He's all the Ducks have left to show for a June 18, 1999, trade with the Ottawa Senators, but rookie defenseman Antti-Jussi Niemi has proved in four steady games that he belongs in the NHL.
Niemi, 23, was acquired with winger Ted Donato in a deal that sent goaltender Patrick Lalime to Ottawa. Donato has since left the Ducks, signing with the Dallas Stars as a free agent last summer.
Niemi, in the words of Coach Craig Hartsburg, is not the fastest skater or the fanciest puckhandler. "But he finds a way to get the job done," Hartsburg said. "He's the kind of player a coach loves because he knows what he's going to get from him every night. He's never going to change."
With veteran defensemen Ruslan Salei and Pavel Trnka sidelined because of foot and ankle injuries, the Ducks recalled Niemi from Cincinnati of the American Hockey League last week and he turned in particularly reliable performances Saturday against the Nashville Predators and Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Niemi probably will be sent back to the minors when Salei and Trnka are fit again, but it could be awhile. Salei did not join the Ducks on their two-game trip because his bruised left foot is too sore for him to skate effectively. Trnka has been skating on his own, but hasn't played since suffering a sprained right ankle in an Oct. 8 game against the St. Louis Blues.
Last season, Niemi had eight goals and 16 points in 53 games for Jokerit, his Finnish club team. He is scoreless in four games as a Duck.
The Ducks' tie Saturday against Nashville and a loss Sunday to Chicago marked the fourth time the team has played on consecutive nights this season. They have 10 more sets of back-to-backs, three this month.
The Ducks are 2-2 in the second of the two games, having defeated the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, and having lost to the Edmonton Oilers and the Blackhawks.
"I don't think back-to-backs are a bad thing for us, especially when we're on the road," Hartsburg said. "If you're on the road, you might as well play hockey. If you have two days off like we did [last month] in Buffalo, it seems like forever between games."
Particularly if you're in Buffalo.
Hot: Teemu Selanne has 15 goals and 39 points in his last 30 games, dating to last March 11. Selanne has a team-leading eight goals in 16 games this season.
Not so hot: German Titov has two goals and seven points in his last 20 games, dating to his trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Oilers last March. He joined the Ducks as a free agent last summer, signing a three-season, $4.6-million contract.