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MIGHTY DUCKS / ’94-'95 PREVIEW : Ducks Hope New Faces Enhance Overall Picture : Analysis: Talented rookies Kariya and Karpov raise expectations. But how will they mix with veterans?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nobody expected enough of the Mighty Ducks in their first season.

This season, will everybody expect too much?

Coach Ron Wilson’s band of fringe players and unproven talents banned the E-word to fend off the bad karma of expansion last season, then shared an NHL record with Florida for most victories by a first-year team (33).

They also finished with 71 points--10 points out of the playoffs, and five ahead of the Kings--and swept the two-game season series with the eventual Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers.

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Now that sterling rookies Paul Kariya and Valeri Karpov have arrived, along with help for a dismal power play from Tom Kurvers, it’s tempting to imagine they’ll be much better.

“You look at the talent out there, and we’re making passes we would not normally make last year,” said defenseman Bobby Dollas. “I can’t say we’ll win the Stanley Cup or even make the playoffs. We’re still building. But I look around the dressing room, and compared to last year’s team, we’ve got a lot of talent.”

The test will be whether the Ducks can mix in added skill and confidence without losing last season’s disciplined work ethic--which was the key to their season.

“I don’t fear our work ethic will slacken at all,” Wilson said. “We have young people who will add spark when the old guys are getting gray in the beard.”

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The biggest question during the exhibition season was simply when the season would start. Making the playoffs might be the season’s goal, but General Manager Jack Ferreira had another--acknowledging NHL labor tension with a bit of gallows humor--"To play 84 games.”

Year 2 is sometimes a dicey season for expansion teams. Instead of improving, 10 of 19 have gotten worse.

“I don’t believe in something called the sophomore jinx,” Wilson said. “Half the teams have done better their second year, half have done worse. It’s like flipping a coin, half will be heads and half will be tails.”

The Winnipeg Jets, who joined the league from the World Hockey Assn. in 1979, were 19 points worse in their second season. The biggest improvement was by the New York Islanders, who joined the league in 1972 and improved by 26 points their second season. Of course, it wasn’t hard to get better. They were 12-60-6 in their first season.

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“I think we’ve improved our team. I think we should be better,” Wilson said. “But that’s not taking into account that other teams will be better too.”

A closer look at the personnel:

FORWARDS

Left wing Kariya, right wing Karpov and center Anatoli Semenov transform the offense--make that the first line--from ugly duckling to swan.

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Kariya appears ready to contend with Quebec’s Peter Forsberg for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, and Karpov’s maturity at 23 prepares him for a solid first year. Semenov was the Ducks’ best player last season before left wing Stu Grimson’s accidental check dislocated his elbow and limited him to 20 of the last 55 games. If the sometimes delicate Semenov, 32, stays healthy, his rookie linemates could lift him to his best season since coming to the NHL in 1990.

It was the play of Karpov and rookie right wing John Lilley that convinced management they could afford to trade right wing Terry Yake--the team’s leading scorer in the first season with 52 points.

The rest of the forwards--who unlike the first line won’t be allowed to slack off on defense--are being challenged to prove what they did last season was no fluke. It will also be crucial for them to maintain the grinding play and willingness to go into the corners personified by former captain Troy Loney, who was traded to the New York Islanders for Kurvers in June.

Center Bob Corkum fell a point shy of leading the team in scoring with 51 points--41 more points than his previous best--when he severed a tendon in his foot late in the season. With his big shot, solid two-way play and a more confident approach, he is penciled in as the second-line center. The Ducks are very high on him--although like others around the NHL, they’re waiting to see if he has a second 20-goal season to make up their minds. Corkum shrugs: “If I’m not getting respect, I might be open more.”

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Right wing Joe Sacco is one of the 15 Ducks whose opportunity to play resulted in career highs last season. More important than his 37-point total was his red-hot 14-goal second half.

Center Stephan Lebeau’s 80-point season in Montreal two seasons ago makes him the Duck with the best career high, but he didn’t hit his stride in 22 games after being traded to the Ducks last season and will probably start the season as the third-line center.

Left wing Garry Valk can add scoring, and right wings Todd Ewen and Grimson add punch.

Bottom line: Kariya and Karpov are big-time talents, but only Hartford, Tampa Bay and Ottawa scored fewer goals than Ducks last season.

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DEFENSE

The Ducks’ success last season was almost entirely the result of solid, disciplined defense, with huge contributions from a stable of grinding forwards and terrific goaltending.

