Ducks 2008-09 NCAA prospects update

By Joe Papp

The Anaheim Ducks have four defensemen and one forward in the NCAA. Unfortunately, their top NCAA prospect, Mark Mitera, is recovering from ACL surgery and has played only one game this season.

Mark Mitera, D
Senior, University of Michigan
2006 NHL Draft – 1st Round (19th Overall)

The 21-year-old Mitera was going to be a rock for the Wolverines this season on the blue line. He was named team captain, was ready to begin his senior season, looking to put up his best numbers. Unfortunately for Mitera, he suffered a tear of his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee during the first period of his first game this season.

Mitera has indicated that he wants to return this year, and has been skating since January, but the prospect for return is weak. Mitera could apply for a medical red shirt and come back for a fifth year at Michigan. However, he is planning to graduate on time at the end of this semester, and that’s no surprise – he is highly regarded for his smarts on and off the ice – and Anaheim would like him to begin his pro career.  In his junior year, in 43 games, he had two goals and 21 assists.

Mitera’s game should transition easily to a pro career – smart, good size at 6’3 with room to fill in, leadership qualities, and a tenacity for shutting down the opponent. It comes with no surprise that he is not only considered a future NHLer, but also a future dominant player on the blue line. He would be wise to join Anaheim after he graduates and start his trek on becoming an NHL player.  It will be a tough transition after a year out of the game though.

Jake Gardiner, D

Freshman, University of Wisconsin
2008 NHL Draft – 1st Round (17th Overall)

Gardiner, 18, was a forward up until he switched during his final season in high school, and amassed 1.92 points per game in his senior season. He is handling his freshman season quite well – he has fantastic speed (arguably one of the fastest skaters in the 2008 draft), decent hockey sense, smooth hands, a solid shot, and a sense of creativity as well. This translates, obviously, into an offensive defenseman mold. However, if he can improve the defensive side of the game and fill out his frame, there is no telling how good of an all-around defensive player he may become. During his first season at Wisconsin, he has posted 17 points in 29 games, tying him for seventh on the team in scoring — not bad for a freshman defenseman.  He scored many of those points early in the year, and has cooled off a bit lately.

Gardiner can still be a considered a “project player” because of his recent switch, so it will be up to him and the Wisconsin coaching staff to move him along. However, his playing time, coupled with his staff entrusting him for power play and penalty kill duties, speaks volumes of how far Gardiner has come in his short time in college. He may be ready to turn pro after just one more season.

Steven Kampfer, D
Junior, University of Michigan
2007 NHL Draft – 4th round (93rd Overall)

Kampfer has two setbacks this year, one off and one on the ice. He was recently involved in an alcohol-induced dispute that led to a non-hockey related injury (fractured neck) and subsequent court appearances. After returning from his neck injury he was involved in an on-ice blindsided attack by Michigan State’s Andrew Conboy and Corey Tropp after a clean, open-ice hit. After the hit, Conboy skated over and knocked down Kampfer, with Tropp adding insult to injury, taking whacks at the fallen player’s head and neck. After this hit, the 20-year-old Kampfer has shown maturity and poise by saying the right things in the media and concentrating on himself — not those who attacked him.  He suffered no serious injury.

Kampfer has shown promise throughout his junior season at Michigan. Most NHL scouts like his game – he is described as being very mobile and poised, but more of a defensive defenseman. He certainly has not put up terrific stats in any of the levels he has been at through his career, but his six points in 14 games for Michigan is nothing to scoff at. Last season, he had 17 points in 42 games, so he is chipping in offensively. Kampfer’s bread and butter, however, will be using his size and speed to be a solid defender.

Kampfer needs to remain healthy and show that he can be solid defenseman in order to see more minutes and more looks for a future NHL career. Like Gardiner, Kampfer also recently switched from forward, and still could play there. Michigan has worked him into all aspects of the game, including the penalty kill and power play, so he is certainly showing his versatility in that regard. As it stands, Anaheim sees Kampfer with some potential for a pro career as a defenseman – he just needs to stay out of trouble and continue to work on his game.

Ryan Hegarty, D

Freshman, University of Maine
2008 NHL Draft – 4th round (113th Overall)

Hegarty was a defensive defenseman with the USNTDP, as he has continued to fill that role as a true freshman with Maine, notching a total of three assists in 21 games.  He’ll remain 18 years old all season long.

Maine has been struggling this season, hovering around .500 for the season, and Hegarty has the second lowest plus/minus on the team, and that doesn’t bode well at this point in time. He will need to cut down on the mistakes in order to improve his already cloudy pro prospects, especially on the penalty kill, where Maine has struggled.

Like all NCAA prospects, Anaheim has the luxury of seeing Hegarty develop over four collegiate seasons and evaluate him on a yearly basis.

Justin Vaive, LW

Sophomore, Miami University (Ohio)
2007 NHL Draft – 4th round (92nd Overall)

Vaive, 19, will always be remembered because his father, Rick, was a very successful NHL player, scoring over 400 goals in a highly-regarded career. Unfortunately for the younger Vaive, he doesn’t possess the skill his father had. His selection in the fourth round in the 2007 draft, one pick before Kampfer, was probably a bit high.

What Vaive does possess is incredible size. At 6’6, he easily towers over his foes in the collegiate ranks, and certainly in most pro leagues as well. While not putting up staggering point totals at the NCAA level — notching nine points in 25 games as a sophomore — he has shown improvement over his point totals last season as a freshman (10 points in 41 games).

Vaive, for all intents and purposes, is a project player. He has tremendous size, and if his raw ability can be refined, he could be a solid pro.