Portland Pirates 2007-08 season preview

By Kevin Forbes

After the first year of partnership between the Anaheim Ducks and the Portland Pirates saw them both make runs deep into their respective league’s playoffs, the Pirates took a step back in 2006-07. Numerous call-ups and roster changes never allowed the team to find a rhythm. Coupled with the significant changeover from one year to another, Portland fell from being one of the top teams in the AHL to ranking among the bottom of the league.

Starting anew for the 2007-08, Portland will have a healthy mix of returning players and fresh young talent in a bid to rebound. Here is a look at the latest edition of the Portland Pirates.

Forwards

Though listed as a defenseman, Clay Wilson has seen consistent time as a forward over the course of the 2006-07 season and should see minutes up front again in 2007-08, thanks in part to Portland’s deep blue line. The top returning scorer for the Pirates, Wilson’s offensive instincts pay off no matter where he lines up. He’ll again be asked to contribute offensively and will play wherever he is needed most.

After seeing action in the Stanley Cup playoffs with the Ducks in the spring of 2007 and ending with a championship ring, Drew Miller now returns to the AHL, where he scored 36 points in 79 games in his rookie year. A versatile forward, Miller’s play at both ends of the ice and his ability to be a key part of special teams will make the Michigan State grad one of the first call-ups for Anaheim during the course of the season.

Although currently injured, Bobby Bolt makes the jump to professional hockey after a breakthrough season in the OHL in 2006-07. A bruising forward, Bolt’s mix of size and skill will help provide muscle to the Pirates attack. Another new face of the Pirates is Andrew Ebbett. A University of Michigan grad, Ebbett joins the team after playing his AHL rookie season with the Binghamton Senators. His 65 points in 71 rookie games are just a sign of things to come for the British Columbia native.

Ryan Dingle is another former NCAA player who will be dressing for the Pirates this season. After three years at the University of Denver, Dingle signed an entry-level deal with Anaheim in the spring of 2007 and played in four AHL games before the Pirates season came to a close. One of the most dangerous goal scorers in the WCHA during his time with the Pioneers, Dingle will be called upon to help light the lamp in Maine this year.

Stephen Dixon was acquired in the offseason in a trade with Pittsburgh for former Pirate Tim Brent. Dixon is looking for a fresh start in the Ducks organization and his defensive play will be a great complement to returning player Petteri Wirtanen. Wirtanen had an excellent training camp in Anaheim and he may find himself getting the call to play for the Ducks sometime over the course of the 2007-08 season.

Slowly rebounding from his disastrous rookie season two years ago, Shane Hynes will start the year with the Pirates this fall. Hynes spent the majority of last season in the ECHL with the Augusta Lynx as he continued to recover from his injury-plagued 2005-06 season that saw him play only 12 games. In a cruel twist of fate, Hynes is currently out with a broken foot.

Filling out the rest of the Pirates forward corps is a few familiar faces such as Matt Keith, who was acquired midway through the 2006-07 season, Simon Ferguson, entering his third year with the Pirates and bruiser Mike Hoffman. The team will also look to two former Vancouver Canucks to help contribute. Jason King was acquired in the offseason and has 55 NHL games to his name. Meanwhile, Tyler Bouck was a free agent tryout at Anaheim’s training camp before latching on with the Pirates. A pesky forechecker, Bouck has 91 NHL games on his resume. Finally, the team has also added Matt Christie, a former Anaheim Ducks draft pick who graduated from Miami University in Ohio in the spring.

Defensemen

One of the more notable names on the blue line for the Pirates isn’t a prospect but 40-year-old veteran Eric Weinrich. An assistant coach with Portland at the beginning of last season, he made the jump back to being a player during the midseason point and he’ll lace them up again this year. A veteran of 1157 NHL games, Weinrich adds a stabilizing presence to the Pirates blue line.

In comparison to Weinrich, Aaron Rome‘s three years of professional hockey seems like paltry experience. The Manitoba native saw his first taste of NHL action last year and is itching at another shot. A hard-nosed two-way blue liner, Rome has watched many other prospects make the jump to the pros and the time is now for him to make his move.

Meanwhile, Brian Salcido is looking to build on a solid rookie campaign and a strong showing at Anaheim’s training camp. A former Colorado College defenseman, Salcido will again lineup as the powerplay quarterback for the Pirates, but hopefully his increased experience and a stronger team around him will lead to an improvement on last year’s 15.6 percent success rate, which placed them 20th in the league.

Two former Vancouver Giants fill out the blue line. Brendan Mikkelson and Brett Festerling won a Memorial Cup together this spring, but the similarities end there. A smooth-skating offensive defenseman, Mikkelson rebounded splendidly from an injury-plagued season two years ago and will press Salcido for power-play time as an AHL rookie. Meanwhile, Festerling will continue to do what he does best: take care of business in his own end. A no-nonsense stay-at-home defenseman, Festerling should have little trouble adjusting to the AHL.

Veteran Joe Callahan, a former Phoenix Coyote draft pick and former Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Andy Schneider add depth. Schneider missed all of the 2006-07 season with injury and the University of North Dakota grad will be looking to rebound with the Pirates.

Goaltenders

One of the most interesting stories to watch in 2007-08 with the Pirates will be between the pipes with four talented goaltenders battling for minutes.

Currently, veteran Swiss goaltender Jonas Hiller is playing in the NHL while Jean-Sebastien Giguere recovers from offseason surgery. Already winning his first NHL game, Hiller is expected to replace Ilya Bryzgalov as Giguere’s backup sometime during the season. In the meantime, he should be the starting goaltender for the Pirates when Giguere returns to the ice.

Gerald Coleman is the sole returning player at the goaltending position. He was brought in to solidify the team after no fewer then seven netminders saw time during the 2006-07 season. A large presence in the net, Coleman lost his way in the Tampa Bay organization and is looking to rebound under the tutelage of Anaheim’s goaltending coaches.

Pushing Coleman are two AHL rookies in Jean-Philippe Levasseur and Bobby Goepfert. Levasseur is coming off a strong QMJHL career and is looking to make the next step towards the NHL. A classic Quebec butterfly goaltender, Levasseur may find himself assigned to the Ducks ECHL affiliate in Augusta when Hiller is sent down. Currently fighting a nagging groin injury from the spring, Goepfert’s situation has allowed the Ducks to delay dealing with their impending goaltending numbers game for the time being. A former Pittsburgh Penguins prospect and one of the Hobey Baker candidates in his final season in the NCAA, Goepfert’s talent is undeniable, but for the time being, the organization, and the fans, will have to wait before he can step onto the ice.

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