Mighty Ducks: Offseason brings opportunities

By Kevin Forbes

In what may be the final true off season before the expected work stoppage when the CBA expires in 2004, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks have made some moves that have reshaped the
team dramatically.

With the Ducks allowing many players to become Unrestricted Free Agents,
there are
some roster spots opening up for new players. There are also temporary spots open due to injury. Mike Leclerc
(LW) and Dan
Bylsma (RW) both are expected to be out until November recovering from knee
surgery and
Andy MacDonald (C) is still questionable on his return from post-concussion

One of the prime candidates to move up is 2002 first rounder, Joffrey
The right winger signed a three year entry-level deal with the Ducks back in November of
last year. He
still has another year of junior left, but expect him to get a long look at
training camp. He may be a short term replacement until Leclerc comes back and then be
returned to
Medicine Hat in the WHL.

Expect left winger Mikael Holmqvist to replace Patrik Kjellberg on the third
Holmqvist did very well at the rookie camp last season and agreed on a deal
Anaheim for the upcoming season. The Swede is a talented playmaking winger with good
all-around skills. He is older then most rookies (24) so he should be able
to fit into the
lineup a little easier. Holmqvist played with TPS Turku in Finland last

Cam Severson will no doubt earn a spot on the fourth line. The Ducks
let go of
Kevin Sawyer (LW) and Marc Chouinard (C), opening up room on the fourth line
for players like
Severson. Severson, a center, is a good energy player, who plays a hard-hitting
agitating style. He
played in two regular season games and one playoff game with Anaheim last
year and spent the remainder of the season in the AHL on the Cincinnati
Mighty Ducks.

Jonathan Hedstrom (RW) will also get some time with the team. His two
games last
season with Anaheim were unimpressive, but at the time, he was coming back
from a
scary eye injury, so it is understandable that he was a little jittery.
Hedstrom is an RFA,
but should be resigned without too much difficulty. Like Holmqvist, Hedstrom
quite a few years in Europe before coming to North America to play hockey. He spent last season with Cincinnati in the AHL.

The Ducks have prospects such as left wing Chris Kunitz and centers
, Igor Pohanka, Joel Perreault and Joel
along with right winger George Davis and 2003 draft pick
defenseman Juha Alen, signed to entry-level deals
as well, but they will no doubt spend some time in Cincinnati before seeing
time with the
big team. However, if they impress management in training camp, they could
start the
season as a replacement for one of the injured players. Alen, 21, and
Kunitz, 23, played hockey on the college level last season (with Northen
Michigan and Ferris State, respectively) while the other players listed
were playing their last year of major junior hockey. Parenteau, 20, played
with both Chicoutimi and Sherbrooke of the QMJHL and also played on Canada’s
World Junior team with Lupul. Davis and Perreault also played in the QMJHL;
Davis, 19, played with Cape Breton and Halifax and Perreault, 20, played
with Baie-Comeau. Meanwhile, Stepp, 20, suffered through an injury-shortened
season with Red Deer and Pohanka, 19, played with Prince Albert, both in the

The Ducks also recently signed undrafted free agents Eddie Ferhi and
Sheldon Brookbank. Ferhi, 23, is a goaltender, who will no doubt back
up Ilya Bryzgalov
in the AHL. He played one game for the Baby Ducks last season on a try-out
contract. He starred between the pipes for Sacred Heart in the MAAC, posting
the best career GAA in school history with a 2.63.
Brookbank, 22, is strong defenseman who will add depth to Cincy’s blueline.
He split time between Mississippi of the ECHL and Grand Rapids of the AHL
last season. Mike Mottau,
Casey Hankinson, Garrett Burnett and Chris Armstrong were also signed by
Anaheim. Mottau, 25, and Armstrong, 28, are defenseman, while Hankinson and
Burnett, both 27, are left wingers.
No longer considered prospects, all of them will no doubt
play with
Cincy in the AHL as depth players. They will help replace departed veterans such as forwards
Ben Guite, Mike Brown, Jarrett Smith, Francis Belanger, Rob Valicevic and
Brendan Yareema, and defenceman Chris O’Sullivan, Peter Podhradsky and Josh
DeWolf. Some of those players may still be brought back like center, Nick
Smith who has been signed back on for another year in Cincinnati. Next
season’s Cincinnati Mighty Ducks team looks to have even more young
prospects playing for them, and depending on the progress of those
prospects, it could be another unimpressive year for the Baby Ducks.

Cincinnati players from last year, such as defenseman Mark Popovic
and goaltender Bryzgalov deserve at
least a cup of coffee in the NHL. If a contract can’t be reached with
Giguere, Bryzgalov could start the season as Martin Gerber’s backup.
However, there are
no signs so far that the Ducks Conn Smythe Trophy winning netminder won’t
back. With blueliner Niclas Havelid heading towards arbitration and all the
other defenseman RFAs already resigned, Popovic will need to wait for an
injury or poor play to push someone out of the lineup.

A lot of the other roster spots depend on the moves the Ducks make for the
rest of the
off-season and into the regular season. All of the available spots seem to
be on forward, and there are two to three full-time spots available as well as
another two to three injury fill-in spots. But, the Ducks are rumored to be still
talking to right winger, Steve
Thomas about coming back for another season. He would play on the third line
if he did, possibly taking that spot from Holmqvist or Hedstrom.
Also, a decision has to be reached about where Lance Ward will play. Ward is
enough to play both forward and defense. If he is a forward, that could mean
Severson would go back to the AHL, but then again, there aren’t any openings
on defense either.

Last season, Stanislav Chistov, Martin Gerber, Kurt Sauer and Alexei Smirnov
all moved up to the big team, while players such as Hedstrom and Severson
experienced some time with Anaheim as well. Like last season, training camp
this year, should be an exciting time with many spots up for grabs and many
young players looking to take the opportunity that has presented itself. If
these new players coming in have anywhere close to the same impact last
year’s rookies had, then Anaheim will be very fortunate.