The Anaheim Ducks have officially set their Opening Night roster. It comes with a few surprises but nothing too out of left field and most of what we already knew was confirmed. Let’s break down how the Ducks will look to start the 2022-23 season.
Projected Lines & Position Group Overview:
Adam Henrique – Trevor Zegras – Frank Vatrano
Mason McTavish – Ryan Strome – Troy Terry
Max Comtois – Isac Lundeström – Jakob Silfverberg
Pavol Regenda – Derek Grant – Max Jones
Extras: Brett Leason
Injured: Sam Carrick
This lineup looks substantially better than the one that finished out the 2021-22 season. Gone are Dominik Simon, Zack Aston-Reese and Gerry Mayhew. So too is Ryan Getzlaf, who rode into the sunset this offseason after announcing his retirement.
In comes Strome, Vatrano, McTavish and Regenda, with the last name being one who was a relatively unknown commodity at the beginning of training camp. He quickly built chemistry with Grant and Jones as the trio formed a strong fourth line and displayed some top performances during the preseason.
Strome fills the vacant second-line center spot left by Getzlaf, with Zegras and he manning the top two lines. It’s a much stronger top-six than before, even before you mention the addition of McTavish. A natural center, he’ll start the season on the wing and should get plenty of scoring chances playing alongside Strome and Terry.
Henrique retains his spot as Zegras’ left-wing and should see plenty of faceoff opportunities in the defensive zone when his line is on the ice. Newcomer Vatrano makes up the final third of the Ducks’ top line and he should see plenty of scoring opportunities off the stick of Zegras.
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Lundeström returns as the third-line center after signing a new deal this past offseason, with Comtois and Silfverberg flanking him. The latter is returning from a blood clot that kept him out for the final month of the 2021-22 season. It’s been a few seasons since he played a full campaign due to numerous injuries and he’ll be looking to find his form.
So too will Comtois after tallying just 16 points in 52 games last season. He was the Ducks’ top goal-scorer during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, potting 16 goals in 55 games.
Carrick, who underwent hip surgery in May, is expected to return sometime next month. His absence opened the door for Regenda to claim a spot on the fourth line.
Leason was claimed off waivers yesterday and was named to the Opening Night roster mere hours later. Drafted in 2019 by the Washington Capitals, he has a big frame and automatically becomes one of the bigger players on the team at 6-foot-5. He played in 36 games for the Capitals last season and looks to be a defensively capable forward who can also get a lot of shots off.
One notable omission from the roster is Rocco Grimaldi, who entered training camp on a professional tryout (PTO) and strung together a series of notable displays during the preseason. The Orange County Register’s Lisa Dillman reported yesterday that he has been offered an American Hockey League (AHL) PTO and that the door has not closed on an opportunity to earn an NHL contract with the Ducks.
Biggest Question Mark: Will the Third Line Be a Liability?
So much has been made about how well the fourth line played during the preseason. But for the third line, it was the polar opposite. Lundeström and Silfverberg in particular did not fare well down the home stretch of the preseason, regularly being caved in while defending and failing to muster much offensively.
With McTavish, Henrique, Terry and Vatrano manning the wings of the top six, there isn’t a ton of space for Comtois and it feels more like him being stuck on the third line rather than it being a natural fit for him.
Head coach Dallas Eakins has relied heavily on players like Lundeström and Silfverberg in the past for important defensive duties, but disaster looms if the same theme continues into the regular season.
Most Intriguing Storyline: How Will McTavish Fare in His First Full NHL Season?
McTavish was the talk of the town this summer after his spectacular performance at the World Juniors, where he captained Team Canada and helped lead them to a gold medal. His brief cup of coffee in the NHL last season teased flashes of his brilliance and his dominant junior season which followed demonstrated that he was as close to being NHL-ready as any of the Ducks’ prospects.
McTavish is being set up for success, playing on the second line alongside Strome and Terry, and he spent an ample amount of time on the first power play unit during the Ducks’ final preseason game on Saturday. There’s no doubt that he has the tools to be an everyday NHLer, it’s just a matter of continuing to get better at the little things and maintaining consistency.
Projected Pairings & Position Group Overview:
Cam Fowler – John Klingberg
Dmitry Kulikov – Jamie Drysdale
Simon Benoit – Kevin Shattenkirk
Extras: Nathan Beaulieu, Colton White
Injured: Urho Vaakanainen, John Moore
The top four was pretty much set once the Ducks acquired Kulikov from the Minnesota Wild. Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are no longer with the team after being dealt at the deadline last season and replacing them will be Kulikov and Klingberg.
