Our Anaheim Ducks 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season!
The 2018-2019 NHL season was a difficult one for the Anaheim Ducks. A lengthy losing skid in December would have left them completely out of playoff contention were it not for a weak Western Conference. The team (notably Ryan Getzlaf) appeared to have lost all interest in playing for former coach Randy Carlyle (again). And, injuries galore kept the Ducks from icing their best roster for a large part of the season. This led to them tying their worst performance in any of the last 14 seasons.
Changes have taken place as a result of the poor performance last season, headlined by the firing of Randy Carlyle, who was replaced by Dallas Eakins. Eakins is the former Edmonton Oilers head coach and most recently the head coach of the Ducks’ AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls. Also noteworthy is the buying out of longtime Duck (and all-time saint) Corey Perry.
Even though the Ducks are hovering around and within rebuild territory, it is destined to be a short one. The team has a solid core that really only needs a couple high-end, scoring forwards to take them to the next level. One of the biggest challenges a team faces in rebuilding is developing defensemen, since they are the hardest to develop properly and take the longest to reach their primes. The Ducks are well ahead of the curve on that front, given their strong top trio of Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Josh Manson.
Over the past decade, one of the Ducks’ strong points has been their drafting. They have been able to acquire many talented players from all rounds of the draft, which has been crucial for maintaining the dominance of the roster leading back to the 04-05 lockout.
Unfortunately, while their drafting has been excellent, trading has not been as great. The organization has lost quite a bit of value in some trades, which has somewhat negated the impact of the drafting prowess in the organization. The team has not been able to fully leverage this strength to fill the roster with stronger forwards, both through drafting and trading. For example, although I see the value for Anaheim in trading for Daniel Sprong (needing a speedy, scoring winger with potential), Sprong’s inability to fully make it into an NHL roster and the price of Marcus Pettersson is questionable.
The 2019-2020 season will be represented by a changing identity for the team, as players from the old guard will begin to transfer the team over to the new. In the meantime, Dallas Eakins will have his work cut out for him in developing prospects, managing the elder statesmen on the Ducks’ roster and getting them all to buy into the same system.
Michael Del Zotto
Although the old core of the roster is aging out and slowly dismantling, the Ducks still have an excellent group of players priming to take over who will soon be joined by a handful of exciting prospects. This coming season may be a challenging one for the team, as the rest of the Pacific Division is likely to maintain or improve in the standings and leave the Ducks behind, but their rebuild is already well underway.
At centre, Ryan Getzlaf still leads the team. Although his point production and durability may be on the decline, he remains the face of the franchise. Even moreso now that Corey Perry is no longer on the roster. If Dallas Eakins is to have any success with the Ducks early on in his tenure, getting himself and Getzlaf on the same page will be vital.
Joining him is dynamic centre Adam Henrique, who is almost a lock for a 40-50 point season based on his past production. As a second line centre, this is a respectable total. With the right wingers and an overall improved team offense on the ice, Henrique could find himself in the 50-60 point range.
In the bottom 6, the Ducks centres remain effective players. Devin Shore is good for a 25-30 point season, perfectly reasonable production for a 3rd line forward. As Derek Grant transitioned into the Ducks’ roster after being reacquired by the team last season, he quickly gained the trust of the coaching staff and received an expanded role, shown by an increase in ice time.
We will also see some strong competition presented by prospect Sam Steel who is coming off an impressive rookie season in pro hockey, splitting time between the NHL and AHL. He will be a nice offensive boost to the team’s middle forward group. 2019 first round draft pick Trevor Zegras has been impressive in summer series juniors play, but has committed to Boston University for the next season and will not be challenging for a spot on the NHL roster.
Whether or not he will be able to jump to the NHL is still up in the air, but free agent signing Andrew Poturalski, who led the Charlotte Checkers in points last season with 70 in 72 games, is also a viable option to make the Ducks roster out of training camp this season.
