Dustin Penner was one of the surprise stories in the National Hockey League last season.
After passing up his senior year at the University of Maine, he had a modest 28 points in 77 games for Anaheim’s American Hockey League affiliate in Cincinnati during his rookie season (2004-2005).
The Portland Pirates became Anaheim’s AHL affiliate last year and Penner racked up 39 goals and 45 assists in 57 games to earn a late-season call-up.
He had 4 & 3 in 19 games for the Ducks and then had 3 & 6 in 13 playoff games.
Following a productive preseason, Penner is ready for the Ducks’ opener at rival Los Angeles Friday night.
Penner is one of eight former Black Bears on NHL rosters.
The others are defensemen Brett Clark (Colorado), Doug Janik (Tampa Bay) and Keith Carney (Minnesota); goalies Mike Dunham (New York Islanders) and Mike Morrison (Phoenix); left wing Paul Kariya (Nashville) and right wing Niko Dimitrakos (Philadelphia).
In addition, Garth Snow is in his first season as the general manager of the New York Islanders after being the backup goaltender last season. And Dave Nonis is in his second season as the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks.
John Tortorella returns as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Left winger Penner will be on a line with former Boston College star Ryan Shannon and speedy center Todd Marchant.
“They call our line ‘Two Ferraris and an 18-wheeler,'” said the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Penner.
“We work real well together. We had eight points in one exhibition game and something similar in another one,” said Penner.
Penner said last season’s success gave him a lot of confidence and also motivated him throughout the summer when he worked out with former Maine teammates Jeff Mushaluk and Travis Wight in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
“I worked on improving my strength, particularly my lower body,” said Penner, a native of Winkler, Manitoba, who recently turned 24. “I want to produce at this level like I did in the AHL.”
He wants to be better at reading and anticipating plays and to become “more consistent and focused off the ice as well as on the ice.”
With the addition of former Norris Trophy winner (league’s best defenseman) Chris Pronger to a team that reached the Western Conference finals last season, The Hockey News magazine chose the Ducks to finish with the best record in the Western Conference.
“We have high expectations. We want to be the best team in the NHL night in and night out and take it all the way,” said Penner, who will be manning the net-front on the power play.
Ducks assistant general manager Dave McNab said Penner has shown at least a “100 percent improvement” every year beginning with his year at Maine “and if he makes another big jump this year, he’s going to be a real force.
“He has a chance to be really, really good,” added McNab, who signed Penner as a free agent.
McNab said Penner is a unique talent.
“Here’s this guy who came out of left field, a great big monster who has real good hands and skates well for his size,” said McNab. “You spend a career trying to find someone like this.”
McNab also said Penner works really hard, which should enable him to continue his progress.
Janik had 5 & 19 in 71 games for Rochester (AHL) last season before being called up to Buffalo and playing in five playoff games with one goal.
Clark had a breakthrough year with Colorado (9 & 27 in 80 games) after playing in just 14 NHL games in the previous three years.
Kariya had 31 & 54 for Nashville and set franchise records for assists, points (85) and power-play points (45).
Carney had 2 & 18 between Anaheim and Vancouver; Dimitrakos had 9 & 16 with San Jose and Philadelphia; Morrison was 11-4-3 with a 2.95 goals-against average and a .882 save percentage between Edmonton and Ottawa and Dunham was 8-5-2, 2.77, .893 in an injury-marred season in Atlanta.
Morrison will back up Curtis Joseph and Dunham will back up Rick DiPietro.
Janik, Carney and Morrison signed free-agent contracts with their respective teams during the summer and Dunham made the most of a tryout invitation tended to him by his former Maine teammate Snow.
Goalies Jimmy Howard (Detroit) and Frank Doyle (New Jersey) attended their NHL training camps as did RW Greg Moore (New York Rangers), but they will start the season in the AHL.