With 16 of the 20 players who were in the lineup in Game Five of the Stanley Cup Finals confirmed to be returning, the Anaheim Ducks should begin the 2007-08 season with a roster very similar to the one they won the Cup with. While that is not to say there were be any lack of storylines when the Ducks open their 14th training camp this fall, it does mean there are precious few opportunities for prospects to break into the lineup.
Shortly after the Ducks lifted the Stanley Cup at the Honda Center in Anaheim, whispers began to circulate that both Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne were considering having the championship win serve as the final chapter of their illustrious playing careers. Faced with the prospect of losing both their team captain and their top scorer, the Ducks moved quickly when the offseason began and signed Mathieu Schneider and Todd Bertuzzi to help soften the blow. While neither player has made their retirement official, it appears that Anaheim will at least start the season without either of their services.
With the addition of Schneider, the Ducks boast a deep and talented blue line, which save for Niedermayer, is relatively unchanged from the one that won the Stanley Cup. Although the Ducks have a number of top prospects slated to play on the blue line in Portland such as Brian Salcido and Brendan Mikkelson, most aren’t expected to be able to contribute at the NHL level for another year at the earliest. The return of Maxim Kondratiev after a year in Russia as well as the signing of Shane Hnidy will help bridge that gap and allow the Ducks to develop their prospects slowly. Top prospect Mark Mitera is returning to the University of Michigan for another year and is not attending camp, but could challenge for a spot next fall after his graduation.
Up front, Bertuzzi joins a forward corps that could be at the cusp of a significant amount of change. With two top six forwards not in the lineup and only one replacement acquired over the offseason, questions have formed about the state of the Ducks scoring lines. While Bertuzzi was initially brought in to help replace Selanne’s offense, the RFA offer and eventual departure of Dustin Penner came as a surprise to the organization and creates another hole up front.
Should Selanne choose not to return, that may open the door for Bobby Ryan, the second overall selection in 2005. Although Ryan will never replace Selanne’s speed in the lineup, the New Jersey native has progressed steadily since being drafted and there is speculation that he may be ready to make the jump to the NHL. Anaheim may prefer to break him into the league in a similar fashion to how they brought Dustin Penner along — placing him in a smaller role, perhaps alongside Todd Marchant before moving him into a spot on a scoring line. However, the situation may call for a quicker time table than desired and Ryan could find himself with a spot in the top six to start the year.
Meanwhile, Anaheim hopes a stable fourth line will allow them to put less pressure on their top nine forwards. A healthy Todd Marchant and a full season with Brad May should work wonders in this regard. The two most experienced prospects who played in this capacity last season, Ryan Shannon and Tim Brent, have both been traded during the offseason and that opens the door for a handful of prospects to show they can make the jump. Drew Miller and Ryan Carter may be the favorites going into camp after they both saw time in a handful of games during the Ducks playoff run. Newly-signed free agents Ryan Dingle and Andrew Ebbett may also have a shot at challenging for a spot, although neither one has NHL experience; in Dingle’s case, this is his first season of professional hockey.
Though not technically a prospect, Jonas Hiller is entering his first season in North America after a standout career in the Swiss leagues. He is hoping to follow the footsteps of his countryman Martin Gerber and play backup to Jean-Sebastien Giguere. At present, that role is filled by Ilya Bryzgalov, but with the Ducks putting their support behind Giguere to the tune of a four-year $24 million dollar contract, Bryzgalov may need to go elsewhere to find the starting reins he desires. In the end, the decision on Giguere’s backup may be made by accountants and not coaches. Hiller’s incentive laden contract takes up $3.2 million dollars of cap space, nearly three times that of his Russian rival.
If Bryzgalov remains with the team and Hiller finds himself in the minor leagues, there will have a trickle down effect, shuffling the Ducks other goaltender prospects. With Gerald Coleman, newly-signed Bobby Goepfert and J-P Levasseur also in the mix, one has to wonder if there will be enough ice time to go around in both Portland and the Ducks ECHL affiliate in Augusta.
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