The 2022 calendar year is just about to come to a close and for the Anaheim Ducks, they may be itching to get to 2023 already. Their season thus far has been close to ugly in many ways, and while the future certainly should be promising, their current results have been difficult to stomach for fans and management alike.
Gibson, Vaakanainen Return to Lineup
Goaltender John Gibson returned to the crease after missing five games with a lower-body injury. The time off seems to have done him a world of good, as he was at his best in a 3-2 shootout win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 28. Gibson stopped 49 of 51 shots and stopped both shootout attempts as well.
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Urho Vaakanainen also returned to the lineup after missing three games with a flu virus. He was appearing in just his 10th game of the season after missing most of the first quarter of the season with an injury that he suffered during preseason.
Zegras Collects 100th NHL Point
With two assists against the Golden Knights, Trevor Zegras not only recorded the 30th multi-point outing of his career but also recorded the 100th NHL point of his career. He did so in 135 games, the third-quickest pace for a Ducks player behind Paul Kariya and Bobby Ryan.
From the 2019 Draft class, only Jack Hughes has more points with 149 points in 202 games. Zegras is one of the main cogs of the Ducks’ offense along with Troy Terry and both will be restricted free agents (RFAs) this upcoming offseason. Locking down both players to long-term deals will be a top priority this summer.
Ducks Prospects Impressing at World Juniors
Team Canada is the frontrunner for the gold medal at the 2023 World Juniors and the three Ducks prospects on the team have all made an impact so far during the tournament. Olen Zellweger is skating on the top defensive pair and also manning the top power-play unit for Canada. He has five points in three games thus far and his combination of smooth skating and ability to move the puck with ease is something to behold.
Nathan Gaucher and Tyson Hinds are playing slightly different roles for Canada compared to Zellweger, as the pair are being used more in defensive situations. Gaucher is centering Canada’s third line, which has been more of a checking line, while Hinds has been partnered with the more offensively-minded Brandt Clarke.
Gaucher has three points (one goal) in three games while Hinds has just one point, but it was a goal in Canada’s 11-0 drubbing of Team Austria.
Former Duck Smith-Pelly Announces Retirement
Devante Smith-Pelly officially announced his retirement via Instagram on Dec. 30. The former Ducks draft pick spent parts of four seasons with the organization before being dealt to the Montreal Canadiens for Jiri Sekac during the 2014-15 season.
Related: Canadiens’ Smith-Pelly-Sekac Trade Wasn’t so Bad After All
One of Smith-Pelly’s most notable moments during his time with Anaheim was scoring the game-tying goal against the Dallas Stars during their 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs matchup. The forward scored five goals in 12 games that postseason but never really seemed to find a consistent role on the team.
After being dealt to Montreal, he played 12 more playoff games that same season. He again struggled to find a consistent role and was dealt to the New Jersey Devils the following season.
Where Smith-Pelly was able to find himself in a role best suited for him, though, was when he signed with the Washington Capitals prior to the 2017-18 season. Inked to a league-minimum, two-way deal, the winger played a key role on the Capitals’ checking line en route to a Stanley Cup Final victory over the Golden Knights—in the Knights’ inaugural season—in five games.
After playing 54 games with the Capitals in 2018-19, he hasn’t played in the NHL since the conclusion of that season, spending time in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and American Hockey League (AHL). He spent last season with the Laval Rocket in the AHL.
Ducks Sign Alexander to ELC
Following their matinee matchup against the Nashville Predators, it was announced that the Ducks had signed goaltender Gage Alexander to a three-year, entry-level contract. Alexander was drafted in the fifth round of the 2021 NHL Draft and had spent the last three seasons with the Winnipeg ICE in the Western Hockey League (WHL) before being traded to the Swift Current Broncos this past offseason.
Because he’s 20 years of age, Alexander can report immediately to the San Diego Gulls in the AHL. With Anthony Stolarz still on the mend and Gibson just back from injury, the Gulls have seen both of their goaltenders shifted up to the NHL level.
Related: Ducks’ Lukáš Dostál is emerging as an NHL-Ready Goaltender
Olle Eriksson Ek just recently returned but with Lukáš Dostál backing up Gibson for the time being, the decision to sign Alexander now addresses minor league goaltending depth. The Gulls had two goaltenders signed to professional tryouts (PTOs) prior to signing Alexander.
The Ducks’ final game of 2022 may have been one of the worst as they fell 6-1 to the Predators and conceded 40-plus shots on goal for the sixth consecutive game. While each and every loss does give them a better shot at potentially drafting Connor Bedard next summer, their effort needs to be much better heading into 2023.