Mighty Ducks Top 20 prospects

By Kevin Forbes

Although a number of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks prospects have improved their stock tremendously over the course of the 2005-06 season, the more notable story is the injuries that have decimated the Anaheim pipeline over the year. No less than eight of the prospects listed below have suffered injuries leading to them missing significant time away from hockey. The hardest hit by far has been the Ducks’ farm team in the AHL. The Portland Pirates have numerous players out on the injured reserve and some of them aren’t expected to return this season. To make matters worse, injuries at the NHL level have led to numerous players taking the long flight from Maine to California to fill spots. One injury of note is that of Jordan Smith, the Mighty Ducks’ second round pick in 2004. In an unfortunate turn of events in a Pirates game in late February, Smith was struck in the face with the puck partway through the first period. His left eye was damaged so severely that vision cannot be restored. With these events still developing, it is unclear what the future holds for the Sault Ste. Marie native.

This edition of Anaheim’s Top 20 features three new faces (including newly-acquired Brett Skinner), and the players are spread between the Canadian Hockey League, the National Hockey League, the American Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. It is one of the first times since Hockey’s Future began releasing Top 20 rankings that Anaheim’s list does not feature a player in the European leagues, a representation of how the club’s drafting strategy has changed over the past few years.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Bobby Ryan, RW
2. Ryan Getzlaf, C
3. Corey Perry, RW
4. Ladislav Smid, D
5. Brendan Mikkelson, D
6. Dustin Penner, LW
7. J-P Levasseur, G
8. Aaron Rome, D
9. Ryan Shannon, C
10. Brett Skinner, D
11. Maxim Kondratiev, D
12. Tim Brent, C
13. Shane O’Brien, D
14. Brian Salcido, D
15. Pierre Parenteau, RW
16. Kyle Klubertanz, D
17. Curtis Glencross, LW
18. Nathan Saunders, D
19. Drew Miller, LW
20. Shane Hynes, RW

The Top 20 ranking is based on long-term impact on the hockey club and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned a grade per HF Criteria. Other factors that help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, draft position, current league and team quality, location (North America or Europe) and foreseeable opportunity.

Key: Rank (former rank), name, position – age.

1. (1), Bobby Ryan, RW – 18.
Grade: 8.5C, Projection: First line power forward

Bobby Ryan’s season can be accurately described in two parts: before the World Juniors and after the World Juniors. Prior to the 2006 World Junior Championships in Vancouver, Ryan was tearing the OHL apart with 73 points in just 33 games. He then played for Team USA, adding a strong contribution for a disappointing team. In seven games, Ryan had three goals and seven points, which placed him third in team scoring. However, his scoring touch must have been lost somewhere on the flight home, because since returning from British Columbia, Ryan has only put up 22 points in 24 games, well off his pace to begin the year. There has been speculation that Ryan was playing through a lingering injury. In total, Ryan has tallied 31 goals and 95 points in 57 games, which puts him ninth in league scoring. This season also marks his first year as team captain.

His play has been strong enough to garner enough attention by Anaheim that they got his name on a dotted line. Ryan signed a three-year entry-level contract on Mar. 9, ensuring his future with the organization. By signing him early, the Ducks have a bit more flexibility going into training camp. He could play a handful of games with Anaheim to start the 2006-07 season and still be returned to junior later on without activating the first year of his contract. The Colorado Avalanche and the Columbus Blue Jackets did similar things with Wojtek Wolski and Gilbert Brule respectively, this season.

A strong power forward prospect, Ryan freely admits that he styles his game after Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi. Physically, he’s already close to being big enough to handle NHL play and that advantage is one of the main reasons for his success in the OHL. Once he gets the puck, it’s very difficult to knock him off of it, and thanks to his soft hands and vision on the ice, he usually is able to either make a nice play or bury the puck himself. However, there are some drawbacks to his game. The most obvious skill he needs to work on is his skating. Ryan’s legs haven’t caught up to the rest of his body and while he has impressive size, he has a hard time moving it around quickly. Conditioning is also a concern, especially as he continues to grow and even more so as he tries to make the jump to the next level. However, these are all things that can’t be worked on with time and overcome.

