Mitera’s and Michigan’s fortunes turned as well. The team tightened up in its own end without sacrificing its potent offense. But Michigan ended up losing out to North Dakota in the NCAA West Regional Tournament.

Returning to Michigan for a junior season, Mitera will look to rebound from a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde season last year and he’ll also be in line to take on even more responsibility on the Wolverines’ defensive squad. Continuing to deliver everything as advertised, he should be more than ready to make the leap to professional hockey soon although he may need some time in the minors before challenging for an NHL spot.

 

3. (NR) Logan MacMillan, C, 18

Drafted: 19th overall, 2007

Coming off a relatively quiet 18-point rookie season, no one was quite sure what to expect from PEI native MacMillan in his second season with the Halifax Mooseheads. Surprisingly, he would go on to triple that output, netting 20 goals and 55 points in 68 games for the Herd. MacMillan found chemistry with Czech import Jakub Voracek and the duo were soon considered the top unit on an inconsistent Mooseheads squad. A solid player at both ends of the ice, MacMillan brought his game to a whole new level in the playoffs, with 20 points in just 12 contests.

MacMillan will be looking to build upon his strong play in the second half of the season and the playoffs as he enters a new campaign with higher expectations. Already counted on to be a major part of the Herd’s offensive attack and to take care of his own end, MacMillan’s new task will be to do it consistently over the course of a whole season, all the while continuing to grow and improve on last year’s totals.

4. (3) Jean-Philippe Levasseur, G, 20

Drafted: 197th overall, 2005

In his second season as the starting goaltender for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, Levasseur again found himself playing plenty of minutes and continually giving his team a chance to win. Although his statistics of a GAA of 3.50 and a save percentage of .889 look pedestrian, it is well worth noting that he was often playing behind a team not known for its attention to detail in its own end. Making the most of his final season of junior hockey, Levasseur backstopped the Huskies on a notable playoff run, knocking off two higher-seeded teams to make it to the third round of the QMJHL playoffs before eventually falling to the eventual league champion Lewiston Maineiacs.

Now that he’s making the leap from juniors to professional hockey, look for Anaheim to take it slow with Levasseur. With the team suddenly rife with numerous goaltenders signed to pro contracts, they have the luxury of sitting back and allowing the former QMJHL netminder to adjust and develop. He might be slated to start his pro career in the ECHL with the Augusta Lynx.

5. (4) Brendan Mikkelson, D, 20

Drafted: 31st overall in 2005

Coming back after missing the majority of a year of hockey is never easy, but one would be hard-pressed to write a better storybook season for Brendan Mikkelson. After watching from the stands as his Vancouver Giants competed for the Memorial Cup in the spring of 2006, Mikkelson rejoined the lineup to start the 2006-07 season. Steadily improving throughout the year, the Alberta native found a new gear when the playoffs rolled around, leading all defensemen on his team in scoring with 10 points in 21 games. Incredibly, he made another leap when the Memorial Cup tournament started and was named to the tournament all-star team en route to a Memorial Cup title win for the Giants.

Due to the fact he essentially lost a season of development due to injuries two years back, Mikkelson makes the leap to pro hockey a bit rougher around the edges than some may have originally hoped for. He’ll need to learn quickly and round out his game against superior competition. He has all the tools to succeed and advance to the NHL; it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together.

6. (5) Bryce Swan, RW, 19

Drafted: 38th overall in 2006

After an injury filled 2005-06 season, Swan was looking to rebound entering the 2006-07 campaign. He did just that, with 35 goals and 54 points in 61 games, he posted career numbers in almost every offensive category. Swan was counted on to provide secondary scoring for the Halifax Mooseheads behind Voracek and recently-drafted Ducks prospect MacMillan. In addition to his scoring prowess, Swan also brought leadership to the young squad and wasn’t afraid to mix it up and get his nose dirty. Unable to break through the defensive system of the Lewiston Maineiacs in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs, Swan finished his year with six goals and nine points in 12 playoff games.

Although he turns 20 before the end of the calendar year, Swan is slated to return to Halifax for another campaign with the Mooseheads. Now a veteran leader on a team expected to compete this year, Swan will provide goal scoring and size while trying to make sure his hard-nosed play doesn’t work against him and force him out of the lineup with injuries.