The ever-present Fowler will be a big minutes eater alongside Klingberg and the pair will have ample time on the power play as well. The addition of the latter takes a lot of pressure off the shoulders of Drysdale, who faced a lot of tough minutes in the league last season as a 19-year-old in his first NHL season. Kulikov will mimic Lindholm’s role from last season as the stay-at-home defenseman, giving Drysdale the freedom to contribute more offensively.
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The third pair could be a revolving door of players next to Shattenkirk, depending on the matchup. Both Benoit and Beaulieu are big frames who can throw the body. White skates well and is simply providing depth more than anything, as he made the team after signing with the Ducks this summer.
Moore, who came over in the Lindholm deal with Vaakanainen, is still not fit to play after undergoing surgery last March. It’s quite possible that he may not dress in a single game this year for the Ducks.
This blue line could look a lot different at the end of the season should the Ducks start dealing away expiring contracts.
Biggest Question Mark: Who Will Be the Sixth Defenseman?
When training camp broke, it appeared that the spot next to Shattenkirk on the Ducks’ third defensive pair would come down to Josh Mahura, Vaakanainen and Benoit. Fast forward a few weeks and it now appears that it will be between Benoit, White and Beaulieu, who entered camp on a PTO and finished the preseason with his name on a one-year contract.
The recovery time for Vaakanainen, who suffered an injury after crashing into the boards during a game against the San Jose Sharks, is unknown. While the Finnish defenseman is currently improving, he hasn’t practiced yet and it’s likely that he will take his time getting his feet back under him (from ‘Anaheim Ducks’ roster is set, but how will the lineup look on opening night?’, The Athletic, 10/10/22).
Benoit figures to get the first crack at nailing down the spot, especially after Beaulieu and Shattenkirk struggled in Saturday’s preseason finale. White can play on both sides of defense and could potentially find his way into the lineup if those in front of him falter.
Most Intriguing Storyline: Will Klingberg Spend the Entire Season in Anaheim?
Signing Klingberg felt like the cherry on top of general manager Pat Verbeek’s slew of offseason signings. Adding a premier offensive defenseman to the team—albeit on a one-year deal—to help aid an anemic power play is certainly a plus. The rewards that could be reaped at this season’s trade deadline for the Swede may be so as well.
The Ducks don’t figure to compete for a playoff spot this season but have weaponized their cap space well enough to acquire players on expiring deals that they can potentially flip for assets at the deadline. Klingberg will have plenty of suitors if made available and as we saw last season, Verbeek is quick on the ball about shipping out expiring deals once it’s clear that an extension can’t be agreed to.
Position Group Overview:
For the second consecutive season, the Ducks will roll with Gibson and Stolarz between the pipes. Gibson had an injury scare in the final preseason game but should be ready for Wednesday’s season opener.
Stolarz seized the backup goaltender role after his short stint during the 2020-21 season went well. He’s been as reliable as the Ducks could ask for since taking over as the backup and at times has demonstrated that he deserves a few more starts when Gibson has struggled.
Goaltending has always typically been a strength for the Ducks and it should remain the same this season as long as both goaltenders can stay healthy.
Biggest Question Mark: Can Gibson Return to Form?
It’s been several seasons since Gibson was considered one of the top goaltenders in the league and deserved Vezina consideration. The Ducks’ results on a nightly basis rely heavily on the performance of their netminder and given their recent places in the standings, it’s clear how he’s been doing.
Related: NHL Goalie Report: 2022-23 Pacific Division Preview
While he is capable of the spectacular more so than not, the occasional squeaker continues to overshadow everything else, especially when the team isn’t doing so well as a whole. Gibson’s form tends to drop as the season progresses and though he maintains that he wants to play as much as he possibly can, the team will need some solid goaltending from Stolarz as well to help give him a break.
Most Intriguing Storyline: When is the Right Time for Lukáš Dostál to Become a Full-time NHLer?
Dostál showed the makings of a future no. 1 last season at times, making his NHL debut in January and winning his first-ever start. He spent most of last season in the AHL with the San Diego Gulls and was arguably their best player in a season where they fell far below expectations.
Stolarz is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and the logical move seems to be letting Dostál slide in as the backup behind Gibson next season. That process could be slightly accelerated if the Ducks were to deal Stolarz away at the deadline.
We’re just a day away from the beginning of the Ducks’ 2022-23 season. It should prove to be a lot more exciting than last season was and there’s plenty to look forward to.