2. (2), Ryan Getzlaf, C – 20.
Grade: 8.0B, Projection: Top six forward
3. (4), Corey Perry, RW – 20.
Grade: 8.0C, Projection: Top six forward

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. It’s hard to mention one of these 2003 draft picks without mentioning the other. Ever since the beginning of training camp, the two have been linked. They both won spots on the opening day roster playing on the same line. After a decent start to the season, both of them went down with injury in early November, Getzlaf with a hurting shoulder and Perry with a concussion. After missing five games, they returned and then in late November, they shared a flight to Maine where they played with the Ducks AHL farm team in Portland to work on their game. The move proved to be very successful, in 17 games with the Pirates, Getzlaf scored eight goals and had an eye-popping 33 points, including five power-play goals. Perry was just as strong with 16 goals and 34 points in 19 games. This led to them sharing the AHL’s Rookie of the Month award for the month of December. They returned to California soon after the turn of the new year and their play has been much improved. In 37 games with the Ducks, Getzlaf has nine goals and 18 points and is a solid +4. Interestingly enough, seven of his goals and 10 of his points have come on the power play. In 36 games with the Ducks, Perry has scored seven times and has 15 points, although his plus/minus is not as strong at -2. Three of Perry’s goals and seven of his points in total have come with the man advantage.

Getzlaf is a well-rounded forward who can contribute at both ends of the ice. He possesses good size and uses it to his benefit, making it hard to knock him off the puck. Throughout his time in the WHL, he received the reputation as a player who does not shy away from physical play and that has not changed since his joining the pro leagues. However, he also gained notoriety for sometimes lacking in effort and dedication. While that has not been shown to be an issue at the NHL level so far, it is a hurdle that he will need to continue to overcome as he develops. Getzlaf already has all the tools to ensure he has a long career in the NHL, time will tell how successful it will be.

Corey Perry’s resume is a bit more impressive than Getzlaf’s, featuring a World Junior gold medal, an OHL championship, an OHL scoring championship, a Memorial Cup and the MVP award from the Memorial Cup. He possesses more skill offensively, but he also doesn’t have the physical element that Getzlaf owns. His vision with the puck and his stickhandling skills are second to none and his ability to cycle and distribute the puck has drawn comparisons to former Mighty Duck Vaclav Prospal. His skating is still a small concern, although it is worth noting that he has worked tremendously hard on improving this part of his game. In addition to that, he will need to continue to grow and add strength to ensure that he can find the room on the ice necessary to tap into his repertoire of tricks.

The importance of Getzlaf and Perry in the Mighty Ducks future plans cannot be understated. Alongside of Bobby Ryan and Joffrey Lupul, the duo represents what will soon be the face of hockey in Anaheim. Team management obviously understands the importance of these players for team success on and off the ice and is making sure nothing is done to rush the players. By keeping Getzlaf and Perry together throughout their first season in the NHL, chemistry is forming that, as time goes on, can only mean good things for the Ducks and headaches for opposing net minders.

4. (3), Ladislav Smid, D – 20.
Grade: 8.0C, Projection: Top pairing defenseman

Ladislav Smid is the last, but certainly not the least, of the Ducks quartet of first round selections at the top of the Top 20 list. In his first season in North America, the ninth overall pick in 2004 has played almost exclusively with the Portland Pirates and is a huge part of their success. Having just turned 20, the native of the Czech Republic is one of the youngest players in the AHL, however he has not looked out of place, complementing and in some cases, supplanting more experienced players. In 55 games with the Pirates, Smid has scored three goals and has 22 assists, which ties him for second on the team in blue line scoring. All three of his goals have come during the man advantage, a good sign, considering the Ducks are grooming him to take over their power play in Anaheim when he is ready. He is also a +6 and sees time in all situations.

In December, Smid played for the Czech Republic in the World Juniors for the third time, this time captaining the team in Vancouver. With the team finishing sixth, his final shot at World Junior gold wasn’t a success; however Smid drew rave reviews for his poised play. In six games, he tallied one goal and added an assist, but the real indication of his play was his selection as the Czech Republic’s best player of the game in the final two games of the tournament.

