3 Anaheim Ducks Poised for a Breakout Season

The Anaheim Ducks have plenty of unanswered questions heading into the 2022-23 season. Their playoff drought has extended into its fourth season, and the franchise is firmly into a multi-year rebuilding program. With the rebuild comes fresh new faces looking to make a name for themselves in the NHL, trying to establish themselves as roster regulars while the franchise turns the corner into competitive relevancy. The roster in Anaheim is far from complete, and there will be plenty of chances for breakout candidates.

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Despite another losing season, the Ducks had a few breakout campaigns during the 2021-22 year. One such season belonged to Troy Terry, as he led the team with 37 goals. This was an incredible jump in his production, as he combined for 15 goals in the previous three seasons. Terry was voted into the mid-season All-Star Game for the first time in his career, joining teammate John Gibson. This preseason, Terry has been seen sporting an alternate captain patch — a symbol of how far he’s come since arriving from the University of Denver in 2018 and where his future may be headed.

Another, yet much more predictable, breakout came from Trevor Zegras. Zegras dominated highlight segments with his elite stick work, innovative passing, and high-end goal scoring. His 61 points helped him finish second for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. Combined with his presence on the cover of the NHL 23 video game, it’d be difficult to argue against 2022 being a breakout season for Zegras.

The only issue would be semantics, as in, is it a breakout year if Zegras has another gear he didn’t reach? He seems destined to be a point-per-game player, so should his breakout season be the first in which he hits that threshold? Are you allowed to have multiple breakout seasons? While discussing all things Zegras may be a continuing trend across the league, let’s take a look at some of his teammates who could have a breakout 2022-23 campaign.

Most Likely to Breakout: Jamie Drysdale

Time is on the side of Jamie Drysdale. Barring something devastating, Drysdale will appear in his 150th NHL game well before his 21st birthday in April. After leaving the Ontario Hockey League and still being too young to play in the American Hockey League, his development has been on NHL ice against the best players in the world. The results have been mixed. The talent package that led to him being selected sixth overall in the 2020 NHL Draft is apparent. He’s an incredibly smooth skater, an adept puck handler, and a menace in the neutral zone with or without the puck.

Jamie Drysdale Anaheim Ducks
Jamie Drysdale, Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Drysdale isn’t without his limitations, however. At just under six feet tall and self-admittedly under 190 pounds, he won’t be expected to develop into a big-bodied shutdown defenseman. After the Ducks traded Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson in February, Drysdale was exposed to longer minutes against tougher opposing lines. He was placed in a lot of sink-or-swim situations as a young defenseman, and he struggled in instances where he wasn’t playing alongside Cam Fowler.

Now entering his second full season in Anaheim, Drysdale’s offensive upside may begin to take shape. He will probably cede his position on the top power-play unit to the more offensively established John Klingberg to start the season. Klingberg will almost certainly be traded by the deadline, meaning Drysdale can resume his role as power-play quarterback after watching one of the league’s best power-play defensemen run the position. I’ve already predicted Drysdale will lead the team in assists, and a breakout season could result in him being one of the more productive defensemen in the entire league.

The biggest hurdle for Drysdale right now is his inflexibility in the lineup. As a result of the Lindholm trade, Fowler is the only skater to have logged more than 130 five-on-five minutes with Drysdale. Late-season pairing experiments with Urho Vaakanainen resulted in both players getting caved in their defensive zone, and other left-handed options like Simon Benoit and Josh Mahura are still considered developing prospects. The arrival of Dmitry Kulikov opens up the potential for a new, defensively sound partner for Drysdale to operate while freeing Fowler to move around the lineup as needed.

Breakout Candidate: Frank Vatrano

If Ducks fans take this preseason to learn one thing about the new faces in town, it should be that Frank Vatrano is here to shoot the puck. His 161 shots last season would have ranked fourth on the Ducks, only behind Terry, Zegras, and Kevin Shattenkirk. In the Sept. 28 preseason game against the Arizona Coyotes, Vatrano played on Zegras’ right wing. He can be utilized up and down the lineup, but a top-6 role alongside the playmakers could lead to a breakout season for Vatrano.

Frank Vatrano New York Rangers
Frank Vatrano with the New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Before Terry’s big 2021-22 season, volume scoring has been in short supply for the Ducks. His 37 goals last season have been the only 30-goal campaign since the playoff drought began, and only four other 20-goal seasons have been achieved during the same stretch. Vatrano has reached the 20-goal threshold once before in the 2018-19 season. With plenty of opportunities and no aversion to shooting the puck, a career year could be in play for Vatrano.

Has the Chance to Breakout: Isac Lundestrom

To say that Isac Lundestrom is “due” for a breakout may be a bit of a reach. The 23rd overall pick from the 2018 NHL Draft symbolizes the end of an era for the Ducks. He was the last first-round draft pick Anaheim had while being true contenders, and each subsequent first-round pick has come from higher and higher spots in the draft. Entering his third full season in Anaheim, Lundestrom is one of the brighter spots on an underwhelming bottom-6, even if his offensive ceiling appears limited.

Lundestrom’s offensive opportunities won’t be as frequent while playing with the likes of Jakob Silfverberg, Derek Grant, or Sam Carrick on his wings. With Zegras and Ryan Strome taking up two center spots and Mason McTavish destined for a third, Lundestrom doesn’t have much of a path up the depth chart.

This doesn’t doom him to low-event fourth-line minutes and penalty-killing duties, however. The Ducks are still rebuilding, and there are plenty of up-and-coming prospects, like Brayden Tracey and Jacob Perreault, that may get a look at NHL games this season. Those prospects wouldn’t be expected to shoulder top-line minutes, and Lundestrom’s reputation as a defensive-minded center would help provide a smooth transition to the professional game.

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As a result, Lundestrom will get offensive zone opportunities with some raw but talented wingers. If he makes the most of those opportunities, a breakout season is in play. This preseason has been an encouraging sign for Lundestrom so far, as he has four points through three games. It’s unlikely that he has the Rickard Rakell career arc that sees him go from responsible defensive center to a 30-goal winger, but a bump in production that turns him into a 20-goal scorer is certainly a possibility.

Breakout campaigns from any of these players will be a great sign for the Ducks. The franchise is establishing its future, and a few more names need to join the likes of Terry and Zegras in turning it into a competitive roster. A breakout campaign from Drysdale would shore up a troubled blue line for the Ducks and could be one of the most productive defensemen the franchise has ever seen. Vatrano could provide secondary scoring the franchise hasn’t seen since being Stanley Cup contenders. And Lundestrom’s breakout would give Anaheim incredible top-to-bottom center depth.

Statistics courtesy of Hockey DB.

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