With their strong end to last season and the eager anticipation of the preseason, it was easy to develop sky-high expectations for the Anaheim Ducks’ up-and-coming group of Troy Terry, Sam Steel, Max Comtois, Max Jones, and Isac Lundestrom. I am also guilty of expecting immediate success rather than incremental development. Those looking for an impact on the scoresheet from this group might be disappointed up to this point, but they shouldn’t be. Although the group has one point — Steel’s assist on Cam Fowler’s game-winning goal versus the Arizona Coyotes on opening night — they are making contributions in other ways and are showing signs that the scoring will come soon.
Through the first six games of the season, it’s plain to see Jones and Terry are a force to be reckoned with on the forecheck. While both accomplish this in different ways, the effect is the same. They force turnovers in the offensive zone that result in scoring chances, something the Ducks sorely lacked last season.
A prime example of this occurred in the Ducks 2-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. With 5:25 remaining in the first period, Terry pursued Detroit’s Dennis Cholowski into the corner. Cholowski had a clear positional advantage over Terry. Yet, it was Terry who jackknifed the puck away and kept it from Cholowski’s support, Madison Bowey. The turnover ultimately resulted in a Ducks shot on goal.
Another example occurred on Cam Fowler’s game-winner against the Coyotes. In that example, Jones used his body to disrupt Jordan Oesterle’s retrieval of the puck, which quickly led to Fowler getting the puck and scoring.
There have been numerous other examples of Terry and Jones’ forechecking prowess, especially when they’re on the ice together. The combination of Jones’ speed and physicality and Terry’s stick positioning and hockey sense, among other things, enable them to turn the puck over and generate offense. It stands to reason that if this continues, the goals will eventually come.
They Are Playing Top-Line Roles
Though head coach Dallas Eakins has shown a willingness to skate all four of his forward lines with regularity, he tends to be more selective with the playing time of his newest players.
Aside from Steel; Terry, Comtois, and Jones are still in the bottom half of Ducks forwards in time-on-ice.
However, Eakins hasn’t hesitated to skate them on his top lines and with his most seasoned offensive talent. Steel has continued to center Rickard Rackell and Jakob Silfverberg as has 19-year-old Lundestrom (who is now back in the AHL). Eakins has skated Comtois on Ryan Getzlaf’s left-wing opposite Ondrej Kase on the right.
Meanwhile, the first-year head coach has placed Terry and Jones on the same line on multiple occasions with Getzlaf as their center.
Eakins has also given Terry, Steel and Comtois minutes on the Ducks’ power play and had both Comtois and Terry on the ice during an empty-net situation Monday in Boston. While their power play hasn’t converted so far in six games, Eakins’ willingness to experiment with the youngsters shows continued confidence in them.
Eakins Is Being Patient
From the sound of it, he will continue to give them chances going forward in an attempt to allow both of his powerplay units to generate some chemistry.
“We talked about it after last game,” Eakins said. “We might have to take a big ‘ol deep breath here and go through some growing pains. Let at least one unit, if not two units jell. Rather than we didn’t score, change it. We didn’t score. Change it. We didn’t score. Change it. You get no chemistry, you get no repetition with that.”(From: ‘In loss at Bruins, Ducks see a blueprint for future success’ The Athletic NHL – 10/15/19).
Steel has also demonstrated value in another essential way. Though he’s only played two games, his performance in the faceoff dot against the Bruins opened a lot of eyes. Steel won 67 percent of his faceoff opportunities, many of which came against Patrice Bergeron, one of the best faceoff artists in the league.
Eakins is right to be confident with his young players. His team is playing better overall compared to last season, has a goalie who has somehow started hotter than he did last season, and a winning record through the first two weeks of the season. Although his young forwards are struggling to find the scoresheet, many of them are doing the little things right that give Eakins confidence that he can continue to play them and that the scoring will come.