Skating and decision-making are the two pillars of Smid’s game. Despite his size (6’3, 200 lbs), he relies on his brain and his legs to make a play or break up an incoming attack. His steadfast play has been nurtured from playing in the Czech Senior League since he was 17, so that now his on-ice demeanor is that of a player much more experienced. He is never going to light up the league offensively, nor is he ever going to use his size to demolish opposing forwards, but he will be a solid two-way defender who can always be counted on to make the right play at the right time and not be susceptible to mistakes.

5. (5), Brendan Mikkelson, D – 18.
Grade: 7.5C, Projection: Second pairing defenseman

It has been a season of frustration for Brendan Mikkelson. He was originally expected to be a top defenseman for the Portland Winter Hawks and compete for a spot playing for Canada at the World Juniors. The disappointment began almost as soon at the season started, when he bruised his collarbone in the first game of the season. When he returned a few weeks later, he only played two more games with Portland before being dealt to the Vancouver Giants. In early November, bad luck reared its ugly head again, when Mikkelson suffered a partially torn MCL in a game against the Red Deer Rebels. This caused him to miss playing in the Canada-Russia Challenge as well as eliminated his chance of playing in the World Juniors in Vancouver. He returned to the lineup midway through December, but wasn’t even back on the ice for a month before, yet again, injuries hit. On Jan. 13 in a game against Medicine Hat, it was his knee again. An MRI revealed a full tear of the ACL. After some consideration and consultation with both the Giants and the Mighty Ducks, Mikkelson decided to undergo season-ending surgery to repair the ligament. In the 22 games that he did play, he was impressive, scoring twice with a total of 11 points and a plus/minus rating of +3. He had 41 penalty minutes.

The smooth-skating Mikkelson has plenty of offensive talent and plays a confident game with the puck. Although this has been known to get him into trouble at times, he has the potential to develop into a strong offensive blue liner. His skating ability is truly what gets him noticed first, as some claim it to be NHL-caliber already. This makes his rehabilitation that much more important, as any lingering knee problems could severely hamper his game. Mikkelson needs to continue to add muscle to his 6’2 frame, which could in the long run help him avoid injury as he continues to fill out. But for now, Mikkelson is completely focused on the long road to return to the ice after such a traumatic injury.

6. (16), Dustin Penner, LW – 23.
Grade: 7.5C, Projection: Second line power forward

Three forward prospects made the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim’s opening night roster. The first two were of the usual pedigree: first round draft picks Getzlaf and Perry. The third was Dustin Penner. Although Penner did not see any NHL time during his initial stay in Anaheim, he used that as motivation for a strong start in Portland and was soon back with the Ducks in late November. He has since racked up the frequent flier miles as he has bounced between the AHL and the NHL three more times this season. In 19 games with the Mighty Ducks, Penner has scored four goals and has seven points as well as a +3 rating. Two of his goals have come with the man advantage and one of the others was a game winner against Chicago. Currently in the AHL once more, he has played in 41 games with the Portland Pirates and has scored 31 goals and 62 points, with a league-leading +27. This places him seventh in AHL goal scoring and he’s second on the Pirates in points along with 14th overall in the league.

At 6’4 and 240 pounds, Dustin Penner isn’t afraid of practically anything you find within a hockey rink, no matter what the level of play. He has also proven that his skill level is just as big as his size. He can run you over or he can deke around you, the only thing for sure is that when he puts his mind to it, he will get past you. Penner’s breakout this year is very impressive, but there’s still plenty for him to work on.

7. (15), Jean-Phillipe Levasseur, G – 19.
Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Starting goaltender

When he was drafted in the seventh round, some called Jean-Phillipe Levasseur one of the steals of the 2005 draft. So far this season playing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL, he’s proven them right. Levasseur currently leads the league in wins with 34. He also has a goals against average of 3.46, a save percentage of .890 and two shutouts. The Huskies are currently third in their division and the playoffs will begin at the end of the month.