7. (7) Drew Miller, LW, 23

Drafted: 186th overall in 2003

Although his former team at the Michigan State University won the NCAA championship the year after he left, Drew Miller can’t have many complaints about his first season of professional hockey. Spending most of the year in the tumultuous revolving door that was the 2006-07 Portland Pirates, Miller’s 36 points were tied for team lead among forwards who spent all season with the team. Known for his play at both ends of the ice and his work on special teams, Miller showcased these attributes during his rookie year, with four power-play goals and two shorthanded markers to go along with his +4 rating. After his AHL season came to a close, the Ducks eventually came calling when injuries hit their playoff run. Appearing in three games, Miller got his first taste of NHL action in the high stakes environment of playoff hockey and performed well in a limited role.
 
Just three games of NHL experience and already a Stanley Cup to his name, Miller shouldn’t "quit while he’s ahead." There is a roster spot within his reach in Southern California and he just needs to show that he’s up to the task.

8. (9) Brian Salcido, D, 22

Drafted: 141st overall in 2005

Leaving Colorado College a season early did not appear to hamper California native Brian Salcido. He had a strong rookie season in a difficult situation with the Portland Pirates. Coming off an NCAA season in which he scored nearly a point per game, Salcido tallied seven goals and 27 points in 76 games in the AHL, with two goals coming on the power play. He continually improved as the season went on, with 19 of his points coming after the change of the calendar year. Meanwhile, he also led the team in plus/minus at the end of the season with a +15.

Salcido will be looking to build upon his solid rookie campaign and take a larger role in his second season of professional hockey. Due to the number of NHL veteran defensemen heading into training camp, it is unlikely that he’ll have the chance to play in his home state in the upcoming season. However, the Ducks have a history of not holding a young player back if he’s ready to contribute and Salcido isn’t far from knocking on the NHL’s door.

9. (NR) Eric Tangradi, C, 18

Drafted: 42nd overall in 2007

Looking at Tangradi’s 20 points during the OHL regular season, one has to wonder why the Ducks elected to make the Belleville Bulls forward their second selection in the recent draft. The answer can be found in looking at his postseason contributions when the hard-nosed forward seized an opportunity presented by injuries in the Belleville lineup. In 15 playoff games, Tangradi scored eight goals and finished with 17 points, a healthy improvement off his 0.3 point-per-game pace of the regular season.

A power forward formerly limited to a checking line role, Tangradi served notice that he could bring much more to the table when given the chance. He’ll be counted on to prove that his playoff success wasn’t an aberration and should find a regular spot in Belleville’s top six. An OHL rookie last season, Tangradi’s skating needs work, although history has shown that isn’t a cause for concern in the Ducks organization. 

10. (12) John deGray, D, 19

Drafted: 83rd overall in 2006

Captaining a young Brampton Battalion team, John deGray‘s steadying play on the back line helped take the Battalion to the OHL playoffs. Although they were swept in the first round by the Barrie Colts, this feat was rather remarkable for a team so inexperienced. deGray’s own season was the same foundation of his solid play in his own end, with just four goals and 17 points in 65 games. Incredibly, these totals were career highs for the defensive-minded stalwart.

Rejoining the Battalion for the 2007-08 season, deGray will be leading a team with another year of experience under their belt. Considering the surprising results of the 2006-07 year and numerous players returning to the team, Brampton could be a strong team this fall, as is often the case with junior hockey. He’s scheduled to turn pro in a year’s time.

11. (15) Matt Beleskey, LW, 19

Drafted: 112th overall in 2006

A teammate of newly-drafted Ducks prospect Tangradi, Beleskey was the alternate captain for the Belleville Bulls in the 2006-07 season. Breaking out in his third season in the OHL, Beleskey’s 68 points in 66 games placed him fourth on the team. Playing with some grit to his game, he also served 124 penalty minutes. Meanwhile, he placed fifth on the team in playoff scoring with 14 points in 15 games. Putting up strong numbers on an offensive powerhouse of a team, Beleskey has been a pleasant surprise for the Ducks.

With the two top scorers for the Bulls moving on this summer, Beleskey will be called upon to play an even larger role in what should be his last season in the OHL. His contributions last season have shown he’s more than up for the task and he’s on track to make the leap to professional hockey in another year.

