The Anaheim Ducks have just 11 wins through 29 games in 2015-16. That’s not nearly good enough for a team that hopes to make the playoffs, let alone one that wants to be playing hockey in June.
Injuries, bad luck, and an atrocious 1-9 start are mostly to blame. Key players such as Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler haven’t played up to their own standards, while prized summer acquisition Carl Hagelin has been a disappointment.
Through all the muck, Anaheim remains a mere three points out of the playoffs. They’ve stayed afloat by playing .500 hockey, but even a small improvement on that can get them back into the playoff picture. Time is on their side if they can figure this out.
To boot, they’ve been one of the league’s best teams at even strength since the month of November, while their power play has made positive strides.
A strong second half doesn’t seem unlikely, especially when considering the outstanding play of these three players:
1. Rickard Rakell
Originally pegged as the Ducks’ third line center, Rakell has found himself on the left wing alongside Getzlaf and Perry.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau tried everything to spark his once-dormant first line, but it wasn’t until he put Rakell there that the line took off.
Rakell meshes well with Getzlaf and Perry, and the numbers reflect it: both star forwards enjoy superior possession ratings when skating with him. The young Finn’s blend of strong board play and creativity with the puck is a perfect complement to the high-octane game that we’ve come to expect from “The Twins”.
It’ll be interesting to see what Boudreau does with Rakell once Jiri Sekac returns. Historically, the pair have skated on the same line to great results, but the chemistry building on the first line might be too good to break up.
2. Sami Vatanen
Where to begin with Vatanen? Sublime with the puck, he is of the rare breed of defensemen that is just as much a threat in the neutral zone as he is in the offensive zone:
Generously listed at 5′ 10″, 183 pounds, Vatanen more than holds his own physically, using precise stick positioning and body angling to get by in the defensive zone. He’s become better at judging when it’s time to make a simple play versus a riskier one, which is partly reflected in his improved possession rating.
In only his second full season with the Ducks, he’s been the team’s most dominant defenseman by a mile. Don’t be surprised to hear him in the Norris conversation should the Ducks improve their fortunes thanks to his stellar play.
3. John Gibson
What was supposed to be a short NHL stint for the 22-year old Gibson has turned out to be a permanent stay, thanks in large part to some outstanding performances.
Called up to ride the bench with Frederik Andersen out with a flu, Gibson supplanted the floundering Anton Khudobin and essentially never looked back.
A calm, athletic netminder, the unflappable Gibson never seems all that excited about anything, good or bad. That goes a long way when playing one of the highest-pressure positions in all of sport.
He’s posted an incredible raw save percentage of .954 at even strength, yet has done it with a conservative style of goaltending that rarely has him flailing à la Jonathan Quick. With Andersen’s name involved in trade rumors, it appears that Gibson may have shed the “goalie of the future” label ahead of schedule.