Levasseur plays the standard Quebec butterfly style and although he’s just of average size, he covers the net well. His game depends mainly on positioning, similar to current Anaheim net minder Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Quick enough to be react to second and third chances, Levasseur also has a solid glove hand, but he needs to play a more consistently. Still young, the Victoriaville native will be given plenty of time to develop as he adopts the mantle of “goaltender of the future” for the Mighty Ducks.

8. (5), Aaron Rome, D – 22.
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Third pairing defenseman

As the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Aaron Rome only needed one season to acclimate himself with the AHL. After a strong freshman effort last year in Cincinnati, Rome was the top defenseman on the team in their brief run at the Calder Cup with six points in 12 playoff games. This year, he’s one of the top defensemen in Portland and a big part of their success so far. In 48 games with the Pirates, he’s scored four goals and has 22 points, which places him third on the team in defensive scoring. He’s a solid +14 and has 69 penalty minutes. Like most defenders in Portland, Rome missed time this year. For him, it was a jaw injury that forced him from the lineup in December. Interestingly enough, his best offensive output was in a game against the Manchester Monarchs. The Monarchs are the farm team of the Los Angeles Kings, the team that drafted Rome in 2002 but the two sides were unable to reach a contract.

Rome was originally thought of as a defensive defenseman, but in his two years of professional hockey, he’s shown that he is very comfortable at either end of the ice. He has the knack of being in the right place at the right time and can anticipate the play, allowing him to stop opposing players and move the puck forward quickly for a counter attack. He has begun to see more time on the power play with two goals with the man advantage so far this year, and his point shot is an important part of his skill set. Not one to back down from a challenge, the 6’1 and 225-pound native of Manitoba has no problem getting his nose dirty and playing with an edge. Although his offensive skills might not translate to the next level, his skating and strong skills with and without the puck will ensure he is a useful player.

9. (NR), Ryan Shannon, C – 23.
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Scoring line forward

At the end of the 2004-05 season, the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks signed a recent Boston College graduate to a tryout contract to end the season. He played in four games, scoring a goal in his first game before being released prior to the start of the AHL playoffs. That player was Ryan Shannon. Shannon attended the Ducks training camp last fall as a tryout and he was eventually sent to play in Portland. Then he just started racking up the points, and he has yet to stop. In 55 games, he has scored 21 goals and has a total of 68 points, to lead the Pirates in scoring. He’s second in the league in rookie scoring, 11th overall and sixth in the league in assists. He was named the AHL’s top rookie for the month of October and in late November, Anaheim had seen more than enough and signed the former Eagles captain to a two-year entry-level deal.

On a team that has seen plenty of changes of personnel due to injuries and call-ups, Shannon has been the consistent top offensive player for the Pirates. He’s a superb puckhandler and he’s also extremely fast on his skates, both skills he displayed in the AHL All-Star Classic where he won the puck control relay and was named fastest skater in the competition. Although he is small at just 5’9 and 178 pounds, he has proven that he is able to fight through checks and find open space to make a play. With size being less of an issue in the NHL thanks to the new interpretations on the obstruction rules, Shannon might soon be taking his game to California. He’s definitely making it difficult for anyone not to notice him.

10. (NR), Brett Skinner, D – 22.
Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Second pairing defenseman

After slotting in as the Vancouver Canucks No. 10 prospect, Brett Skinner now occupies the same spot in the Mighty Ducks list. Skinner fell out of favor with the Canucks and was acquired by Anaheim in the deadline deal that saw defensive stalwart Keith Carney depart for British Columbia. His statistics with the Manitoba Moose aren’t bad with 21 points in 42 games and a +3 rating, but the numbers do not accurately reflect the caliber of his play on the ice this year. Skinner was also selected to represent Canada in the Spengler Cup, which was somewhat of a surprise because Skinner was very bad at times before going to the Spengler, although his play was been slightly better after the brief international experience and prior to his being dealt. After the trade, Anaheim decided to continue to let him play with the Manitoba Moose in the AHL.

