The NHL has provided more details on their planned return to play, including a draft lottery format, a date and a playoff format. Unfortunately, although 24 teams will qualify for a play-in round, the Anaheim Ducks are just below the No. 12 seed in the Western Conference, the final spot to qualify. That means the Ducks’ 2019-20 season is over.
Despite the premature end and their poor overall performance, there were some bright spots. It’s time to examine the Ducks’ three best performers from the 2019-20 season.
Adam Henrique Was Anaheim’s Offensive Engine in 2019-20
Henrique has always been streaky offensively. He scores in bunches and then goes dormant for stretches, and that includes this season when he twice went four games without a point and once went seven, the longest pointless stretch in his Ducks career.
Despite that, Henrique finished the abbreviated 2019-20 season leading the Ducks in goals and points. It’s his first time leading the team in scoring with 26 goals and 43 points, and his second time leading any team — he did so with a struggling New Jersey Devils team in 2014-15.
If the shortened 2019-20 season had gone the distance, rather than just 71 games, it’s possible Henrique would have reached the 30-goal plateau for the second time in his career. Even without that total, he showcased his versatility.
Henrique contributed the most even-strength goals (21) and the most power-play goals (5) on the team. Although he spent a lot of time centering Rickard Rackell and Jakob Silfverberg, arguably the Ducks’ other best offensive players, he also played with a revolving door of wingers. From newcomer Danton Heinen and Kiefer Sherwood to Nick Ritchie and Troy Terry, frequent line shuffling forced Henrique to develop chemistry with forwards up and down the Ducks’ lineup, and he still had an impact.
Henrique Boasts the Fanciest Stats
If you like to spend time nose deep in a calculator, many of Henrique’s advanced statistics also led the Ducks. He had the team’s best 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage (51.7%) of any skater who played more than 10 NHL games. His individual point shares or IPP — the percentage of goals a team scores with that player on the ice that he contributes a point to — led the Ducks at 68.89 percent at 5-on-5; he notched an assist on or scored 69% of the Ducks’ goals. Ryan Getzlaf was the No. 2 player with an IPP over two percentage points lower.
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As a center, one of Henrique’s most crucial duties is winning faceoffs, especially under head coach Dallas Eakins who emphasizes puck possession. He won over 53% of his faceoffs at 5-on-5 and over 55% in all situations to lead Ducks centers.
Henrique was the Ducks’ most versatile and productive offensive player in 2019-20 by most metrics. He’s in the prime of his career, and his numbers might be better if he played on a better team. If the Ducks can take a significant step forward on offense next season, with Trevor Zegras and Brayden Tracey possibly making their pro debuts, Henrique could produce even more.
Nicolas Deslauriers’ Bite Brought More Than Just Fights
It didn’t take long for Nicolas Deslauriers to join Derek Grant as a fan favorite in Anaheim. In his first game, he pasted San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson against the end boards. Karlsson’s defense partner at the time, Brendan Dillon, took exception and engaged Deslauriers in his first of many fights for the Ducks.
That play alone showcased Deslauriers’ prime responsibility as a fourth-line pulverizer who wears down opposing defensemen on the forecheck and backs it up with his fists. He took to that duty like a Duck to water, a very angry Duck, leading the team with 92 penalty minutes and 14 fighting majors.
Not to mention, any team would take a fourth-line winger in the box for five minutes in exchange for a top-three defenseman every day of the week.
For a team that struggled to earn power-play opportunities, the Ducks ranked 20th in the league in penalties drawn per 60 minutes, Deslauriers’ physical edge and speed helped draw 17 penalties in 2019-20. That’s second to Getzlaf. Even though he led the Ducks in penalty minutes and fights, he committed only six minor penalties in 59 games. He’s tied with Rakell and Jacob Larsson for the fewest minor penalties in more than 50 games played.
Deslauriers drew 11 more minors than he committed, tied for the most on the team with Troy Terry.
It might seem odd to credit a player for drawing penalties when he spent 94 minutes in the penalty box, but fighting penalties are typically a one-for-one exchange. Both players end up in the box for five minutes, and neither team gets a power play unless there is an instigator penalty, which is rare. Deslauriers’ relative discipline is a plus for Anaheim.
Deslauriers’ Season of No. 1s
For those who see value in fighting, Deslauriers has brought back an aspect of the game that the Ducks missed last season. The team was No. 1 in major penalties in 2019-2020 with 25; without his 14 fighting majors, they’d be No. 21. He had more than twice the total fights of Austin Watson, the No. 2 ranked NHL player in fighting majors.
Without Kevin Bieksa and with a limited Ryan Kesler last season, the Ducks placed No. 25 in the NHL in majors, down from No. 3 in 2017-18. General manager Bob Murray brought Deslauriers in to give the Ducks an edge again, and that’s what he did.
Like Grant, Deslauriers gave Ducks fans a reason to watch during a down season. It wasn’t just his fists that made him a fan favorite. His 13 points (seven goals and six assists) were the third-highest of his career. If the season had finished the 11 remaining games that were canceled due to COVID-19, he might have reached a career-high.
He also accomplished a feat never done before, by himself or within the organization. On Mar. 10, the penultimate Ducks game before the coronavirus ended their season, Deslauriers scored his first career hat trick. It was a rare natural hat trick and also the fastest hat trick in Ducks franchise history.
Luckily for Anaheim, Deslauriers signed a two-year extension in February, so he will be around for a while longer.
Derek Grant Keeps Things Interesting
I’ve written a lot about Grant this season, from why the Ducks should have kept him to why they might want to bring him back in free agency for his third stint with the team. He is the underdog story that Ducks fans enjoy. The man dubbed “Elite 1C” has had his two best seasons playing mostly in Anaheim.
This season, in 49 games for the Ducks and seven for the Philadelphia Flyers, Grant reached his career-high in goals (15) and total points (25).
His best contribution, however, came on the penalty kill. His three shorthanded goals, which led the Ducks and tied him with 10 other players for No. 2 in the NHL, gave opposing teams something to worry about while on the power play.
Grant collecting a blocked shot or stealing a puck and walking in on goal using his familiar forehand-backhand fake through the goalie’s five-hole became a familiar sight in 2019-20.
Grant Scores Hat Trick, Wins Bet
His first career hat trick further endeared him to fans, especially when he revealed that he made a bet with a friend that gave him the right to name his friend’s first child if he scored a hat trick, which he did on Nov. 16.
“We were golfing the next day and were joking around … that he should get to name [the child] if he makes a hole-in-one that day golfing,” Grant said Sunday. “I’m not quite as good of a golfer, so he made it real for me. If I get a hat trick this year, I’d get to name his first child.”
If Murray decides to bring Grant back in 2020-21, you can bet most Ducks fans will be glad to have him.
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Though the Ducks had a second consecutive disappointing season, which made it clear that the team is in more of a rebuild than a retool, there were some shining lights; Henrique, Deslauriers and Grant gave fans a reason to get behind a struggling team, and that’s worth something.