12. (NR) Ryan Dingle, LW, 23

Signed as a free agent, 2007

Coming off a strong junior season playing for the University of Denver, the bright lights and financial promises of professional hockey proved to be too much for Dingle. Signing with the Ducks as a free agent, Dingle hopes to follow other Anaheim forwards such as Penner and Chris Kunitz, who turned a free agent deal out of college into a career in the NHL. With a NCAA Championship to his name from 2005 as well as being named to the All-WCHA Third Team in 2007, Dingle certainly has the credentials to back his bid to advance. After scoring 55 goals over the past two seasons, leading the Pioneers in that department each year as well as being one of the most dangerous goal-scorers in the NCAA, he also has the talent to go along with his NHL dreams.

Dingle will start the season with the Portland Pirates, who could use his scoring prowess in the lineup. He played four games in the AHL at the end of the 2006-07 season, earning a single point. While there appears to be a handful of forwards ahead of him on the depth chart at the moment, he only needs to look as far as Drew Miller and Ryan Carter to see how a strong AHL rookie season out of the NCAA can turn into NHL glory.

13. (NR) Bobby Goepfert, G, 24

Signed as a free agent, 2007

When the Pittsburgh Penguins signed standout NCAA goaltender David Brown, their eighth-round pick in 2004 to an entry-level deal earlier this off season, it spelled the end of the line for Goepfert in the Penguins organization. Immediately snapped up by the Ducks, Goepfert is turning pro after a checkered college career that saw him transfer from Providence College to St. Cloud State after academic issues led to his dismissal from the Providence squad. He rebounded successfully after sitting out the 2004-05 season and in his senior year with St. Cloud State; he was named a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Trophy.

Goepfert will compete with Levasseur for the title of Anaheim’s goaltender of the future. Although four years of age separate them and they are at different stages of development, finding a way for them both to get quality minutes in the upcoming season will be a challenge.

14. (10) Aaron Rome, D, 23

Signed as a free agent, 2004

A mainstay on the Pirates blue line that seems ever changing, the 2006-07 season was more of the same from Aaron Rome. His solid hard-nosed play placed him in a tie for second on the team in penalty minutes, while he was able to chip in a bit offensively with eight goals and 25 points in 76, placing him third amongst Portland defensemen. A leader on the blue line, he seems destined for another season in the minors.

Seeing his first taste of NHL action during the 2006-07 season, Rome is becoming the graybeard on the Portland blue line at the age of 23. Entering his fourth year of professional hockey, he has already witnessed many of his former teammates make the NHL jump and his window of opportunity could be quickly closing.

15. (NR) Ryan Carter, C, 24

Signed as a free agent, 2006

Joining the Ducks after his sophomore season with Minnesota, Ryan Carter slowly acclimated himself with the pro game during his first season in the AHL. With 25 of his 36 points coming after the change of the calendar, Carter seemed to improve as the year went on. He even ended the season averaging a point-per-game over the last 10 games of the season. All of this resulted in an NHL call-up in the midst of Anaheim’s playoff run and Carter’s name on the Stanley Cup.

Seeing his first taste of NHL action in the middle of the playoffs, it will be up to Carter to show he deserves a longer look in Anaheim. One of the top scorers in Portland, they could certainly use his size and skill in the lineup in the upcoming season if he doesn’t stick with the Ducks.

16. (16) Kyle Klubertanz, D, 21

Drafted: 74th overall in 2004

Entering the 2006-07 season, it was hoped that smooth-skating Klubertanz would step up to replace former defensive partner Tom Gilbert‘s contributions to the lineup and make an additional leap in his development. But injuries and a myriad of off-ice distractions led to a regression in his junior year. After a year that saw the University of Wisconsin Badgers win the NCAA championship, Klubertanz’s single goal and 13 points was a eight-point drop from the championship season, although it was over the course of seven fewer games.

Originally appearing to be a potential steal in the third round of the 2004 draft, Klubertanz had a snake-bit season with Wisconsin and will be looking to re-establish himself in his senior year. The Ducks defensive pipeline looks vastly different compared to three years ago and if Klubertanz can’t rebound, he may find himself without a contract offer after graduation.

17. (NR) Andrew Ebbett, LW, 24

Signed as a free agent, 2007

After a promising career in the NCAA with the University of Michigan and an impressive AHL rookie season with the Binghamton Senators, the Ducks snapped up Ebbett as a free agent during the off season. A small but shifty player, Ebbett was second on his team with 65 points in 71 games and finished fifth in AHL rookie scoring. A deceptively fast skater, his quickness allowed him to surprise many AHL defensemen, leading to his five shorthanded goals, which tied for the league lead.