Skinner was one of, if not the best, defenseman in collegiate hockey last season. The organization felt he had done everything he could in the NCAA and subsequently he left the University of Denver. Skinner’s skating this season has not been as good as expected after he was identified as a very strong skater and his need to bulk up and get stronger has been magnified by playing against men. His puck moving skills are very good and the overall quality of his play has improved throughout the course of the season, which is definitely a positive step in the right direction. Although his immediate impact in the league has not fulfilled the expectations, he is starting to show the skills that have made him a good prospect and a player who could evolve into a second-pairing NHL defenseman with time. Skinner will have to elevate his play for the last quarter of the season and beyond.

11. (NR), Maxim Kondratiev, D – 23.
Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Second pairing defenseman

Maxim Kondratiev came to the Anaheim organization in the trade that sent Petr Sykora to the New York Rangers. The Ducks are his third NHL organization, after being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs and being sent to the Blueshirts in a trade for Brian Leetch. This season alone, he’s played 29 games with the New York Rangers, tallying a goal and three points. He also played four games with the Rangers farm team in Hartford, prior to being dealt to Anaheim. Immediately after the trade, Kondratiev was assigned to Portland.

In 25 AHL games this year, he’s scored a goal and has six points, all of them coming while playing for the Pirates. He’s also tied for a team low -3, a number that would be even lower if he wasn’t +4 from the games he played in Hartford before being traded. Like most defensemen on the Pirates, Kondratiev has had his own difficulties with injury, missing six games with a hip injury.

The 23-year-old Kondratiev has gained a reputation as a bit of an enigma during his time in North America. Twice in his career, he has requested permission to return to his native Russia to play in the RSL instead of staying in the AHL. On ice, Kondratiev is two-way defenseman who moves the puck well and is willing to join the rush. He has a strong shot from the point and although he doesn’t play a physical game, he is solid within his own end. However, he doesn’t always make the right decisions with the puck, often leading to turnovers and getting him and his team into trouble. In addition, his lack of strength makes it easy to knock him off the puck. Kondratiev’s contract will expire at the end of the season.

12. (6), Tim Brent, C – 22.
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Two-way forward

The good news on Tim Brent is that he’s surpassed his output from his rookie AHL season last year. After scoring 18 points in 46 games with Cincinnati, this year with Portland, he has 15 goals and 23 points in 35 games. However, the bad news is that Brent has again missed significant time with injuries. Last season, an ankle injury held him out of the lineup for 20 games. This time around, he suffered a shoulder injury in late December. It is unlikely that he will return to the Portland lineup this season, unless the team has an extended playoff run.

When healthy, Brent is a solid two-way center who plays well in all situations and doesn’t back down. He surprises some with his speed and his grit and excels at faceoffs. However, he is just of average size and lacks the strength to always fight through checks. Eventually the punishment he receives takes its toll on his body in the form of injuries. He’ll need to either bulk up to withstand the grind, or try to add another gear to his game in an effort to be harder to catch, if he is to have success. This season would have been a prime opportunity for Brent to establish himself as one of the team’s top players, instead, he again finds himself on the sidelines.

13. (8), Shane O’Brien, D – 22.
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Third pairing defenseman

After an offseason trade led to the departure of Mark Popovic to the Atlanta Thrashers, the Ducks farm team was in need of a player to step up and become a leader among the future defensemen. The answer was another St. Michael’s graduate in Shane O’Brien. The Port Hope native has cemented himself as the skipper of the Pirates defense corps in his third professional season. In 62 games with Portland, O’Brien has scored seven goals, including three on the power play and has a total of 37 points, already blowing past his previous career high of 25 points. He is +12 this year and also leads the Pirates in penalty minutes with 226, which places him eighth in the league. He logs time in all situations and has been fortunate enough to only miss two games this season, a rarity on the team. Only veteran defenseman Kent Huskins has played in more games than O’Brien.

O’Brien makes his name as a hard-nosed two-way defenseman. He’s arguably the closest to NHL readiness out of all of Portland’s blueliners who have yet to play in the big leagues. His game has improved in leaps and bounds and it is hard to place a cap on how far his continued development will take him. A force to be reckoned with, the 6’2, 225-pound O’Brien plays in all situations for the Pirates. His physical presence is a huge part of his game, but sometimes his anger gets the best of him and he takes costly penalties that put his team at a disadvantage. O’Brien’s contract will expire at the end of the season.

