This has been by far the Anaheim Ducks’ longest offseason to date (excluding lockout seasons) since their entry into the NHL back in 1993. General manager Bob Murray had been relatively quiet leading up to the draft, but he executed a pair of moves in the span of 24 hours, acquiring a seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft from the Columbus Blue Jackets and then trading defenseman Erik Gudbranson to the Ottawa Senators for a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft.
This deal is beneficial for both parties as it clears $4 million off of the Ducks’ books and gets the Senators closer to the cap floor. For Murray to turn Gudbranson into a fifth-round pick after acquiring him for a seventh-round pick is a shrewd move as well. With the dealing away of Gudbranson, the Ducks have just one right-handed defenseman guaranteed to be in the top four of their defense next season.
Cup of Coffee for Drysdale?
The Ducks did select Jamie Drysdale from the Erie Otters of the OHL with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. The smooth-skating, right-handed shot may have a chance to play a few games in the NHL this upcoming season—players on entry-level contracts can skate in nine games before teams must decide whether to send them back to junior hockey and delay (or “slide”) the start of their contract to the following season.
The OHL is currently hoping to start their season on Dec. 1 with the NHL tentatively scheduled for a Jan. 1 start. In the event that this schedule holds firm, Drysdale probably won’t play for Anaheim, but anything is possible until everything is set in stone.
Anaheim has also been one of the leading teams in trying to get the league to allow those who did not qualify for the return to play to bring in players earlier for an extended camp or other team-related activities (from, ‘Shoot-first winger Jacob Perreault gives Ducks prospect pipeline scoring punch’, The Athletic, 10/07/20). The lack of right-handed shots on the blue line may give Drysdale a chance to show what he can do in makeshift training camp, if anything.
Opportunity for Hakanpaa
While Josh Manson is the only defenseman currently in the Ducks’ top-four defensive pairings, fellow right-hander Jani Hakanpaa has a chance to solidify him in the lineup. Hakanpaa spent a majority of last season in the AHL with the San Diego Gulls, recording 13 points in 47 games with a plus-12 rating. Gulls head coach Kevin Dineen said that Hakanpaa’s impact was so great that he made the Finn an alternate captain on occasion (from, ‘What do recent signings indicate about the Ducks’ plans on defense?’, The Athletic, 05/18/20).
He is the kind of guy that coaches really appreciate and hockey people really appreciate when you watch the game. He has a good stick. He uses the his size to his advantage, and he’s got a really heavy shot too. He can be effective in that area as well.Kevin Dineen, San Diego Gulls head coach (from ‘From cold seas to the minor leagues:’, The Athletic, 03/09/20)
He even played in five games for the Ducks toward the tail end of the NHL season, making his NHL debut on Mar. 1 and scoring his first NHL goal in the Ducks’ final game before the season was suspended.
Hakanpaa was rewarded with a one-year contract extension in May, a sign of good faith from the Ducks brass after they took a flier on the defenseman in July 2019. Hakanpaa might not be in the lineup every game during the 2020-21 season but a large opportunity is there for taking.
Commitment to Curran
Kodie Curran was named MVP of the Swedish Hockey League for the 2019-20 season. Curran led all defensemen and was second in the league for points with 49. His 37 assists were also good enough for second in the league. “He’s a late bloomer,” Murray said. “We’ve known about him for years and his improvement in the last couple of years in the SHL, you saw his numbers, you saw the awards he won. I’m quite excited about that and I expect some really, really good competition on defense this year. We should be deep enough. I think the schedule’s going to be pretty tough next year.”
The Ducks signed Curran to a two-year contract in June, presumably to be part of the defense during the 2020-21 season. Curran has made it known that he enjoys – and actually prefers – playing on the right side.
Curran is 30 years of age and it’s safe to assume that the Ducks didn’t bring him over to sit in the press box or spend an ample amount of time in the AHL. The trading of Gudbranson at least acknowledges the fact that there is a spot for the taking.
Competition on the Blue Line
Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Manson will surely be the top three defensemen that the Ducks roll out next season, with Brendan Guhle, Christian Djoos, Curran, Hakanpaa and Jacob Larsson all fighting for the final three spots. It’s difficult to see Michael Del Zotto or Matt Irwin coming back so there will be one odd man out between the four aforementioned defensemen. A cameo from Drysdale would make the blue line even more crowded.
There is still plenty of time before the new NHL season arrives. Free agency hasn’t even officially arrived yet so there’s a chance that Murray is active in the trade market once again if teams strike out on their initial defensive targets.