Ready to rumble. - Frederick Breedon
Our stars may have stayed at home, but the lockout allowed several of our emerging forwards to ply their trade abroad.
As Ducks fans, the lockout was immensely frustrating. We just wanted the NHL back. But for younger Ducks and Ducklings, the lockout became an opportunity to build confidence and/or sustain the momentum that they had created during the previous season.
The following players signed lockout contracts with European teams:
Luca Sbisa, D
HC Lugano, Swiss National League A
Sbisa left for his home country of Switzerland soon after the lockout began, part of an early exodus lf European players who saw the lockout as an opportunity to play hockey in their home countries. Though Sbisa's stats are not eye-popping (12 points in 30 games, 14 PIMs, -1), the Ducks organization has primarily used him as a defensive defenseman, and he assumed a large leadership role as a member of Lugano.
Viktor Fasth, G
It feels strange to include Fasth in this group: he hasn't played a single minute in a Ducks jersey. But his NHL première was further delayed by the lockout. In 12 games with Tingsyrd, Fasth has 1.68 GAA and a .942 save percentage. The Ducks have a tendency to scout good goaltenders, and he will likely become a very serviceable backup to Hiller while we wait for Igor Bobkov and John Gibson to grow into the goalie tandem of the future.
Matt Beleskey, LW
Coventry Blaze, Elite Ice Hockey League
The United Kingdom's EIHL is not comparable to the leagues in Sweden, Finland, or Russia, but it may have been the best place for the young forward to land. Beleskey is one of many young Ducks wingers to trying to establish a consistent presence with the big club. Beleskey was named Player of the Week during his final week with the Blaze, auctioned one of his Ducks jerseys to raise money for the club, and - most importantly - was a point per game player in the league. Points will be harder to come by in North America, but a newfound confidence might propel Beleskey to a regular spot in the bottom six.
Cam Fowler, D
Like Sbisa, Fowler is another emerging defenseman in our organization. Though he is offensively creative and has a lot of hustle, Cam has has had a plus/minus rating in the ballpark of -25 every year of his brief professional career. His offensive production in Sodertalje was as expected - 7 points in 13 games, put he had a plus/minus rating of +8. Does this imply that Fowler has discovered some newfound defensive responsibility? If so, will it translate to the Ducks? We'll figure it out on opening day.
Klagenfurter AC, Erste Bank Eishockey Liga (Austria)
Cogliano only played in 7 contests for Klagenfurter, but still scored 6 points. Many of us on this blog - including myself - have been critical of Cogliano's faceoff skills, the size of his contract, and what his role should be on the team, but no one should doubt his work ethic. Showing that it's never to late to brush up on one's skills. Cogliano spent the lockout working on his faceoffs and other fundamental techniques.
Nick Bonino, C
HC Neumarkt-Egna, Serie A2 (Italy)
After a period of lockout limbo, the center finally signed in Italy. Most of the players in this preview put up inflated numbers against weaker competition overseas, but Bonino's 52 points in 19 games (2.74 PPG) is almost hilarious. In yesterday's center preview, Chris said that he wished that Bonino had decided to play in a more challenging league. I'd like to respectfully disagree with him. Lockout hockey was primarily about conditioning and avoiding injury (notice how most of the players in this preview played fewer than 20 games abroad). Bonino's utter dominance in Italy shows that he is prepared to continue his work as our best bottom six pivot.
Saku Koivu, C
TPS Turku, SM-Liiga (Finland)
The SM-Liiga is widely regarded as the second-best professional league in the world. However, Koivu never played a shift for TPS Turku, the team he co-owns with his brother Mikko and Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff (he did skate and work out with the club). Much has been made of the ambiguity surrounding Teemu's retirement, but I believe that Koivu could have easily been lost to the lockout as well. That would have been a disappointing exit for a player who has been a reliable presence on our team - and is our best faceoff man.
Bobby Ryan, LW
Ryan was roundly criticized for leaving for Europe after he had previously said that he didn't want to take a European player's job. I have no issue with Bobby's comments or his later change of heart. Many other players took a wait-and-see approach to the lockout, and when it began to drag on, decided to leave for Europe. Ryan was criticized because he spoke out, but in the end, his comments weren't that controversial. And as a player who hasn't had a true breakout NHL season, maintaining his focus was a must. If Bobby can click with a center - he's shown flashes of chemistry with Nick Bonino - he could put up a lot of points in a short amount time.