That Bobby Dollas was plus-20 on an expansion team last season is an astounding statistic. That he’s playing to increase his leverage in hopes of doubling his bargain-basement $275,000 salary should add a bit of interest to his season.

Kurvers adds more offense than defense, as does rookie Oleg Tverdovsky, the second overall pick in June who will be brought along slowly, especially after missing most of the exhibition season with a groin injury.

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With Sean Hill and Bill Houlder both elsewhere after summer trades, Wilson should have fewer postgame interviews when he’s left steaming about defensemen getting caught up-ice--but he also lost 66 points of scoring.

The defensive workload falls to Dollas, veteran Ladouceur and Don McSween. David Williams and Robert Dirk are solid defensive blueliners.

Bottom line: The fact no Duck defenseman should overlook is that the four defenseman who had negative plus-minuses last season--Houlder, Hill, Mark Ferner and Anatoli Fedotov--are no longer in Anaheim.

GOALTENDING

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Only eight teams in the NHL had goals-against averages under 3.00 and save percentages over .900 last season, and the Mighty Ducks were one of them.

They did it with a tag-team effort from Guy Hebert, Ron Tugnutt and Mikhail Shtalenkov. But when Hebert won the coaches’ confidence, Tugnutt was traded and Hebert emerged as a front-line NHL goalie, winning a career-best 20 games and notching two shutouts. His goals-against average (2.83), save-percentage (.907) and games played (52) were also career highs.

Wilson’s words aside, Hebert is the No. 1 goalie going into the season--although Wilson has proved he will go with whomever’s playing better at the moment, as he did last season by unseating Hebert briefly in favor of Shtalenkov.

With Wilson as cognizant as he is of the travel demands on a West Coast team, both goalies will play. Shtalenkov should be a first-rate backup--and if Hebert falters, he’ll push him. Though Shtalenkov appeared in only 10 games, his numbers were sterling--a 2.65 goals-against average and a .909 save-percentage with a 3-4-1 record.

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Bottom line: Wilson will say 1-A and 1-B half a dozen times, but Hebert will prove his net worth again.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kariya transforms both the power-play and the penalty-killing teams.

The power play was worst in the NHL last season and was so ineffective that at times it was hard to tell which team had the man advantage. Having Kurvers playing one of the points also helps, and 1994 first-round pick Tverdovsky might step in at the other, though he’ll be brought along slowly after missing most of the exhibition season with a groin injury. The biggest differences, though, will result from the playmaking of Kariya and a healthy Semenov and the finishing touch of Karpov.

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The penalty-killers did diligent work last season, and ranked sixth in the league, and it will take work not to slip. The difference this season should be in shorthanded goals. The Ducks had nine all last season. With his open-ice speed and anticipation, Kariya could approach that many by himself.

Bottom line: Power play will be better, still not stellar, but the real excitement will come with Kariya killing penalties.

Player Profiles

Patrik Carnback: 21

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Age: 26

Left wing

Shoots: L

Had a solid rookie season, scoring 12 goals with 11 assists in 73 games. Only second season playing in North America. Played for Sweden during 1994 World Championships. Was brought along slowly, playing on third and fourth lines for much of the season.

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Scott Chartier: 38

Age: 22

Defenseman

Shoots: R

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One of the bright, young prospects this season, has been projected as a star of the future. Has good size at 6 feet 1 and 200 pounds. Played 49 games for IHL San Diego Gulls last season and was called up to the Ducks twice but did not appear in a game. Will start the season in San Diego.

Bob Corkum: 20

Age: 26

Center

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Shoots: R

Made a major breakthrough after spending most of his career as a fourth line center with Buffalo. Ducks’ second-leading scorer with 51 points (23 points, 28 assists). Probably would have led the team in scoring but missed final eight games with ruptured tendon in front of right ankle.

Robert Dirk: 5

Age: 28

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Defenseman

Shoots: L

Adds size and stability to the Duck defense. Is 6 feet 4, 210 pounds with more than 300 NHL games played. Came from Chicago in an off-season trade. Not an enforcer. Is a tough, physical, reliable defender who has played for St. Louis, Vancouver and Chicago.

Bobby Dollas: 2

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Age: 29

Defenseman

Shoots: L

Steady as a rock last season in a sometimes shaky defense. Old-style, stay-at-home defenseman. Won the Ducks’ plus-minus title with a plus 20. Set career highs for games played (77), goals (nine) and points (20). Previous bests came with Detroit in 1990-91.

