Ducks’ Mikkelson ready for the big stage

by Matt Vevoda ||

Sticking on an NHL roster for any young prospect is tough in itself. Trying to hold down a spot among the Anaheim Ducks’ defense, a group containing a bevy of experience and future Hall-of-Famers, is a much taller order.

But that’s the hand Brendan Mikkelson will be dealt starting Saturday with the opening of training camp at Anaheim ICE. Undeterred in his focus, the 21-year-old understands the obstacles in his way and what it will take to remain in Anaheim.

“As a young guy trying to crack the team and trying to earn your way, you have to work harder, harder than everybody else because you’re trying to take somebody’s job,” Mikkelson said. “You’re trying to watch guys like Pronger and Niedermayer and what they do, apply it to your game and keep improving on things.”

Over the last several months Mikkelson has frequently been mentioned among the team’s top prospects, and those players are likely to have the best chance of wrestling away a roster spot to start the season. Mikkelson is grateful to be linked with the other elite prospects on the Ducks, but knows that he cannot get caught up in the label the distinction bears.

“It’s nice to hear your name alongside other prospects such as Bobby Ryan, Brian Salcido and Brett Festerling,” Mikkelson said. “The Ducks have so many good prospects that it’s flattering to be recognized amongst those guys. At the same time, as a player I want to keep moving my way up and not only become a prospect but a player in the future.”
Selected by the Ducks in the second round (31st overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Mikkelson will be taking part in his fourth training camp with the team. His biggest breakthrough so far has been the level of play he displayed in his first full season in the American Hockey League with the Ducks’ former affiliate, the Portland Pirates, in 2007-08, which caught the eye of Ducks senior vice president of hockey operations Bob Murray.

“For all defensemen, they’ve got to get by that American League,” said Murray, a two-time All-Star defenseman during his 15-year playing career. “I think last year he took a huge step. He already has the ability to move the puck. His skating has always been his biggest asset and he’s going to turn out to be a good shutdown guy because of it.”

Hailing from the same Canadian city (Regina, Sask.) as current Ducks Ryan Getzlaf and Chris Kunitz, Mikkelson got started early on his quest to join them on the team’s roster this season after arriving in Anaheim several weeks ago from his summer home in Portland, Ore.

Murray thinks the defenseman has a shot at sticking around Orange County a little longer this season. “He has a chance to stay here this year,” Murray said. “He’ll tell us. We won’t be telling him. He’ll show us that he’s ready.”

Mikkelson was one of the players who thrived for the Pirates in the heat of a long playoff run last year. Helping oust Manchester (4-0) and Providence (4-2) before eventually falling to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in seven hard-fought games of the Eastern Conference Finals, Mikkelson was second among team blueliners with eight points (two goals, six assists) in 14 games played.

While the Pirates came up just short of the Calder Cup Final, the playoff experience earned by Ducks prospects like Mikkelson should be prove to be vital in the future.

“It’s tough to tell what you can do as a player until you really get in those high-pressure situations,” Mikkelson said. “To know that a lot of us young guys played well and really stepped up is a big confidence booster.”

Added Murray, “It gave them confidence and got their face dirty. They played two teams that were more physical than they were and they passed the test because they stood up to it.”

Now entering Ducks training camp, many of those teammates on the Pirates will be competing against each other for a roster spot if one should be available. Having a good camaraderie, the prospects are not taking anything personal with their professional outcomes looming.

“I think we all understand the battle out there,” Mikkelson said. “We’re all trying to improve ourselves and get to the best possible level. I think everybody just realizes that’s the nature of the business.”

If his preparedness is any indication, it sounds like Mikkelson might join the decorated Ducks defense sooner rather than later.

“All I can really do at this point is have the mentality of an NHLer and want to play at this level,” Mikkelson said. “I just want to put my best foot forward and hopefully that’s good enough to get me some time here this year. My goal is to show that I’ve worked hard this summer and keep moving forward every day."