Thursday, October 9, 2003

Upgrade of talent valuable for Ducks

Team could be best in club's 7 seasons

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Compared to their parent club last year, the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks appeared adopted. There seemed little relation between the Anaheim team that reached the Stanley Cup finals and the farm club here that was the lowest-scoring in franchise history.

Fans should notice a much greater resemblance this winter. Savvy scouting in Anaheim has brought a bumper crop of talent to Cincinnati for seasoning.

After winning just 26 games last season (26-35-13-6, .444), the Ducks had such a vast talent upgrade that this might rank as the most talented team in the club's seven seasons.

"There's been a conscious effort in Anaheim to sign and add a lot of young players," Cincinnati general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "What we're seeing in Cincinnati is the benefit of those efforts."

The Ducks, who begin their season Saturday at home against Toronto, return just seven players from last season.

The principal additions are goal-scorers. The Ducks ranked 22nd among 28 AHL teams in scoring last season with a 2.53 per-game average, and they were last in power-play percentage at 11.9 percent. They won just nine of the 42 games in which they failed to score a power-play goal.

And now?

"Put it this way: Last year Cory Pecker led our team in goals with 20," coach Brad Shaw said. "With the guys we're getting, he'll be on the bubble to get the ice time he got last year."

Offensively, the key returnees are Tony Martensson, who ranked eighth among AHL rookies in scoring with a team-high 53 points (17 goals, 36 assists), and Pecker, who added 13 assists to his 20 goals as a rookie.

Now check out the new guys:

Keith Aucoin led the AHL's Providence club last season with 74 points. Rookie Joel Perrault, was MVP of his Juniors league in Quebec with a league-best 116 points (51 goals, 65 assists). Rookie Pierre Parenteau totaled 103 points in that Quebec league last season. Chris Kunitz was the nation's leading college scorer last winter with 79 points for Ferris State.

The biggest buzz could surround Joffrey Lupul; the 19-year-old rookie is on Anaheim's roster because of injuries, but he could spend a lot of his winter here. Lupul, who totaled 97 goals in 122 games over the past two seasons in Juniors play in Canada, could be the best pure goal-scorer to play for a Cincinnati team since Blaine Stoughton, who scored 52 goals for the WHA Cincinnati Stingers in the 1976-77 season.

The Ducks' defense will build around 10-year pro Todd Reirden, who has spent 3 1/2 seasons in the NHL, and Mark Popovic, a second-year pro. Veterans Chris Armstrong (eighth pro season) and Mike Mottau (36 points last season) also have been added.

Goalkeeper Ilya Bryzgalov, an all-star as a rookie two seasons ago - he was on Team Russia's roster in the 2002 Winter Olympics - had a slight sophomore slump, as his goals-allowed average rose from 2.48 in 2001-02 to 2.82 last season. Yet the club thinks he can bloom into an elite NHL goalie.

"We're approaching this season as definitely being a playoff team," Reirden said. "Talent can only take you so far, so we definitely have to have a great work ethic, too."


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