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Peter Douris: 16

Age: 28

Right wing

Shoots: R

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Solid, dependable forward last season. Set career highs in points (34), goals, assists, games played and penalty minutes. Missed first eight games with sprained knee, then played 74 of the next 76 games. Had two two-goal games and had three assists in a Nov. 3 game against Dallas.

Todd Ewen: 36

Age: 28

Right wing

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Shoots: R

Duck leader and eighth in the NHL in penalty minutes with a whopping 272 last season. Epitomized team’s grinding, physical style of play. Also found time to score nine goals with nine assists--both career highs. Expected to again be tough guy along with Stu Grimson.

Mark Ferner: 3

Age: 29

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Defenseman

Shoots: L

Will begin the season with San Diego. Had played only a handful of NHL games in stints with Buffalo and Washington before last season. Played 50 games and had eight points, both career highs, for the Ducks. First game with the Ducks was his first in the NHL since 1990-91.

Stu Grimson: 32

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Age: 29

Left wing

Shoots: L

Stepped quickly into his role as the team enforcer, piling up 199 penalty minutes in 77 games. Worked well with Todd Ewen, the team’s other tough guy, making it difficult for teams to rough up the expansion Ducks. No radical departures in his style expected this season.

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Guy Hebert: 31

Age: 27

Goalie

Catches: L

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Won the job midway through last season and kept the Ducks competitive when occasionally all else failed. Saw first extensive NHL action last season, posting a 20-27-3 record with an impressive 2.83 goals-against average. Stopped 38 shots against Toronto in team’s first shutout.

Paul Kariya: 9

Age: 19

Left wing

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Shoots: L

Hasn’t played a game yet, but he’s already the most celebrated Duck in the team’s short history. Turns 20 Oct. 16. Expected to add tremendous offensive skills to the team. Led Canada to the silver medal in the 1994 Olympics and to the gold at the ’94 World Championships.

Valeri Karpov: 11

Age: 23

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Right wing

Shoots: L

Veteran of the Russian Olympic team and Traktor Chelyabinsk of the Russian Elite League. Had 30 points in 32 games for Traktor before joining Olympic team last season. Expected to add needed offensive punch. Creative play-maker. Strong skater. Perhaps a better passer than scorer.

Steven King: 17

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Age: 25

Left wing

Shoots: R

The first forward picked in the 1993 expansion draft, was a major disappointment last season. Had eight goals in 36 games (both career highs) before undergoing reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder Feb. 8 and missing the rest of the season.

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Tom Kurvers: 24

Age: 32

Defenseman

Shoots: L

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Had 40 points last season. Expected to provide some sorely needed offense on power play. Obtained because Ducks were so desperate for help on their hideous power play, the NHL’s weakest. Came in deal that sent captain Troy Loney to the Islanders.

Randy Ladouceur: 29

Age: 34

Defenseman

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Shoots: L

Named captain before training camp opened after spending the past season as an assistant captain. Expected to help develop Ducks’ young defensemen. A 13-year veteran. Played a career-high 81 games last season. Passed the 800-game milestone Feb. 20 at St. Louis.

Stephan Lebeau: 47

Age: 26

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Center

Shoots: R

Acquired from Montreal Feb. 20. Struggled on offensive last season, with 16 points in 34 games with Montreal and 10 points in 22 games with the Ducks. A return to form of 1992-93 when he had a career-high 80 points (31 goals, 49 assists), is on team wish list.

John Lilley: 27

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Age: 22

Right wing

Shoots: R

Joined the Ducks in March after playing for the U.S. Olympic team in Lillehammer. Played at Boston University and Seattle of the WHL before making Team USA in 1992. Earned a spot on the Duck roster with a standout training camp. The smallest Duck at 5 feet 9, 170 pounds.

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Don McSween: 6

Age: 30

Defenseman

Shoots: L

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In games he played, Ducks were 14-15-3. Was his first NHL action since 1989-90, when he played four games for Buffalo. Had 12 points in 32 games for the Ducks. Had 18 points in 38 games for the San Diego Gulls before joining the Ducks on Jan. 12.

Myles O’Connor: 44

Age: 27

Defenseman

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Shoots: L

Spent most of last season with San Diego of the IHL, but he is scheduled to begin this season with the Ducks. Played five games with the Ducks last season before joining the Gulls. Had one goal with 13 assists and 117 penalty minutes in 39 games at San Diego.

