We’ve already taken a look at how things are shaping up for the Anaheim Ducks this season between the pipes and along the blue line, so it’s time to find out who’s going to be leading the flock up front — the point of the flying V, if you will.
Just like with the defense, the Ducks have plenty of questions lingering with its forward group. However, there is more reason for optimism with the offense where several tantalizing prospects will look to make a splash and stick with the big club as the Ducks transition toward the future. One reason the Ducks will have room to play their young talent is that there are a couple of players on the roster who may have played their last games in Anaheim.
Headed to LTIR — Kesler & Eaves
No official announcement has been made, but it seems to be the consensus opinion that both Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves are set to go on long-term injured reserve and take roughly $10 million in combined salary off the Ducks’ cap hit (not that the team plans to use it). Kesler is out an extended period of time after hip surgery and though Eaves continues to try and get back from both injury and illness, picturing him suiting up again in Anaheim colors seems less and less likely.
As the two oldest players on the Anaheim roster, the injured veterans serve as a symbol of the team’s youth movement and the season ahead. Their injuries, coupled with the Corey Perry buyout, have opened three slots on the roster for young players to step into. First-line center will remain unavailable, still held by a member of the old guard.
The Captain Remains: Getzlaf Looks to Stay Healthy
Team captain Ryan Getzlaf is still in Anaheim and, when healthy, is still an elite player. Getzlaf will take his usual spot at center on opening night and on the first power play unit, not as a relic of the past, but as a highly effective centerman and stabilizing presence up front for the other young Ducks forwards. With Kesler and Eaves likely out for the season, Getzlaf will be the only Duck forward on the active roster over age 30, save for fourth-line plug, Carter Rowney.
As long-time captain, Getzlaf can, of course, be relied upon for veteran leadership, but can he return to his point-per-game self or are those days now past? Part of that depends on who will line up on his wings, with some youth likely to get a look along with a few familiar faces.
A Sniping Trio: Rakell, Silfverberg, & Kase
It’s safe to assume that the Ducks are looking for 20-plus goals from each of Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, and Ondrej Kase. At least one is sure to line up alongside Getzlaf and get a healthy dose of reliably stellar set-ups. Kase has been tapped as a popular breakout candidate while Rakell, like so many others on the team, will look to shrug off a difficult season and return to his 30-goal form. Meanwhile, Silfverberg had a career-high 24 goals last season and will look to prove management right for handing him a five-year, $26.25-million extension during the season.
Even if we pencil this group in for 75 goals, the Ducks will need more in order to have a fighting chance this season. Three more holdovers will enter camp looking to do their part.
Veterans with Something to Prove: Henrique, Ritchie, & Shore
Adam Henrique will slot in as second-line center this season, entering the first year of his five-year, $29.125-million contract, earning a $5.825 million cap hit. For their investment, the Ducks would like to annually see 20-plus goals and 50-plus points to go along with solid two-way play.
The Ducks are still waiting for Nick Ritchie to blossom into the physical, goal-scoring force along the wing that they thought they drafted in the first round way back in 2014 (10th overall). Ritchie, still just 23 years old, struggles at times with the pace of the game and will look to enter camp quicker and leaner.
Shore, acquired during the season for Andrew Cogliano, certainly has the offensive skill and can chip in when called upon in the top six, but will likely slot into a third- or fourth-line role. Now… this is where all those prospects come in!
The Youth Movement Up Front: Terry and Steel — The Sure Things
Terry, Steel, Jones, Comtois, Lundestrom, Sprong. These are names Anaheim Ducks fans should get familiar with and expect to see on the ice as soon as this season. Two or three of this group, and possibly more, will likely crack the opening-night line up and hopefully stick with the team for the entire season. New coach Dallas Eakins is sure to give the kids more room and opportunity to thrive in his up-tempo system. Some even expect center Sam Steel to be a real contender for the Calder Trophy.
Former University of Denver standout, Troy Terry, is perhaps the surest bet to make the Ducks out of camp. He still needs to get stronger and shore up the defensive side of his game, but there’s no denying his offensive gifts, including dynamic playmaking ability and elite-level vision. Terry was good in spurts during his call ups last season, but will enter camp looking to lock down a top-six role and show he belongs full-time.
Along with Terry, Sam Steel is a lock to make the Ducks out of camp. But he did last season as well and was sent down to AHL-affiliate the San Diego Gulls after a 13-game audition. However, once he was brought back up later in the season, Steel showed some growth to his game and even netted his first career hat trick. Look for the young forward to start the season as the team’s third-line center behind Getzlaf and Henrique.
Take It to the Max (Jones and Comtois)
We then come to a pair of Max’s — Max Jones and Maxime Comtois. Each of these young wingers plays a physical style of game, but can also skate and keep up with today’s game. As the St. Louis Blues showed, there is still value in big forwards who play a bruising style, and Jones and Comtois are the Ducks’ answer.
Jones got an extended look in Anaheim last season, suiting up for 30 games with the big club. He only chipped in two goals and three assists, but mostly played in a fourth-line role, which is where he may very well end up. He’s shown he can play on the penalty kill, but the Ducks would certainly like to see some more offense from their 2016 first-round pick (24th overall).
Comtois is what the Ducks desperately need: a goalscorer. He lit up the QMJHL last season (31 goals in 25 games), netted five goals in five games as captain of Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, then played well for the San Diego Gulls during their playoff run, adding five goals and four assists in 12 games. Comtois was tasked with adding quickness to his game this offseason and aims to show his willingness to go into the dirty areas to score will be enough to land him a role in Anaheim.
The Wild Cards: Lundestrom and Sprong
Perhaps no single player is capable of disrupting the prospects pecking order than Isac Lundestrom. He was all over the place in 2018-19, beginning the year in Anaheim before being sent down to the AHL, then playing in the World Juniors for his native Sweden and returning home to finish the year in the SHL. The Ducks hope his scoring drought is behind him (zero goals in 15 games in Anaheim and 12 games in San Diego, though he did net one in the AHL playoffs) and he can emerge as a non-flashy, reliable, two-way center.
Daniel Sprong is a young player with offensive gifts who has yet to realize his potential. The Ducks acquired him in a trade with Pittsburgh last season and he did contribute when given a bigger role due to injuries, netting 14 goals in 47 games with Anaheim. The Ducks are hopeful that pace can continue and be more of the norm this season.
As if this group wasn’t big enough already, 2019 first-round selections, Trevor Zegras and Brayden Tracey, will look to join the mix in the coming seasons.
The Depth — Grant, Rowney, Deslauriers, Sherwood, Martinsen
Derek Grant, Carter Rowney, and Nicolas Deslauriers may very well start the year as the team’s fourth-line, bringing toughness and killing penalties. One of the three may very well watch from the press box each night as the younger players are given more priority. Kiefer Sherwood and Andreas Martinsen provide organizational depth should the dreaded injury bug bite again.
And there you have it! It’s a group in progress, but a line-up with great potential. With some good health, bounce-back seasons, and young players emerging on the scene, the Ducks could be looking at a pretty dynamic set up forward for the coming years.
A Hartford kid, John grew up on The Whale and Brass Bonanza. He first laced up the skates at age 3 and has rarely taken them off since. Now based in Orange County, John is taking his talents to the pond and providing coverage for the Anaheim Ducks as they begin their rebuild.