While the comparison is far from complete, Anaheim fans should already be familiar with offensively talented NCAA stars who are a little on the small side with recently departed forward Ryan Shannon. Like Shannon, Ebbett will be counted on to help lead the Portland offense and if he’s lucky, like Shannon, he could find himself filling in spot duty at the NHL level.

18. (NR) Stephen Dixon, C, 21

Traded from Pittsburgh, 2007

The second former Penguins prospect on the list, Dixon had a steady progression in his second season in the AHL. Known for his two-way play, Dixon found himself shuffled through the lineup with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, leading to a team worst -12. Although his versatility made him continually useful with the Baby Pens, his lack of any special attribute spelled out a dim future in the Pittsburgh organization and they made the decision to send him to Anaheim for prospect Tim Brent. In many regards, Dixon resembles the player he was dealt for: a character forward that plays well at both ends of the ice.

Dixon’s looking for a fresh start with a new organization after being stuck in a deep forward system with the Penguins. A former QMJHL standout, he joins a plethora of two-way forwards with the Ducks and will be given time to rebound in Portland. Although he’s lost some of his luster since his jump to pro hockey, he’s still young and developing.

19. (19) Brett Festerling, D, 21

Signed as a free agent, 2005

A surprise free agent signing two years ago, Festerling has proven his worth with solid campaigns in the WHL. Coming off a season that brought his team to the Memorial Cup in 2006, the Vancouver Giants were guaranteed a spot in 2007 as host, with Festerling captaining the squad. Called upon to fill a larger role in his over-age season, Festerling played admirably with a career highs across the board, including an eye-popping +35 rating, second only to teammate Jonathon Blum. Once the playoffs rolled around, the defensive defenseman took his game to another level, taking the Giants all the way to the WHL championships before bowing out to the Medicine Hat Tigers. The Giants got their sweet revenge at the Memorial Cup however, beating the Tigers in the final game to win the coveted junior trophy.

Now making the leap to professional hockey, Festerling finds himself joining a Portland Pirates blue line that was in a state of flux for most of the 2006-07 season. A steadying influence on the blue line, he’ll be called upon to provide the same air-tight play in his own end that he was known for in the WHL. Although the Ducks pipeline on defense is rather crowded at the moment, Festerling’s character and intangibles will help him challenge for a spot in a few years time.

20. (14) Clay Wilson, D, 24

Signed as a free agent, 2006

A bright spot among the near-constant changes for the Ducks farm team during the 2006-07 season, Clay Wilson posted career marks in nearly every offensive category for the Portland Pirates. With nine goals and 43 points, he led all Pirate defensemen in scoring, while his +5 rating was tied for second amongst players who spent the entire season with the team. Signed as a free agent after a NCAA career with Michigan Tech and a season split between the AHL and the UHL, this smooth-skating blue liner has proven he has what it takes to contribute at the minor pro level, but needs to take the next step.

The top returning scoring leader for the Portland Pirates, Wilson will be counted on to again lead the offense from the blue line in the AHL. With plenty of new faces in the lineup, he should have a bit of help and ideally some stability to work with. With that said, as players develop, he may find himself losing key minutes to younger prospects.

Missing the Cut

Bobby Bolt, LW, 20
Drafted: 127th overall in 2005

Entering his final season with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL, not much was expected for a player who only tallied 15 points the season before. However, Bolt was able to capitalize on openings in the lineup and responded with a career effort of 22 goals and 50 points in 62 games. An intriguing mix of size and skill, this burgeoning power forward was awarded a three-year entry-level contract and will start his professional career this fall.

Brett Skinner, D, 24
Traded from Vancouver, 2006

Unable to hold onto a consistent spot in the lineup in Portland, Skinner was eventually loaned to Omaha around the mid-season point. He’ll face the same challenge this season to crack the Pirates blue line and he’ll need to step up his game or face being passed over on the depth chart in favor of prospects who are younger and with higher potential.

Petteri Wirtanen, C, 21
Drafted: 172nd overall in 2006

Signing a contract and joining the organization almost immediately after being drafted, Wirtanen had a solid first season in AHL. Although his first year in North America was no doubt a bit overwhelming at times, the Ducks can afford to take it slow with the Finn and allow him to develop at his own pace. Known in his homeland for his defensive play, he’ll be looking to improve on his 18 points and -5 rating in his second season with the Pirates.

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