The Anaheim Ducks have certainly been busy over the past couple of weeks. Even after making a pair of marquee signings on Day 1 of Free Agent Frenzy, general manager Pat Verbeek was far from finished.
Ducks Sign 2022 First-Round Picks to ELCs
The Ducks now have both of their 2022 first-round picks under contract after signing Pavel Mintyukov on July 16 and Nathan Gaucher on Thursday. Mintyukov was drafted with the 10th overall pick and spent last season with the Saginaw Spirit in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). His combination of speed, mobility and puck handling adds another dynamic player to the Ducks’ defensive pipeline alongside Olen Zellweger.
Gaucher was drafted with the 22nd overall pick and spent last season with the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). He’s known primarily for his defensive work but also showed flashes of offensive upside on his way to being named the QMJHL’s Best Professional Prospect. In the future, his strong two-way play should help take defensive responsibility off the likes of Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish.
Ducks Add Klingberg to Blue Line
Verbeek has exercised patience to this point of the offseason and it paid off on Friday when John Klingberg signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the Ducks. There was a belief that he would grab a major contract this offseason as one of the bigger defensemen free agents. Whatever the circumstances were, that never came and resulted in him changing representation just four days ago.
The addition of Klingberg upgrades the Ducks’ blue line immensely. Not only did they add a top-4 defenseman to the fold, but the signing also will allow Jamie Drysdale to settle into a spot where he isn’t relied upon as the team’s top right-handed defenseman. Additionally, he will help bring life to a power play that’s been erratic the past few seasons and one that will now be without the ever-reliable Ryan Getzlaf, who retired this summer.
Perhaps where Klingberg may become most valuable is what he could fetch at the trade deadline. The Ducks are still a little ways from becoming a playoff contender and their ability to retain salary on a potential deal would give them plenty of options if they decide to deal him.
Ducks Lock Down Their RFAs
With four restricted agents (RFAs) to attend to this offseason, the Ducks made quick work of handing new contracts to all four of them last week. Urho Vaakanainen was given a two-year extension while Simon Benoit and Olle Eriksson were given one-year extensions.
Vaakanainen came over in the deal that saw the Boston Bruins acquire Hampus Lindholm at this past season’s trade deadline. It’s been mixed results so far in a Ducks sweater but he’s still young at just 23 years of age. With the left side behind Cam Fowler a bit shallow after the departure of Lindholm, he has the opportunity to establish himself in a prominent role this upcoming season.
Benoit, 23, made his NHL debut at the end of 2020-21 and carried that momentum into 2021-22, as he appeared in 53 games this past season for the Ducks after spending most of the previous two seasons with the San Diego Gulls in the American Hockey League (AHL). Like Vaakanainen, he has the chance to carve out a more prominent role for himself due to the dearth of NHL-ready defensemen in the Ducks organization.
Eriksson Ek spent the 2019-21 seasons playing in the ECHL for the Tulsa Oilers before hopping over to the Gulls this past season. As the understudy to goaltender Lukáš Dostál, he posted a 15-21-3 record with a .880 save percentage and 3.44 goals against average.
While those aren’t exactly stellar numbers, this past season’s Gulls team was far worse statistically than those of seasons past. Eriksson Ek will likely assume the same role this season, barring a trade involving John Gibson, which would elevate Dostál to the Ducks and Eriksson Ek to the starting role in San Diego.
The last RFA on the slate for the Ducks was Isac Lundestrom, who was scheduled for an arbitration hearing on July 27. The Ducks made sure that never came to be by locking him down to a two-year deal on Monday at an average annual value (AAV) of $1.8 million.
It’s a modest—and deserving—pay bump for Lundestrom, who established himself as the third-line center this past season behind Zegras and Getzlaf. A useful penalty killer and someone who head coach Dallas Eakins entrusts in important defensive situations, he may find himself used in a myriad of ways this season with the introduction of both Ryan Strome and McTavish down the middle.
New Numbers for New Ducks
New numbers have been assigned to the Ducks’ new signings, with Strome and Frank Vatrano taking No. 16 and No. 77, respectively.
The signings that took place on the second day of the free agent frenzy were also assigned their numbers, as Chase De Leo took No. 7, Glenn Gawdin No. 42 and Justin Kirkland No. 54. For the new defensemen, Austin Strand took No. 48 while Colton White grabbed No. 45.
John Moore, who also came over in the Lindholm deal, had previously undergone hip surgery and did not play in a game for the Ducks this past season. He took No. 2, which he wore with the New Jersey Devils. Benoit also switched from No. 86 to No. 13.
Ducks Sign Juolevi
It’s not every day you see a top-5 draft pick sign a two-way deal with a team just over five seasons removed from being selected, but that’s exactly what Olli Juolevi did when he signed with the Ducks on Wednesday.
After being drafted fifth overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Juolvei hasn’t had the NHL career that many envisioned for him. With just 41 NHL games under his belt to this point and stops in two cities already following a trade to the Florida Panthers last season, it’s definitely been a struggle for the Finnish defenseman.
A teammate of Max Jones during their junior days, this signing is a low-risk, high-reward move. If Juolevi impresses during training camp, perhaps he finds his way to a spot on the Ducks’ blue line. If not, he goes down to San Diego and helps provide depth at the minor league level.
Whether the Ducks are close to being done with their offseason laundry list remains a mystery, as Verbeek still wants to add another forward and came close to signing Nino Niederreiter before Roman Josi helped whisk him away to the Nashville Predators. The signing of Klingberg is a step in the right direction and helped get the Ducks over the salary cap floor as well.
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Derek Lee is a contributor for The Hockey Writers covering the Anaheim Ducks. Derek has spent nearly two decades immersed in the world of sports and has been writing about sports for five years. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Sports Communication in May 2020 from UCCS in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he also spent two and a half years on staff with their on-campus student newspaper–both as a sports reporter and editor. In his free time, he enjoys playing FIFA, curating his Spotify playlists and attending concerts & sporting events