After the shortest off-season in team history, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim returned to the ice to begin training for the 2003-04 season.
Not joining the Ducks at camp was right-winger Jonathan Hedstrom, who after playing most of last season with Cincinnati in the AHL, signed a contract with Djurgårdens IF. Hedstrom was reportedly unhappy with his position in the team’s plans and turned down a contract offer from Anaheim to return to Sweden. Defenseman Jan Tabacek also returned to his country, in this case, Slovakia. Tabacek struggled last year with injuries, limiting him to just 14 games between Dayton of the ECHL and Cincinnati.
At the rookie camp, there was a real feel of the depth of the organization. In the prospect tournament against the future stars of the San Jose Sharks, the Phoenix Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings, the last two Ducks first round draft picks, Ryan Getzlaf and Joffrey Lupul both impressed offensively. Lupul co-led the Ducks in scoring in the tournament with 3 goals and 1 assist. He was tied for the lead with Pierre Alexandre Parenteau who had 4 assists. Getzlaf opened some eyes with hisphysical play. Nathan Saunders and Shane O’Brien stood
out the most among defenders. Both played a solid physical style. Francois Caron played good, as well, but projects to be a rather average stay-at-home defenseman. Bjorn Melin, RW, made the trip from Europe, but apparently did not participate in the tournament.
At the end of the rookie camp, Kelly Guard, Lanny Gare, A.J. Maclean, Bill Cass and Cliff Loya were released from their tryout contracts, Francois Caron, Luke Fritshaw and Brian Lee, all defensemen, were returned to junior and Joonas Vihko and Bjorn Melin, both right-wingers, were returned to their European clubs.
Tryout Sandro Sbrocca, a left-winger was brought along to the main training camp, and the Ducks also added goaltender Adam Russo on tryout for the main camp. The full opening training camp roster can be found on the Ducks official site.
Ryan Getzlaf continues to impress at training camp, with his complete and confident game. He has a big hard shot and a physical style that is making it difficult for him to be written off. The center has actually outperformed top prospect Joffrey Lupul at times. However, it could be likely that he will not make the NHL team because of the impending CBA expiration and the fact that the rookie salary structure will probably be changed.
Joffrey Lupul has played well, showcasing quick hands and a nice shot. But, Mighty Ducks coach Mike Babcock hasn’t spoken well about right-winger to the media. Babcock has gone on record questioning how much of his scoring ability is his own talent or the talent of those around him. Lupul has also been questioned on his defensive ability and his dedication to playing as well as his attitude.
Mark Popovic has played a smooth, mature game. GM Bryan Murray has said that he would rather see Popovic play constantly in the AHL then periodically as the seventh defenseman, and it appears that Popovic has used this as motivation in an effort to beat out one of the top six veteran defensemen in order to stick.
Ilya Bryzgalov was smooth and speedy as usual in net and flashed his quick glove hand often. Eddie Ferhi also has a nice glove and some good size and was very impressive at his moving from post to post. Tryout Adam Russo lacked size, but was fast and quite talented.
Mikael Holmqvist looks capable enough to step into the lineup,but it is unsure if there is any room for the left-winger. Both Murray and Babcock have been saying good things about his play and skill and because he is 24, he plays a mature game that doesn’t need the AHL seasoning that a younger player may require.
Tony Martensson has shown some decent offensive skills, but he may lack the size and drive to ever stick at the NHL level. The center was the leading scorer in Cincinnati last year. Right-winger, George Davis played with some grit, but needs further seasoning before he is NHL ready. Left winger, Chris Kunitz looked small out on the ice, but showed some speed and a hard, accurate shot.
Of all the prospects in training camp, only Ryan Getzlaf, Joffrey Lupul, Mikael Holmqvist and Mark Popovic remain. Popovic will probably be sent back to Cincy unless he can force his way into the top six. Getzlaf, despite his impressive play, will probably be returned to his junior club. Joffrey Lupul, despite the criticism, and Mikael Holmqvist will probably make the cut.