Ducks 2003 draft evaluation

By Kevin Forbes

If any one draft can be pointed towards as one of the main driving forces for the 2007 Stanley Cup win by the Anaheim Ducks, it would have to be the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Three of the nine players selected by the Ducks in 2003 were on the ice when the Ducks were awarded Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The 2003 Draft was the second for the Ducks under the guidance of GM Bryan Murray and the organization was coming off their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance, after an improbable run all the way to Game 7 of the Finals before bowing out to the New Jersey Devils. Murray was busy as soon as he arrived in Nashville, orchestrating a trade that saw two second-round picks go to the Dallas Stars for a late first-round pick.

With their two first rounders, Anaheim has produced two NHL star players. The Ducks’ selections have also yielded a third NHL player as well as another who is knocking on the door for a full-time role in the big leagues. All told, Anaheim’s nine selections in 2003 have played in a total of 607 regular-season games, averaging out to just over 67.4 games per pick which places the team tops among NHL teams.

Ryan Getzlaf, C – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
1st round, 19th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Totals: 216 games

Entering the draft, Ryan Getzlaf was touted as a top 15 selection, but the Ducks were more than happy to take him with their 19th overall selection and now, five years later, they have to be even happier with their pick. An offensively talented center who did not back down from a physical challenge, Getzlaf averaged nearly a point per game in his draft year with 29 goals and 39 assists in 70 games with the Calgary Hitmen. Returning to Calgary after the draft, he continued to be an unstoppable presence in the WHL and was soon knocking on the door to the NHL. Unfortunately for the Saskatchewan native, that door was closed in 2004-05 due to the lockout and Getzlaf instead bolstered his resume with a successful stint on Canada’s World Junior Team, finishing with a gold medal to go along with the silver he won the previous season.

With the labor dispute resolved, Getzlaf graduated to professional hockey and split his first season between the NHL and the AHL. Undaunted by his midseason demotion to the AHL, Getzlaf set out to prove that he did not belong with the Pirates and set the league on fire with 33 points in 17 games. He soon returned to the NHL and he never looked back. Entering into the 2006-07 season, Getzlaf carved out his role on the second line and took yet another step in his development during the playoff run, with 17 points in 21 games as he helped the Ducks capture their first Stanley Cup. Getzlaf’s star has continued to rise as he inherited the first-line center spot in Anaheim midway through the 2007-08 season and led the team in scoring with 82 points in 77 games.

Bolstered by a contract extension that will keep him in Anaheim until 2013, Ryan Getzlaf is one of the core players for the Ducks and looks to continue to serve in the role well into the future. A dangerous blend of offensive talent and physical presence, Getzlaf is well on his way to becoming an NHL superstar with his appearance in the 2008 NHL All-Star Game expected to be the first of many to come.

Corey Perry, RW – London Knights (OHL)

1st round, 28th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Totals: 208 games

Perry was not a guaranteed first-round pick prior to the 2003 draft. The scouting line on him noted his inconsistency and his poor skating as being large question marks in his game. Unfazed by these reports, the Ducks saw something in him and traded two second-round picks to move up to the 28th overall spot to select the Peterborough native. Anaheim’s gamble appears to have worked out well. After leading his team in scoring during his draft year, Perry repeated the feat in 2003-04 and again in 2004-05.

With the Knights hosting the Memorial Cup in 2004-05, Perry was front and center. He was named the top player in the OHL both in the regular season and the playoffs and led the league in scoring during both the regular season and the playoffs. During the Memorial Cup tournament, he not only led the host team to the championship, but was also named the tournament MVP. The cherry on top of Perry’s 2004-05 season might have been his gold medal as a member of Team Canada at the World Juniors. Needless to say, Perry was ready to make the jump to professional hockey when the lockout ended and 2005-06 season rolled around. Like his fellow 2003 draftee Getzlaf, Perry split his rookie season between the NHL and AHL, but used his time in the minors as motivation to put up 34 points in 19 games. He was a full-time NHLer during the next season and had 15 points in 21 playoff games as the Ducks won the Stanley Cup. He continues to take his game to new levels, with his 29 goals in 2007-08 leading the team as he rides shotgun on the Ducks top line.