14. (20), Brian Salcido, D – 20.
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Power play quarterback

Brian Salcido showed this year that his 2004-05 breakout season was no flash in the pan. Being drafted after coming in fourth in blue line scoring in the WCHA, the Colorado College defenseman improved on last year’s totals. In 39 games, Salcido scored six goals and had 38 points as he established himself as the Tigers top defenseman. Five of his goals came on the power play and one of them was a game winner. He also led his team in penalty minutes with 69. Colorado College faces St. Cloud State in the WCHA quarterfinals.

A slick-skating defenseman, Salcido hails from Los Angeles, California where he played alongside Bobby Ryan. Despite being called a two-way blue liner, as of late, he has become known for his offensive play more than anything. In fact, he’s one of the top offensive defensemen in the WCHA, if not the whole NCAA. He handles the puck very well and has begun to use his 6’2 frame more effectively. As he enters the NCAA playoffs and next season, his senior year of college play, Salcido will need to continue to develop and round out his game if he hopes to get a contract from Anaheim.

15. (17), Pierre Parenteau, RW – 22.
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Third line forward

For the second season in a row, Pierre Parenteau has been given an opportunity to succeed and has not disappointed. Last year, an injury to star Cincinnati winger Joffrey Lupul allowed Parenteau to step into the void and he posted an 11-point improvement over his previous season totals. This year, Parenteau missed the first two months of the season with a broken wrist, but returned to the Portland lineup in December. When Getzlaf, Perry and Penner all were called up to Anaheim, Parenteau jumped at the chance to play a larger role and has been nothing short of impressive. In 40 games this year, the Hull native has 16 goals and 38 points, which places him fourth on the team in scoring. Not bad for a player who missed training camp.

After hitting 100 points twice during his years in the QMJHL, Parenteau is obviously an offensively gifted player. He is therefore a lethal threat during power plays, as can be seen by his six power-play goals, which place him second on the team. Although he needs to continue to add strength to his game, he’s also not afraid of getting his nose dirty if required. In a December interview with Hockey’s Future, he expressed his strong determination to make it to the NHL and if he continues to improve and take advantage of any opening, the ninth-round pick may be a lot closer than anyone would have thought on draft day. Parenteau’s contract will expire at the end of the season.

16. (18), Kyle Klubertanz, D – 20.
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Power play quarterback

A sophomore with the Wisconsin Badgers, Kyle Klubertanz improved slightly on his freshman totals as he continues to develop. In 36 games, he scored four goals and has 19 points, one more than his rookie season. Three of his goals came on the power play and he also had 34 penalty minutes. The University of Wisconsin faces Michigan Tech in the WCHA quarterfinals.

The Wisconsin Badgers play a defensive system that focuses on goaltender Brian Elliott (OTT) and defensemen Tom Gilbert and Klubertanz. In just his second season in college, Klubertanz is a top two-way defenseman who skates well and excels at moving the puck out of his own zone. He plays with an edge to his game, and despite his average size of 6’0 and 178 pounds, he stand up to opposing players as they enter the zone. He sees the ice extremely well and is key in distributing the puck on the Badgers power-play unit. He still needs to continue to improve his defensive play and he would be more effective if he continued to add muscle to his game.

17. (12), Curtis Glencross, LW – 23.
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Third line forward

It has been another disappointing season for Curtis Glencross. After a dominating show in the Ducks training camp two years ago, he has endured another season of injury and misfortune. Last year in Cincinnati, he was limited to just 51 games and nine points. This year with Portland, he has played in 36 games and has scored 14 times for a total of 23 points. However, he has had reoccurring problems with his hip all season long and is currently out of the lineup for an indefinite amount of time.

