The Anaheim Ducks are well into a multi-year rebuilding effort but are beginning to show signs of competitiveness. As a result, there are a handful of players who will be feeling the pressure to find their place on the roster as the franchise turns the corner. Some will feel the weight of a contract season, while others have high-end prospects fighting for the same position. Here are three Ducks players facing a make-or-break 2022-23 season.
Two years ago, Max Comtois was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise forgettable season for the Ducks, leading the team with 16 goals and 33 points in the shortened 56-game campaign. But while the team as a whole improved last season, Comtois couldn’t find a rhythm. Injuries, COVID-19, and constant moving up and down the lineup led to only 6 goals in 52 games in 2021-22. Now, with only this season left on his contract before he becomes a restricted free agent (RFA), Comtois’ play will likely determine his future in Anaheim.
At only 23 years old, the ceiling is still sky-high for Comtois. At his most productive, he has been a force in front of the net by scoring off rebounds and redirecting shots from the point. With this skill set, he’d be a great option to play left wing alongside the playmaking and shooting abilities of Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry. His size and style of play would also solve the argument that Zegras and Terry need a larger linemate to protect them in post-whistle scrums.
The biggest hurdle for Comtois will be consistency. Last season, a series of issues snowballed out of his control, but there was a silver lining; he scored goals in each of the Ducks’ last three games of the season, perhaps a good omen as he heads into a pivotal contract year.
Max Jones didn’t get much of a chance to establish himself last season. A pectoral injury shut him down after only two games, costing him a crucial development year. Now 24 years old, Jones has 28 points in 137 NHL games and another two years on his contract before he becomes an RFA, but a growing number of prospects who are closer to playing at the NHL level will challenge him for a spot in the lineup.
Jones needs a healthy start and to log ice time for the first time in nearly a year. With the speed at which the franchise is moving, any time lost will likely be used as an audition for a younger player to succeed. With prospects like Brayden Tracey and Jacob Perreault making their NHL debut last season, it’s increasingly likely that they’ll get called up from the American Hockey League to fill in for injured wingers. Unlike the Buddy Robinsons and Vinni Lettieris of past seasons, these call-ups could play their way into the nightly lineup. If Jones misses any extended time, his track record in the NHL won’t offer him much in the way of job security.
Josh Mahura has had the misfortune of being among the logjam of left-handed defenders on the Ducks. With Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm taking the lion’s share of the work over the last several seasons, Mahura has been a part of a rotating cast on the bottom pair since his arrival. Early last season, the Ducks seemed to him the nod over Jacob Larsson, effectively ending the multi-season roster battle. However, Simon Benoit emerged as the more reliable third-pairing option after being called up, and Mahura was a frequent healthy scratch. Mahura’s 38 games last season marked a career-high, but those were mostly filling in for injury or roster holes after a trade.
Mahura, also entering the final year of his contract before he becomes an RFA, will have his work cut out for him to make the Ducks’ roster out of camp. The right side defense is practically set in stone with John Klingberg, Jamie Drysdale, and Kevin Shattenkirk. Fowler and the recently acquired Dmitry Kulikov will be at the top of the roster on the left side, leaving only one starting role and plenty of competition.
Benoit would presumably have the edge as the incumbent, not to mention the Ducks also traded for and re-signed Uhro Vaakanainen. Prospect Olen Zellweger also plays on the left side, so the numbers game goes beyond this season’s roster. Even if the names around him have changed, Mahura is back in a logjam. In his first offseason since losing the position battle in Anaheim, Larsson will get a fresh start in the Ottawa Senators organization. If Mahura can’t establish himself among his peers in 2022-23, he may require a fresh start of his own.
With the speed at which the Ducks’ rebuild is moving, there are bound to be some make-or-break seasons on the roster. Management is at the stage of evaluating their talent to determine where the lineup needs to improve to take the next step. If these players can impress the coaching staff and earn their spot, it would mean they are trusted to take the franchise forward and out of the rebuild.
I was born and raised in Mission Viejo, California, and currently live in Visalia, California. Graduated from CSUF in 2016 with a B.A. in Cinema and Television Arts. I’ve been a sports fan for my entire life, rooting for the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Rams and Miami Heat. In my free time, I enjoy playing video games, trying to pour a perfect cup of coffee, and testing out a local craft beer.