Just a season ago, Kiefer Sherwood pleasantly surprised Anaheim Ducks fans by making the team out of training camp. The undrafted free agent played 50 games for the Ducks in 2018-19, scoring six goals and adding six assists. He spent the rest of the season playing for current Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins with the San Diego Gulls. Sherwood was productive there too, especially in the AHL playoffs, scoring 8 points in 16 games. This season, he’s been just as productive in the AHL, yet he’s barely sniffed NHL ice and hasn’t played a game for the Ducks all season. With all the movement of players between the AHL and NHL in 2019-20, where has Sherwood been?
Sherwood Showed He Could Contribute in the NHL
Last season, Sherwood didn’t take long after he made the Ducks out of training camp to score his first points. In Anaheim’s 2018-19 season opener, he contributed an assist on a Carter Rowney goal. He scored his first NHL goal in the season’s fifth game.
He finished with a flash as well, scoring two of his six goals in one game against the Vancouver Canucks in the season’s final month.
It wasn’t just his scoring that made him an asset in Anaheim. He was a solid forechecker with good speed and a shot that he showed in one of those goals in Vancouver.
When he wasn’t in Anaheim, Sherwood was helping the Eakins-coached Gulls reach the AHL playoffs for their third time in four seasons. He was most effective in the playoffs, scoring four goals and adding four assists in 16 games. That included the game-winning overtime goal in the Gulls’ AHL playoff-opening victory over the San Jose Barracuda.
He’s continued his strong play in the AHL this season. He’s fifth on the team in points with 11 goals and 7 assists through only 27 games, (he missed 11 games with a knee injury). Those 18 points so far have tied his high from last season in 29 games.
In spite of Sherwood’s consistent production, he’s seen less productive players spend at least some time in the NHL, including Chase De Leo, who made his 2019-20 debut Jan. 16 versus the Nashville Predators. The question remains, why hasn’t Sherwood been given an opportunity this season?
Sherwood Can’t Catch a Break
Sherwood started this preseason on a good note. He performed well in the Ducks’ rookie tournament but had a mediocre training camp. He notched a point in four exhibition games and finished with a plus/minus mark of plus-three.
One would think with his success last season, and the cycle of young players, from San Diego to Anaheim and back, that Sherwood might have had a chance so far. Unfortunately, the Ducks are still jammed at the right-wing position.
He’s behind Troy Terry, Jakob Silfverberg, Ondrej Kase, Devin Shore and Carter Rowney. Shore has been the healthy scratch on many nights, but even with only 6 points in 32 games, Shore isn’t likely to end up in the AHL with Sherwood replacing him.
Shore was general manager Bob Murray’s return for trading fan-favorite Andrew Cogliano last season. If Murray moved Shore to the AHL, he would be eligible to be claimed by another NHL team. Losing the player he received in return for Cogliano just over a season later wouldn’t be a good look for Murray.
Sherwood is versatile in terms of the positions he can play, but the left-wing position is equally crowded. He is competing for the last left-wing spots with high-round draft picks Max Jones and Max Comtois.
Sherwood is also waiver exempt as it currently stands, but if he plays 10 more games in the NHL, he won’t be. That means until he plays three professional seasons (he’s got two left) or 60 NHL games (he’s currently at 50), the Ducks won’t have to place him on waivers when he’s moved from the NHL — when and if he gets there again — back to the AHL.
Though 10 games might not seem like a lot, at the pace the Ducks have been moving players to and from San Diego this season, it is. The Ducks could foreseeably give Sherwood three, three-game NHL auditions this season and still have a game left before he’s waiver exempt.
With that in mind, it’s even more surprising he hasn’t played an NHL game this season.
This leads one to the question, does Eakins not like him? Having coached him for parts of last season, and a few games the season before, Eakins certainly has seen enough of Sherwood’s game to know him.
Still, with his success and purported work ethic, it’s hard to believe Eakins wouldn’t like his play. Sherwood seemingly loved playing for Eakins, telling Eric Stephens of The Athletic,
“Just in the way he commands himself,” he continued. “He’s got a lot of character. Very motivated. He gives us lessons a lot. I think I’m not alone in saying I’d go through a wall for him. He has all bought in.”(from ‘‘I’d go through a wall for him’ — Is Dallas Eakins the right guy for the Ducks’ coaching job? ‘The Athletic, 3/24/2019)
That doesn’t sound like a guy who would disappoint his coach.
Sherwood Has Battled Injury, Bad Luck
Sherwood’s season was interrupted Nov. 16 when he collided with the goal in a game against the Ontario Reign. The resulting knee injury caused Sherwood to miss 11 games. He didn’t return until after Christmas.
During that time, Terry injured his knee and didn’t return until Wednesday night.
Since he’s been healthy, the only occasion when multiple Ducks wings were injured was during the three-day window when they called Sherwood up from Jan. 4 to Jan. 7. The problem was, they had also called up Daniel Sprong shortly before.
At that point, Terry was still recovering, Rickard Rakell was injured and Kase was out day-to-day, so Sherwood was likely insurance in case Kase couldn’t play on Jan 5. against the Predators. He could, so Sherwood sat, Shore drew into the lineup and Sprong played for Rakell.
Any potential there might have been for him to remain in Anaheim in place of Sprong disappeared when the Dutch forward scored a goal and added an assist that night. Sprong remained with the Ducks for six more games, while Sherwood went down the next day.
Since then, the Ducks have returned to health, and the log jam at right wing has remained. It’s hard to believe, given the constant movement of young players between San Diego and Anaheim, that Sherwood won’t get a chance this season, but for now, he will have to wait.
Anthony Ciardelli grew up in Vermont and New Hampshire but now lives in Los Angeles. Though he was raised a Bruins fan, he quickly came to enjoy the hockey culture in Southern California and the rivalry between the Kings and Ducks. He covered USC Athletics while pursuing his journalism masters there. He also enjoys doing play-by-play for USC Trojan Hockey.