If there is one fear that Duck fans might have during the 2008 offseason, it is the offer sheet. Anaheim has already lost a player in Dustin Penner to an offer sheet from the Edmonton Oilers during the summer of 2007 and would not like a repeat performance in 2008 with Perry. Due to the Ducks current payroll situation, Anaheim will have to gamble and negotiate with Perry after the July 1deadline when he becomes a restricted free agent. Developing in leaps and bounds, Perry is already a first-line talent, regardless of where he will hang his skates in the fall of 2008.

Shane Hynes, RW – Cornell University (NCAA)
3rd round, 86th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Totals: 0 games

If Getzlaf and Perry can be considered NHL success stories, then Shane Hynes is a perfect example that not every player who hears his name called at the draft can enjoy such luck. Selected from Cornell University, Hynes was touted as a strong skating, burly winger with the potential to turn into a power forward. Unfortunately his rambunctious style of play also knocked him out of the lineup throughout his college career.

After a healthy junior year in Cornell which saw him post career numbers, Hynes chose to forego his senior year and make the jump to professional hockey. He joined the Portland Pirates in the fall of 2005, but just a dozen games into his rookie year, the injury bug reared its ugly head again. A traumatic knee injury sidelined the Alberta native for the remainder of the season and all of the playoffs. Starting slow again in the fall of 2006, Hynes was limited to 49 games in the ECHL as well as another five with the Pirates. In a cruel twist of fate, Hynes suffered a broken foot prior to the beginning of the 2007-08 season and was once again sidelined, playing in just 21 games with Augusta in the ECHL, as well as three playoff matches.

Facing the end of his entry-level contract with Anaheim, Hynes has been able to play in just 92 games split between the AHL and the ECHL over the course of the three-year deal. Although he has shown some promise when healthy (he was named to play in the ECHL All-Star Game in 2006-07, but could not, due to injury), Hynes’ repeated and extended stays on the injured reserve have cut heavily into his value. Hynes’ contract expires on July 1.

Juha Alen, D – Northern Michigan University (NCAA)
3rd round, 90th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Totals: 0 games

As a 21-year-old Finnish defenseman playing in Northern Michigan, Juha Alen was a bit of a enigma. An offensive blue liner, Alen made the jump to professional hockey immediately after he was drafted and joined the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks at the beginning of the 2003-04 season. Playing a limited role, Alen was unable to replicate the offensive instincts that saw him score 23 points in 40 in his single season in the NCAA.

The situation went from bad to worse prior to the 2004-05 season, when Alen broke his foot in a non-hockey incident, placing him on suspension from the Cincinnati team. Returning to health in January, Alen returned to Finland, instead of rejoining the Baby Ducks, signing a deal with his hometown team of Ilves Tampere. Alen has never returned to the Ducks since going to Finland in January of 2005. He did not attend training camp in the fall of 2005 and at the 2006 trade deadline his rights were dealt along with Keith Carney to the Vancouver Canucks. Today, he continues to play in Finland, now with Lukko Rauma, but his NHL potential is effectively nil.

Nathan Saunders, D – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
4th round, 119th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Totals: 0 games

A hard-nosed blue liner from Prince Edward Island, Nathan Saunders was the fourth selection for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, using a pick originally owned by the Chicago Blackhawks. Playing for the Moncton Wildcats, Saunders was asked to take on a larger role with the QMJHL squad soon after he was drafted. Attempting to be more of a two-way force, Saunders posted two seasons averaging just less than 30 points a year, while also averaging over 230 penalty minutes a season at the same time. Despite these results, it was clear that Saunders at times struggled with the added responsibility.

Joining the Portland Pirates in the fall of 2005, Saunders was sidelined 20 games into his rookie season with a shoulder injury. Missing the remainder of the year and relegated to the ECHL for the majority of the following season, Saunders found he was limited and unable to play his trademark gritty style as he continued to rehab the injury and regain his spot in the depth chart. Faced with a stocked minor pro blue line, perhaps Anaheim thought the big defender could use a change of scenery to get his career back on track. Prior to the 2007-08 season, he was packaged along with fellow defenseman Brett Skinner in a deal that saw Mark Mowers join the Ducks from the Boston Bruins. Saunders split his first season in Boston’s organization between the Providence Bruins of the AHL and the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL.

