Back in 2004, when I looked at the roster of the Ducks' AHL franchise, I knew for certain that something special was going to happen . . . or not happen. Maybe that was the influence of the NHL Lockout, where the enormity of the events were committed to a climax, but the end result was an anti-climactic cancellation of the season. Or maybe it was just fate. For some reason, every name attached to the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks seemed to be hitting a crossroads in 2004-05.
On the heels of his first NHL campaign, Joffrey Lupul led the team in scoring, but all that did was cast a shadow on Anaheim's former first rounders: Alexei Smirnov, Michael Holmqvist, and Stanislav Chistov. None of them really kept pace with Lupul, and all of them needed to reach that goal to keep their professional careers alive.
That's not to say it was a bad time for draft picks. Late rounder Shane O'Brien found 319 PIM, which was 107 more than teammate Zenon Konopka. Ilya Bryzgalov found four shutouts between the pipes in his 36 starts, and Ryan Getzlaf showed up to score 5-points in a brief assignment during the team's playoff run.
Of course, those are the draft picks, the names from whom much was expected. Every Ducks team, AHL and NHL, is infused with the undrafted input of David McNab.
This team was no different. NCAA refugees Dustin Penner, Chris Kunitz and Curtis Glencross were fixtures, with Ryan Shannon joining them as a rather coveted acquisition by year's end. Kunitz' 22 goals trailed only Lupul, while Penner's 57 playoff PIM trailed no one.
The team also found strong minutes from a couple of unwanted pros in Aaron Rome and Sheldon Brookbank. Both were years away from regular NHL assignments, but Cincinnati became the organization that was willing to take a chance on them.
And speaking of chances, the coaching staff offered Dan Bylsma his first shot as an assistant coach, allowing the journeyman pro to gracefully get up off of the Cincinnati bench and step behind it.
Hindsight is never really insight, but I've always felt that the Lockout Ducks were about the underdogs and the simple truth that the players from whom much was expected couldn't always deliver as much as the hungry players who expected much from themselves.
I think about that when I watch the Ducks' late round draft picks, the McNab free agent acquisitions and the journeyman additions to the roster. I see them hustle, I see them succeed, I see Dan Sexton throw one on net, and I think, 'That's a Lockout Duck.'