When he is healthy, Glencross possesses all the tools to dominate the game. He is a pummeling forechecker and has the hands and skills to make the most of the chances he gets. He’s developed a scoring touch that shows itself in clutch situations, with four game-winning goals, alongside two power-play tallies and pair of shorthanders. He sees the ice well and takes care of business in his own end. However, his kamikaze style has caused him problems as it begins to wear away on his 6’1, 192-pound frame. By adding size and strength, he might be able to be a bit more durable and to be a more effective contributor.

18. (13), Nathan Saunders, D – 20.
Grade: 6.0C, Projection: Depth defenseman

Nathan Saunders injured his shoulder in mid-November and missed 13 games. Then in January, he re-injured the shoulder in a fight against New York Ranger prospect David Liffiton. The last game that he played was also the last game played by Tim Brent, before Brent was also forced out of the lineup with a shoulder injury of his own. Saunders underwent shoulder surgery in mid-January and is expected to make a full recovery, however it is unknown if he will be able to return this season. In the 20 games that he was able to play in, he has a single goal and is +4 with 75 penalty minutes. Most of his penalty minutes came from a contest against the Philadelphia Phantoms at the end of October, when Saunders racked up 34 minutes in the sin bin.

A big, gritty defenseman, Saunders does not back down from anyone. Admirably, he has tried to make a name for himself in his rookie season of professional hockey as a player who will do whatever it takes to win and as someone who won’t accept opposing players taking advantage of his teammates. rSolid defensively, Saunders will never lead the league in scoring or quarterback a power play, although he does possess a hard shot from the point. However, he is well aware of his limitations and plays a strong and simple game within them.

19. (19), Drew Miller, LW – 22.
Grade: 6.0C, Projection: Checking line forward

Named captain of the Michigan State Spartans, Miller raised his game considerably this season. Not only does he lead his team in scoring, but he is also one of the top defensive forwards in the NCAA. In 38 games, he’s scored 13 goals and has a total of 34 points including three game winners and a team leading eight power-play goals. The Spartans finished the season as the No. 2 team in the CCHA under Miller’s guidance and they face Alaska Fairbanks in the quarterfinals.

Miller was always known for taking care of things in his own end, however, he has just begun to round out his game and become strong at both ends of the ice. He has decent skills with the puck and works very hard to make a play, always willing to play with some grit in his game. Most of his goals come from driving to the net, and he would be even more effective if he could add further strength to his game. A hard worker, Miller does whatever it will take to win, and that should help him go far in the future.

20. (9), Shane Hynes, RW – 22.
Grade: 6.0C, Projection: Third line power forward

Shane Hynes finds himself in a situation comparable to that of Saunders. While not as catastrophic as some of the wounded prospects listed, a knee injury has caused him to miss significant time and he is unlikely to return this season. Hynes left Cornell University a year early to sign a deal with the Ducks and join the Portland Pirates. He played in just 12 games, tallying a goal and four points before suffering the injury in mid-November. Unfortunately for Hynes, he was still trying to find his spot in the lineup and adapt to the pro game when he got injured, so his production is probably not the most accurate representation of his skills.

A tough and gritty player, Hynes has great size and equally great skills. He is hard to move from a position once he decides to set himself up somewhere and has a hard accurate shot that he can get off quickly. Not afraid to use his size to his advantage, his style of play sadly leaves him prone to injury as well. With his rookie campaign a wash, Hynes has to hope to come back strong next season and stay healthy.

Missing the Cut

Matt Auffrey, RW – 20.
Grade: 6.0C, Projection: Checking line forward

Matt Auffrey’s October decision to leave the Wisconsin Badgers of the NCAA and join the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL has proven to be the right choice. While Auffrey was struggling to find time with the Badgers, he’s cemented himself as one of the top six forwards with Kitchener. In 55 games, he’s scored 23 goals and has 45 points to place him sixth on the team in scoring. Sixteen of his goals have come with the man advantage and he has also netted three game winners.

At 6’2 and 198 pounds, Auffrey has the size to play a physical game, which he does on occasion. He is a good skater for his size, has a hard shot and handles the puck well. He has flourished with Kitchener and is beginning to play more consistently as well as with an increased focus on defense.

Matt MacInnis contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.