On the wing, the Anaheim Ducks feature one of the league’s more dynamic and exciting scorers in Rickard Rakell. He will be looking for a bounceback year, as his production fell during the 2018-19 season (as did the team’s).
Following Rakell are Jakob Silfverberg, a consistent 20 goal/40 point producer and Daniel Sprong, the divisive but talented acquisition who will be looking to have a breakout year in a new role, if he can earn a spot on the roster out of training camp. Rookies Troy Terry and Maxime Comtois, both of whom will be looking to fully establish themselves as NHL’ers this season, are ready for the NHL. Comtois, in a nutshell, possesses all the qualities of a stereotypical Anaheim Ducks player. Gritty and physical, plays on the edge constantly but packs an offensive punch. Moving forward, he will be a key piece of the Ducks’ forward group as well as their locker room and leadership as Getzlaf begins to wind down his career.
The team does have a solid group of gritty bottom six wingers to round out the roster. Nick Ritchie is a great identity player for the team. He is a guy who plays physical and can still contribute offensively as a versatile player to jump up and down in the lineup. Although he is not developing into the player one would expect of a 10th overall pick (given his success in juniors), he has earned a role on the team. But, he may find himself as trade bait if his development stagnates and he is passed over on the team’s depth chart.
Ondrej Kase has been low-key one of the Ducks’ more productive players in recent years, when he isn’t injured, and could very realistically play on the second or third line as a 40-50 point contributor. And, players like Kiefer Sherwood and Carter Rowney will have the opportunity to earn a consistent position in the Ducks lineup.
Both wings are positions the Ducks are currently weak in, however, as they lack high-scoring options. Some of their players who are lower on the depth chart may have to play top six minutes to fill the void. This doesn’t always work and the team cannot entirely bank on players satisfactorily filling roles above their typical career production just because they are placed in the position. Scoring is, ultimately, likely to be a major issue for the team, just like last season when they finished dead last in goals per game. If even a couple of their prospects can jump into the NHL and produce at a reasonable level, many of their troubles will be quashed.
Defensively, the Ducks are surprisingly solid. Even though they have lost a few excellent defenders the last couple seasons (including Sami Vatanen, Shea Theodore, and Marcus Pettersson), they remain promising on the back-end. Their goals against per game last season was middle of the pack in the league, and they have a few big name veterans leading their defensive corps. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Josh Manson are all dynamic defenders entering their primes. They can be reasonable contributors from the back end, pitching in 20-30 points, maybe even more if the forwards can increase their production as well.
Brandon Guhle, acquired from the Buffalo Sabres last season, will get a big chance to crack and play in the Ducks’ roster this coming season. He is touted as a talented two-way defender with the potential to play in the top-4. An opportunity to do so, while playing alongside one of the Ducks’ experienced, reliable defensemen (last year it was Cam Fowler, and the two had excellent chemistry together) could signal an impactful season from Guhle.
Quite simply, John Gibson is one of the best goaltenders in the league. Although he has been stuck behind a less than great team recently, that does not change his abilities in net. Having Gibson backstopping the team will provide a consistent, reliable presence that will boost the team’s performance. They will be able to make some mistakes and still have the confidence that Gibson will be there to likely save the puck anyways.
New head coach Dallas Eakins is more of a defensively oriented coach, which should help to tighten up the team’s play, increase takeaways, and cut down on goals against. This will help the performance of the defense and make things even easier for John Gibson. However, it is yet to be known whether or not Eakins will be bringing his Swarm System to Anaheim, and if he does, will the team be able to buy in and understand? Or, has he altered it or developed a new system, in which case, will it work at the NHL level?
Anaheim Ducks 2019-20 Prediction
6th-8th Pacific Division
Unfortunately for the Ducks, a year or two of mediocrity are a necessary evil they must face. Even though the team is not in bad shape, they have a few significant holes on the roster to fill and most of the rest of the Pacific Division are on the upswing, leaving the Ducks (temporarily) behind. The chances of them being in competition for a playoff spot are slim, unless John Gibson has a Hart Trophy calibre season.