1. The twins.
Since forcing their way into the everyday lineup during the 2005-06 season, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have grown into tent pole players for the Ducks. In six of the last eight years, the duo have finished first and second on the team in scoring. The 125 points (58 goals and 67 assists) they combined for last season is the lowest non-lockout year total since 2011-12 when they combined for 117, and third-lowest since their first full season in the league.
Still, come playoff time Getzlaf set a franchise single-playoff record with 20 points, while Perry led the team with 10 goals. Born six days and just over 2,550 kilometers apart, the duo will turn 31 during the coming season and remain locked in through the 20-21 season with cap hits of $8.625 million (Perry) and $8.25 million (Getzlaf). Though the squad is deeper than in years past, the twins remain thoroughbreds whose play is critical to the club’s success.
2. Center depth.
The trade for Ryan Kesler last summer gave Anaheim a formidable one-two punch at the top of the lineup, but thanks to the development of Rickard Rakell and the offseason signings of Shawn Horcoff and Mike Santorelli, the Ducks are deeper down the middle than they’ve been in years. In Rakell’s first full season in the league he chipped in nine goals and 22 assists from the fourth line role, becoming a cult hero amongst the Anaheim fan base for his ability to drive play (53.1 SAT% at even strength), particularly while paired with Jiri Sekac and Emerson Etem.
If Rakell can continue to progress (he’ll turn 23 during the season), an increased role with additional ice time would likely give the Ducks another line to concern teams on offense. With third line anchor Nate Thompson still recovering from offseason surgery, both Horcoff and Santorelli can fill the checking line role while bringing in additional veteran experience and solid two-way play. It’s been nearly a decade since Anaheim could boast such center depth, a critical component to Western Conference success.
3. Defensive pipeline.
2014 General Manager of the Year Bob Murray has built a clutch of young defensemen that is amongst the best in the league. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen are each under 25 years old and are entering their third full season together as half of the Ducks defense corps.
Add in 24-year-old Simon Despres, acquired at the trade deadline last season from Pittsburgh for Ben Lovejoy, and you have the makings of one of the best young defensive units in the league. This is even before looking down at the San Diego Gulls, where Josh Manson, son of 16-year NHL veteran Dave Manson, looks primed to lead a group with plenty of promise, as well -- he appeared in 28 games with the Ducks last season.
The 2013 first-round pick Shea Theodore is set for his first full season in the AHL after four years of lighting up the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds. Twenty-one-year-old Brandon Montour also enters his first full AHL campaign after being better than a point-per-game player in the USHL, then putting up 20 points in 21 games as a freshman with UMass, and 10 points in 14 games during a brief run with Norfolk last season.
The Ducks added to their collection this past draft by selecting Jacob Larsson with the 27th pick, another two-way defender with a great frame, mobility, and vision. With Lindholm, Vatanen, and Despres all restricted free agents at the end of the season, it’s a nice safety cushion to have such a stocked prospect cabinet on the back end.
1. Proven secondary scoring.
Last year the Ducks finished 11th in the league with 228 goals, with 78 coming from the combination of Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler. Both Matt Beleskey (22 goals) and Kyle Palmieri (14 goals), who finished third and sixth on the team, are out the door as well.
Those five players accounted for half of Anaheim’s goal production last year, with Andrew Cogliano (15 goals), Jakob Silfverberg (13 goals) and Sami Vatanen (12 goals) the only other returning players who managed double-digit twine-finding.
Patrick Maroon had a big postseason, tying with Kesler for third on the team with seven goals, but in his two previous full NHL seasons he has managed just 20 goals in 133 games. Anaheim ran into problems last season with the inability to put away games, with 16 of their 51 wins coming in overtime (eight by shootout) and earning another seven points in extra session losses.
Silfverberg will have to build on his solid playoffs, while acquisitions Carl Hagelin and Chris Stewart will be expected to chip in, and others like Rakell, Maroon and Sekac will need to take steps forward, as well.
2. True No. 1 defenseman.
Head Coach Bruce Boudreau raised some eyebrows during training camp saying it’s "not a rule" that teams need to have a No. 1 defenseman to win a championship. While it’s technically true, every Stanley Cup Champion dating back to the Ducks in 2007 has had at least one defenseman that they leaned on to play more than 25 minutes per night on average.
The Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 were the last Cup winner to have a defense corps with no one defender averaging more than 23 minutes in the regular season or playoffs. The only defenseman to crack the 25-minute average plateau last season was the the now-departed Francois Beauchemin during the playoffs, so the question shifts to who of the current corps, if any, will step up to that role?
Lindholm was Beauchemin’s partner for the past two seasons and saw significant time. He’ll turn 22 this year, and has bulked up to 211 pounds heading into training camp. Soon-to-be 24-year-old Fowler has already played 345 regular season games through six seasons. Vatanen lead defenders in scoring during the regular season, as well as the playoffs. All have a case for that top role, but one will have to emerge this season and take it.
3. Adaptive playoff coaching.
At some point one has to figure the Ducks’ Game 7 malaise will break. But much ink has been spilled about the struggles of Boudreau-coached teams in the final game of a series. Last year it was Joel Quenneville’s decision to actively avoid the Kesler-Jonathan Toews matchup, and the Ducks were unable or unwilling to force that issue.
The year prior it was Darryl Sutter’s altering of the Kings' forecheck and pressuring. Before that it was Mike Babcock’s Red Wings coming stronger out of the gate. Boudreau teams have a history of coming out flat, losing their structure or not adjusting to alterations made by the opponent in critical games. It has cost them dearly. Anaheim has attempted to shake things up with the coaching staff by bringing in Paul MacLean, winner of the Jack Adams Award while with Ottawa and a former Mighty Ducks assistant under Babcock.
The Ducks have had a talent edge to be able to dispatch Dallas, Winnipeg and Calgary under Boudreau’s watch during the playoffs. The challenge now is to see if the coaching staff can better react and adapt tactically in critical games, against the likes of Chicago and Los Angeles where the teams are on much more equal footing.
1. Is this year make or break for the Ducks?
2. Which defenseman steps up?
3. Can Frederik Andersen lead this team to a title?
Get the answers at Anaheim Calling.
BEST CASE SCENARIO
There is only one best case scenario, and it involves the team in orange, gold, and black skating with the big silver trophy at the end of the season.
To get there, it starts with Getzlaf and Perry each chipping in 80+ points, either together or on different lines as has been tried out in training camp. Chris Stewart finds the form from his back-to-back 28 goal seasons, and contributes 25-30 when paired with an elite center in Getzlaf. Jakob Silfverberg continues to produce at the level during last playoff, helping the his line with Ryan Kesler and Carl Hagelin not only become one of the best shutdown lines in the game, but a consistent offensive threat as well. Jiri Sekac and Rickard Rakell continue their magic on the lower lines and contribute 40+ points apiece.
The defense settles in with Cam Fowler and Simon Despres as the top defensive pairing, while Kevin Bieksa slots well with Hampus Lindholm, and Sami Vatanen continues his special teams wizardry by helping revitalize a power play that lurches into the upper third of the league. Frederik Andersen asserts himself in his second full season as starter in a contract year, following the Braden Holtby development path and posting numbers closer to his rookie season (.923 save percentage) than his first year as an everyday guy (.914 SV%), and isn’t forced to start 20-straight games or 36 of 40 thanks to highly competent backing up from Anton Khudobin.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Another Game 7 flameout would make it even harder to fight off the ‘chokers’ label that folks have begun trying to stick to the franchise, and make one wonder if Boudreau is cursed.
A significant injury to either Getzlaf or Perry has ruinous potential, and if none of the supporting cast step forward, or the younger forwards backslide in development, the Ducks would suddenly find themselves struggling for goals.
Equally disastrous would be an injury to Lindholm or Fowler, forcing Anaheim to shift from a younger, puck-mover based defense into a more slow, plodding one with seventh defenseman Korbinian Holzer and third pair Clayton Stoner seeing significant time to try and fill the gaps. Andersen has lingering doubts from how the Western Conference Final ended, exacerbated by issues on defense as well as a return of injury issues that plagued him in Norfolk.
The diminished Ducks side either limps into the playoffs and is promptly dismissed in the first round, or even worse befalls the same fate as their silver and black rivals from last season.