Far away from the hoopla surrounding names like Rick Nash, Zach Parise, and Ryan Suter, the Ducks quietly went about their business this past off-season, adding role players and smaller pieces in an attempt to improve on a disappointing 2011-12 campaign.
They didn’t over-spend on the free agents, or dive head first into the trade market, but rather solidified their lineup through lower-profile depth signings in an attempt to methodically fill the holes on their roster.
On the shopping list: A backup goaltender, a veteran defenseman, a gritty winger with size and a second line center.
With the additions of Viktor Fasth, Sheldon Souray, and Daniel Winnik this past summer, it’s safe to say 3 of those 4 needs were met and early in the 2013 season, the Ducks sit 2nd overall in the West due in large part to these modest additions.
The Fasth Track to Success
After back-to-back successful seasons in the Swedish Elite League, including a .934 save percentage in 46 games in 2011-12, Viktor Fasth signed a 1-year, 1-way, 1 million dollar deal with the Ducks in May of last year.
With a largely hit-or-miss history of free agent goaltenders from the SEL playing in North America, Fasth made his NHL debut at the age of 30 on January 26 at home against Nashville with tempered expectations from fans.
After giving up a goal just 1:52 into the game, Fasth settled down and stopped 21 of 22 shots the rest of the way, leading the Ducks to a 3-2 shootout win and was named first star of the game.
Since his debut, Fasth has gone on to become just the 3rd goalie all time to win his first 8 or more career starts and the first Duck to accomplish this feat. At home, Fasth has been perfect, winning all 4 of his starts and amassing a .947 save percentage with a microscopic 1.22 goals against.
While coach Bruce Boudreau insists Jonas Hiller is still the starting goalie for the Ducks, Fasth has won the confidence of fans who tend to see the situation differently. Regardless, what’s certain is that Fasth has done more than enough to be considered at least a 1B on this Ducks team.
A Veteran Presence
The last three years have been full of highs and lows for Sheldon Souray.
After a falling out with the Edmonton Oilers, a stint in the AHL, and a bounce back season in Dallas, all while battling concussion issues and a nagging ankle injury, Sheldon Souray signed a 3 year, 11 million dollar deal with the Ducks in July of 2012.
Well-renowned for his booming slap shot, Souray has added another weapon to the Ducks’ power play from the back end and the team hasn’t been shy about using him in this role.
Souray plays the second-most power play minutes per game for Ducks’ defensemen and has 2 power play goals to show for it which is tops amongst the d-core.
Not to be overlooked has been Souray’s solid defensive play as he’s posted a +13 on the season so far which is good for a tie for 3rd in the NHL. The Ducks also use him heavily in a penalty killing role as he averaged 2:28 of short-handed time a game, behind only Francois Beauchemin in terms of Ducks d-men.
Overall, Souray has successfully provided the Ducks with depth and flexibility on the back end; factors that have been key so far in their early success in this condensed season.
While Viktor Fasth may be considered the biggest early season surprise for the Ducks, the play of Daniel Winnik is certainly not far behind.
Finding instant chemistry with line mates Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano, Winnik started the season on an absolute tear, scoring 9 points in his first 11 games, including two multi-goal games to open his Ducks career, a franchise record.
And while his offense has been a pleasant surprise, Winnik hasn’t forgotten the reason he was brought into Anaheim – to provide strong, gritty, defensive play.
Winnik leads all Ducks forwards in penalty killing time (2.44 mins per game), takeaways (16), and plus/minus (+11).
A recent 7 game pointless streak has shown that it’s not realistic to expect consistent offense from Winnik, it’s simply a bonus when it happens, but his defensive game and effort level has been rock solid night in and night out, and that’s really all the Ducks can ask for.
Follow Anton on Twitter: @antontibaldi