Drew Miller, LW – River City Lancers (USHL)
6th round, 186th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Totals: 26 games

Just the third player Anaheim ever drafted out the USHL, Drew Miller joined Michigan State University after the draft. A two-way forward, Miller was part of a long line of Millers who have succeeded on the MSU Spartans, including his brother, Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. It did not take Miller much time to establish himself as a leader with the Spartans and he was named team captain prior to his junior year. With a tendency for hard work and clutch goals, Miller signed a contract with Anaheim after his junior year ended in 2006.

Joining the Portland Pirates full time in 2006-07, Miller played primarily a checking role, but it was enough to catch the eye of Anaheim management. With the Ducks short some players during their 2007 Stanley Cup run, Miller got the call to make his NHL debut and appeared in three playoff games, including two during the Stanley Cup finals. Already owning a Stanley Cup ring after his first professional season, Miller split the 2007-08 campaign between the AHL and the NHL. Talented at both ends of the ice, it’s a matter of time before Miller becomes a full-time NHL regular.

Dirk Southern, C – Northern Michigan University (NCAA)
7th round, 218th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Totals: 0 games

A teammate of fellow 2003 draftee Juha Alen, Dirk Southern was an offensive star for the Northern Michigan Wildcats. Playing out his entire four-year college career, Southern finished with 122 points in 149 NCAA games. However, it was not enough to catch the eyes of the Ducks management and the playmaking forward finished out his college days without being signed by Anaheim.

Southern has continued his hockey career, playing the past two seasons in the ECHL, first with the Augusta Lynx, after playing in appearing in camps in both Anaheim and Portland and then for the 2007-08 season, he joined the Gwinnett Gladiators after playing in a camp with the Manitoba Moose. Unfortunately for the Manitoba native, he missed the majority of his season with Gwinnett due to a knee injury, appearing in only 23 games.

Shane O’Brien, D – Toronto St. Michael’s Majors (OHL)
8th round, 250th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Totals: 157 games

It’s not too often teams find NHL players in the late rounds of the draft. Even rarer is when those players are playing not for some obscure team in Europe, but right in the center of the Canadian Hockey League. Passed over in his first draft year, it would be an understatement to call Shane O’Brien a long shot to ever carve out an NHL career. But the Ontario native has done just that, beating the odds and approaching his career with the same never-back-down attitude that makes him hard to play against.

O’Brien joined the Ducks organization immediately after being drafted and spent the following three seasons in the AHL, first with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and then the Portland Pirates. A hard-nosed two-way blue liner, O’Brien’s mix of puck-moving ability and bone-rattling physicality won him a spot on Anaheim’s blueline to start the 2006-07 season. So impressive was his rookie campaign that the Ducks were able to send him along with a third-round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning in return for a first rounder and prospect Gerald Coleman at the 2007 trade deadline. Although Anaheim was unable to use that first rounder to further aid their team at the deadline, O’Brien has blossomed in Tampa Bay, filling the role of a top four blueliner and averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game.

Ville Mantymaa, D – Tappara Jrs. (Finland)
9th round, 280th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Totals: 0 games

The only player that Anaheim selected in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft who played in Europe during their draft year, Ville Mantymaa was acclaimed as a puck moving blueliner. Spending the next few seasons between the Finnish junior leagues and SM-Liiga, Mantymaa strapped on the skates for his country at the 2005 World Junior Championships. Though he performed well in a trying effort for the Finns, Mantymaa was still struggling back home to fill a full-time spot in SM-Liiga.

Finally in the 2007-08 season, it appears he has turned the corner, putting up eight goals and 31 points in 54 games with JYP. Unfortunately for Anaheim, the Ducks ownership of Mantymaa’s rights expired prior during the offseason, just prior to his breakout season. Mantymaa is due to return to JYP for the 2008-09 season.