The 2006 offseason will undoubtedly be remembered in Anaheim for two things: The Ducks’ acquisition of defenseman Chris Pronger and the realization of former Anaheim General Manager Brian Burke’s plan to bring the Stanley Cup to Orange County.
That summer also signaled the arrival of five new prospects to the Ducks, a trio of forwards and a pair of defensemen. Three of Anaheim’s five selections are still playing at some level of the Ducks’ organization nearly five years after their introductions on draft day. The group has yet to make a strong impression on the NHL, producing a combined 90 games played at the game’s top level, 87 of which belong to the fourth-round selection Matt Beleskey.
Mark Mitera, D, Michigan (NCAA) – 1st Round, 19th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Mitera’s development has been metered if not flat-out slow. He finished his career at Michigan, playing three more seasons with the Wolverines in which he posted four-year totals of four goals and 50 assists. His senior season was truncated by a serious knee injury. After Mitera underwent successful surgery, he returned to the Michigan lineup at the end of the CCHA season. He then signed an entry-level deal with Anaheim and had a brief stint with the AHL’s Iowa Chops. He had two assists in five games there.
The former first-rounder took until this season in Syracuse to crack double-digit point totals at the AHL level after less productive sojourns with Abbotsford and San Antonio. His most accomplished minor pro season came with Bakersfield of the ECHL, where he contributed 14 points and 62 penalty minutes in 36 contests.
At this stage in his development, Mitera still struggles in many areas of the game. He has yet to realize the offensive potential touted by his proponents in 2006 and his defensive game has been neither physical nor consistent. He has blended into a wayward, ineffective group of rearguards in Syracuse this season and his future in the Ducks organization remains cloudy, particularly with their adding Luca Sbisa and Cam Fowler in the past two offseasons. The two much younger defenders currently stand well ahead of Mitera, who was once thought to be the most promising of the other defensive prospects the Ducks have stashed at the minor pro level.
Swan was equal parts inconsistency and intrigue in the QMJHL, providing a bit of everything-goal-scoring, playmaking and grit-but with all of it coming in spurts. His finest hour in the Q was the 2007-08 playoffs, in which he recorded 16 points in 13 games for the Mooseheads. Their run to the Eastern Division Finals was ended by the scoring machine Claude Giroux and eventual champion Gatineau. Still, Swan’s swan song in the CHL seemed to bode well for his professional future.
For reasons that remain unclear, two efforts to sign Swan went for naught. After parting ways with the Ducks, he later tried out for the Red Wings and Wild respectively in consecutive seasons, though neither training-camp audition resulted in another contract offer. Swan’s scoring touch, size and well-roundedness seemingly gave way to concerns about his temperament and mental fortitude.
After junior, he played two seasons for St. Francis Xavier University in which he posted totals just shy of a point per game. Still, instead of making the transition from junior to pro, Swan’s profile has gone from "up and coming" to "where are they now?" in just a few short seasons.
While he gained a reputation as a solid defender with promising size and untapped offensive potential, de Gray has yet to demonstrate much in the way of linear progress. In two campaigns with Brampton after his draft year, de Gray improved his offensive production only marginally from his draft-year total of 10 points. While he added some strength, he never became a physically imposing defender.
Those trends have continued at the minor pro level where a combination of organizational disarray (the Ducks were without clear-cut affiliates at the AHL or ECHL levels at one point) and individual inconsistency have plagued de Gray’s development. After signing an entry-level deal in 2008, de Gray has played just one full season at the AHL level. More distressing still is the fact that he has spent the past two seasons splitting time between the AHL and ECHL. The overwhelming majority of his current campaign-23 of 31 games played-has been played with the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals, the Ducks’ new affiliate at that level.
While the reach, active stick and positional strength that made him an attractive prospect remain in his game, de Gray is clearly behind the curve in his development. There has been ample opportunity to excel with the Ducks, too. They have had a plethora of struggling blueliners who play small at the AHL level and an early shortage of defensemen at the pro level that was shored up by the free-agent veterans Andy Sutton and Paul Mara as well as the 2010 first-round pick Cam Fowler. Even in these circumstances, de Gray has failed to advance within the organization. Drawing near to a half-point-per-game pace in Elmira, the silver lining may be that de Gray’s offensive production this year is the best it has been at any level in his career.
Matt Beleskey, RW, Belleville (OHL) – 4th Round, 112th Overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 86
Beleskey enjoyed a fine finish to his career in Belleville as his point totals increased by margins of 28 and 22 points respectively in the two seasons following his draft year. His 90-point campaign in 2007-08 led a Bulls squad brimming with quality prospects, including Shawn Matthias (FLA), P.K. Subban (MTL), and Eric Tangradi (PIT).
After the CHL, Beleskey played a season in the AHL with Iowa and earned a call-up for his first two NHL games. He would go on to play 60 NHL games the following season, producing 11 goals and 18 points, primarily as a bottom-six forward. While his offensive skills and energy level were promising, Beleskey has had to put in hard work to become a more fluid skater.
Although he is not the most naturally gifted skater or scorer on the ice, Beleskey has begun to make his mark on an Anaheim team that began the season with a dearth of energetic, gritty forwards. Once a te
am marked by a stout, skilled defense and a speedy, dependable checking line, the Ducks entered the year dependent on an explosive top six and goalie Jonas Hiller’s ability to steal games. After starting the year in Anaheim, being assigned to Syracuse and being recalled once more, Beleskey has added some balance to the Ducks’ forward corps. A competitive, physical forward, Beleskey appears on his way to playing his first 82-game NHL season in the very near future.
Wirtanen carried a billing similar to many Finnish forwards as he was regarded as a heady player who moved the puck effectively, positioned himself intelligently at both ends and carried only limited offensive upside. Wirtanen was not drafted along with most 1986-born players but drew the attention of scouts with a brilliant performance at the 2006 World Junior Championships.
He captained the Finns’ run to a bronze medal, turning in a superb effort marked by quietly dominant two-way play. His North American debut came with Anaheim’s former AHL affiliate Portland, where Wirtanen would spend two seasons. During his second campaign, he came up for a three-game cup of coffee with the Ducks.
After posting an AHL career-high 41 points with Iowa in his third minor pro season, Wirtanen returned to Finland following the expiration of his entry-level NHL contract. He spent last season and this current campaign with HIFK Helsinki of SM-liiga. This year, he has already equaled his SM-liiga career-high in points (27) with nearly a quarter of the season yet to be played. Though his contract status for next season has not yet been determined, it seems that Virtanen’s career in Anaheim if not the NHL in general, has concluded after three games in which he saw very little ice time.