Joe Sacco: 14

Age: 25

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Right wing

Shoots: L

Only Duck to play all 84 games last season. Had a career-high 37 points, bettering previous high of 11 with Toronto in 1991-92. Had 13 points in 13 games from Jan. 16 to Feb. 16. Team’s fastest skater. Played on 1992 U.S. Olympic team and 1994 U.S. World Championship team.

Anatoli Semenov: 19

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Age: 32

Center

Shoots: L

Probably will center line with Paul Kariya on left wing. Will be better off avoiding teammate Stu Grimson this season. Ran into Grimson Dec. 7, and suffered a dislocated left elbow. Had to miss 35 of final 55 games. Creative play-maker. Strong skater and passer.

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Mikhail Shtalenkov: 35

Age: 28

Goalie

Catches: L

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Expected to be Guy Hebert’s backup this season. First extended NHL experience came after Ron Tugnutt was traded to Montreal Feb. 20. Proved to be a capable backup, going 3-4-1 with a 2.65 goals-against average in 10 games with the Ducks. Was 15-11-2 for the IHL San Diego Gulls.

Tim Sweeney: 8

Age: 27

Center

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Shoots: L

Begins fifth NHL season. Had a career-high 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) last season but has fallen on depth chart. Ducks were 8-5-1 when he scored a goal. Had the first short-handed goal in team history in 1-0 victory at Toronto on Dec. 15. Had two two-goal games.

Oleg Tverdovsky: 10

Age: 18

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Defenseman

Shoots: L

The Ducks’ first-round pick (second overall) in the 1994 draft. Was ranked as the top European prospect, a highly-skilled player who is often compared to the legendary Bobby Orr. A strong skater, a good checker and able to combine the finesse and physical aspects of the game.

Garry Valk: 18

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Age: 26

Left wing

Shoots: L

Plucked from Vancouver in the waiver draft. Proved to be one of the season’s big surprises. Had five game-winning goals, a team high. Had 45 points, third-highest on the team, in 78 games. Also had career highs in goals, assists, games played and penalty minutes.

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Shaun Van Allen: 22

Age: 27

Center

Shoots: L

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Proved to be reliable center in his first extended NHL experience. Had career highs in goals (eight), assists (25), games played (80) and penalty minutes (64). Had six multiple-point games. Might find ice time tougher to come by this season, however.

David Williams: 4

Age: 27

Defenseman

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Shoots: R

Tied his career-high by playing in 56 games for the Ducks last season. Recalled from San Diego of the IHL on Dec. 15 and remained with the Ducks for the rest of the way, scoring five goals with 15 assists. Also had a plus-minus rating of plus 13 over the last 46 games.

The Second Time Around

How post-1967-68 National Hockey League expansion teams have fared after their first season:

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Debut First cup/ First Second Point Team season best finish year year difference Philadelphia ’67-68 ’73-74 31-32-11 20-35-21 -22 NY Islanders ’72-73 ’79-80 12-60-6 19-41-18 +26 Calgary/Atlanta ’72-73 ’88-89 25-38-15 30-34-14 +9 Pittsburgh ’67-68 ’90-91 27-34-13 20-45-11 -16 Kings ’67-68 ’92-93 finalist 31-33-10 24-42-10 -14 Dallas/Minnesota ’67-68 ’80-81 finalist 27-32-15 18-43-5 -28 Vancouver ’70-71 ’81-82 finalist 24-46-8 20-50-8 -8 Buffalo ’70-71 ’74-75 finalist 24-39-15 16-43-19 -12 St. Louis ’67-68 ’67-68 finalist 27-31-16 37-25-14 +18 Washington ’74-75 None 8-67-5 11-59-10 +11 NJ/Colo/KC ’74-75 None 15-54-11 12-56-12 -5 Mighty Ducks ’93-94 None 33-46-5 -- -- Florida ’93-94 None 33-34-17 -- -- Ottawa ’92-93 None 10-70-4 14-61-9 +13 San Jose ’91-92 None 17-58-5 11-71-2 -15 Tampa Bay ’92-93 None 23-54-7 30-43-11 +18

Former World Hockey Assn. Teams

Debut First cup/ First Second Point Team season best finish year year difference Edmonton ’79-80 ’83-84 28-39-13 29-35-16 +5 Hartford ’79-80 None 27-34-19 21-41-18 -13 Winnipeg ’79-80 None 20-49-11 9-57-14 -19 Quebec ’79-80 None 25-44-11 30-32-18 +17

No Longer With Us

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Debut First cup/ First Second Point Team season best finish year year difference Oak/Calif/Cleve ’67-68 None 15-42-17 29-36-11 +22

Source: National Hockey League


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