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Future Watch: Ducks Filled With High Hopes

Lineup: Hartsburg excited about the progress of young players.


The kids certainly were better than all right when the Mighty Ducks' season took a turn for the worse after the Olympic break last February.

Of course, the pressure was off by then and Duck management decided to play out the string with a youthful lineup that included centers Matt Cullen and Josef Marha, right wings Frank Banham and Jeff Nielsen, left wings Jeremy Stevenson and Mike Leclerc and defenseman Pavel Trnka.

Cullen, who had six goals and 27 points in 61 games, was by far the most impressive of the youngsters over the course of the season. But the others also offered eye-catching late-season performances, making the most of their first NHL playing experience.

Add rookie forward Johan Davidsson, who signed four years after being drafted, to the mix this season and the future looks bright for the Ducks.

Of the eight, only Cullen appeared to be a sure thing to make the 24-man roster for opening night Friday against the Washington Capitals.

But even if the others begin the season with Cincinnati of the American Hockey League, you can bet they'll be asked to make their mark soon in Anaheim.

"Our young players are earning spots," Coach Craig Hartsburg said. "We're certainly excited about the upside of Banham, Marha, Cullen and the others."

Hartsburg raved about the exploits of Davidsson after almost every practice and exhibition game.

"I thought Davidsson was the best player on the ice," Hartsburg said after one scrimmage. "He's a good, solid, two-way player."

Davidsson was the Ducks' second-round pick in 1994, but he opted to play in Europe for the next four seasons before signing with Anaheim last summer.

Leclerc also caught Hartsburg's eye early in training camp and earned praise for his attention to physical play.

"You notice him every time he's on the ice, whether it's a practice or a game," Hartsburg said.

Nielsen and Stevenson play with a similar intensity and aren't expected to provide much in the way of goals and assists.

But Marha and Banham are just the opposite.

Marha, acquired in a March deal that sent enforcer Warren Rychel to the Colorado Avalanche, had nine goals and 18 points in only 23 games last season. Banham, who scored 83 goals in his final year of junior hockey in 1995-96, had nine goals and 11 points in 21 games.

Trnka, 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds, appears to have the size to become a bruising defenseman. All he needs is a bit more experience.

"I think there's lots of surprises here, especially because of all the young guys," right wing Teemu Selanne said. "They had such big roles last season. It was such a big lesson for those guys. They're so much smarter now. It's a big challenge for them to show they're ready to play in the NHL."


Attention Grabbers

Players come to the NHL from a variety of directions, from Canada's junior leagues to the U.S. college system. Here are some of the highlights of the early careers of the Mighty Ducks' top prospects:

Frank Banham

Scored 83 goals in 71 games in 1995-96 for Saskatoon of the WHL

Matt Cullen

Led St. Cloud State in scoring in 1995-96 and 1996-97

Johan Davidsson

Played for Sweden in the 1994 World Junior Championships

Mike Leclerc

Scored 58 goals for Brandon of the WHL in 1995-96

Josef Marha

Named MVP of the 1993 European Cup for the Czech team

Jeff Nielsen

Scored 75 goals in four seasons for the University of Minnesota

Jeremy Stevenson

Averaged 20 goals, 164 penalty minutes in four seasons in the OHL

Pavel Trnka

Played for the Czech team in the 1994 World Junior Championships

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