Winter is officially here after the first significant snowfall in St. Louis, and so are the Anaheim Ducks on this Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, somewhat weary after a hard-fought battle last night in Chicago. The Ducks are no longer called "Mighty", yet they are strong and powerful indeed, battling for the Pacific Division lead with San Jose and Los Angeles. Their potent offense, ranked sixth in the NHL, is spearheaded by center Ryan Getzlaf, the club's top point producer, and winger Corey Perry, the leading goal scorer. They are well complimented by left winger Dustin Penner, the team's plus/minus leader with a plus-17.
This is the 20th anniversary for the franchise birthed by The Walt Disney Company as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the expansion of 1993. Mickey, Donald and Goofy paid an entry fee of $50M, half of which went to the Los Angeles Kings as payment for the infringement on the Kings' territorial rights in southern California. Jack Ferreira, who previously had experience building the San Jose Sharks in 1991, was the first GM for the Mighty Ducks, and his astute selections in both the expansion and entry drafts created a pretty good hockey club that set a then-record for wins by an expansion team (33), even though they did not qualify for the playoffs.
With help from Ron Wilson, the franchise's first head coach, Ferreira emphasized team defense, selecting goaltenders Guy Hebert from the Blues and Ron Tugnutt from the Oilers. The defense corps included Alexei Kasatonov, former Blue Sean Hill, Bobby Dollas and Randy Ladouceur. Up front, notables included Troy Loney, Stu Grimson, Bob Corkum and Terry Yake, current Director of Alumni Relations for the Blues. Yake would go on to lead the team in scoring that inaugural season with 21 goals and 52 points. In the Entry Draft of 1993, picking fourth overall, the Ducks selected high-scoring winger Paul Kariya from the University of Maine. Kariya, of course, would become the face of the franchise for nine seasons, scoring 50 goals during the 1995-96 season. And it was during the middle of that season when Ferreira pulled off a major heist in a blockbuster trade with the Winnipeg Jets. Center Chad Kilger, defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky and a third round draft choice went north for center Marc Chouinard, a fourth round pick and Finnish right winger Teemu Selanne. Kariya left the Ducks in 2003 as an unrestricted free agent and ended up in Colorado (along with Selanne) as the franchise's all-time leader in games played (606), goals (300), assists (369) and points (669). He was also Captain of the Ducks for seven seasons. After Selanne returned to Anaheim in 2005, Kariya's record marks in games played, goals, assists and points were all broken by "the Finnish Flash."
The 1993 Entry Draft was one of the most interesting in NHL history. Selecting first overall, the Ottawa Senators selected center Alexandre Daigle, a high-scoring center from the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL, projected to be a "can't miss" superstar. After a decent first season, Daigle apparently lacked the motivation to play in the NHL and his production gradually dropped, prompting a trade to Philadelphia after five disappointing seasons in Ottawa. He only lasted two seasons as a Flyer and was dispatched to Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota before leaving North America to play for Davos in Switzerland. Selecting second overall, the Hartford Whalers wisely chose all star and future Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Pronger. Other notable first-round picks in that draft included Rob Niedermayer (fifth overall by Florida), Jason Arnott (seventh by Edmonton), Saku Koivu (21st by Montreal) and Todd Bertuzzi (23rd by the Islanders).
The Blues did not have a first round selection and bombed with their second round choice, Russian winger Maxim Bets, who was traded by the Blues to Anaheim while still an amateur with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. Bets played three pointless games for the Ducks and then spend several seasons in the minors before returning to play in Russia. This draft was not a total disaster for St. Louis, though, as later selections included defenseman Jamie Rivers in the third round, winger Jamal Mayers in the fourth round. center Eric Boguniecki in the eighth round and defenseman Christer Olsson in the 11th round. The acquisition of Olsson was extremely significant as he was the player traded to Ottawa in 1997 for center Pavol Demitra. Other notable picks in the later rounds of the draft included former Blue Scott Nichol by Buffalo in the 11th round, Kimmo Timonen (currently an alternate captain for Philadelphia) by Los Angeles in the tenth round, Demitra by Ottawa in the ninth round, and former Blues' goaltender Manny Legace by Hartford in the eighth round.
If the Blues continue to have first period problems as they have in the last three games, they will be hard pressed to contain the high-flying Ducks. If not for the Blues power play, ranked second in the NHL, a victory over the Islanders would have been much more difficult than a 5-1 score might indicate. The Blues were flat and disorganized, only managing six shots on goal against a weak Islander defense and were fortunate to get out of that first period with a 1-0 lead. The Note did limit the Islanders to six shots, yet Jaro Halak had to make a couple of excellent saves to preserve the lead. A similar start tonight might prove disastrous against the "Mighty" Ducks.