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Golden (Gopher) Opportunity

by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks
By Matt Vevoda

After signing a entry-level deal in July, Stu Bickel took part in the first day of rookie camp on Friday at Honda Center.
Chris Kunitz, Andy McDonald, Dustin Penner ... Stu Bickel?

The Anaheim Ducks, behind the trusted brain of Assistant General Manager David McNab, have developed a penchant for discovering collegiate free agents and developing them into solid NHL talent.

The latest acquisition to trade in his books for an Anaheim uniform is 6-foot-4 defenseman Stu Bickel, a physical player from the University of Minnesota who fits right into the Ducks’ style of play. Bickel’s first experience in the organization began on Friday in the first day of rookie camp held at Honda Center.

“I was a little bit nervous on the first day, but I think a lot of guys were,” Bickel said. “I’ll just play my game and see what happens. It should be fun.”

Bickel caught the eye of the Ducks last year as a freshman with the Golden Gophers at the University of Minnesota. Playing in each of the Gophers’ 45 contests, the Minnesota native with a right-handed shot led the team with 92 penalty minutes and rapidly improved as the year went on into arguably the team’s top d-man.

“He’s got good size and is not afraid to mix it up,” Gophers longtime head coach Don Lucia said. “He was without question our hardest hitter last year. That’s a part of the game that he relishes.”

The constant improvement in Bickel, who switched to defense just two and a half years ago, is something that McNab values highly when making the decision to pursue a player in the college ranks.

"He was without question our hardest hitter last year," University of Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. "That's part of the game that he relishes."
“It has to be a situation where a guy has continued to improve,” McNab said. “He made such a dramatic improvement over the course of the year. When you meet Stu, you see he wants to do well.”

Added Lucia, “I think that he’s a hard worker, has a great attitude and wants to get better. That’s a great place to start.”

Typically, the Ducks prefer to sign just one college free agent each year. It's a formula the team likes to keep in order to attract their targeted players.

“That’s been my philosophy,” McNab said. “We don’t sign a lot of players, so they do feel that they’re the guy that the organization wants.”

That notion was in the mind of Bickel as it became more and more apparent the Ducks had selected him as their target this year.

Previously assuming he’d return to the Gophers for his sophomore season, Bickel began to seriously consider the Ducks after seeing McNab’s ability to develop players in situations similar to his.

“David McNab made it obvious to me that it was a move they wanted to make,” Bickel said. “After hearing about his background and all the respect people have for him in the hockey world, it’s really nice he’s interested in me as a player. Obviously, that was a huge part of the decision.”

After weighing his options thoroughly, Bickel agreed to join the Ducks organization and signed an entry-level deal on July 2. While Bickel’s move away from the Gophers program was initially unexpected for Lucia, he feels good things lie ahead for a player he felt could have been a captain for him down the line.

“I think he’s got a real good future,” Lucia. “He’s going to learn the pro game as he moves on now. I think he’s going to continue to improve.”

Bickel is touted by Lucia as a “defensive defenseman” and his numbers back up that claim. Along with leading the Gophers in penalty minutes in 2007-08, Bickel accrued 215 PIM for Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League during a 2006-07 season in which helped the Stampeed win the Clark Cup.

The 21-year-old’s play seems to match perfectly with his new employer, as the Ducks are known for their aggressive style of play in a puck-pressure system. “I thought that this was a place that would really appreciate the way that I play the game,” Bickel said. “I like to hit and I like to hit hard. I feel like that helps create energy for the team on the ice and gets guys going on the bench.”

Now having his latest college free agent coup at rookie camp in a Ducks practice jersey, McNab hopes the team’s trend of developing these players into quality talent at the NHL level continues. “We’ve had some success and hopefully it continues,” McNab said. “You have to develop and be willing to develop. Stu is somebody that we think because of the improvement that he’s made over the last couple of years, has a real good chance.”
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