In the Western Conference, the Chicago Blackhawks are a favourite to win the Stanley Cup. The reigning champion Los Angeles Kings are currently out of the playoff picture but still no team wants to see them sneak in. The Nashville Predators are the upstarts while the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks look to shed the label of being playoff chokers. But where do the Anaheim Ducks fit into the Western conference playoff picture?
Despite a lot of success in the regular season, the Anaheim Ducks haven’t experienced a lot of playoff success in recent years. They haven’t seen the conference finals since their Stanley Cup championship back in 2007 and have only made the semi-finals twice since then. The Ducks are a fairly young team and don’t have the depth some of the other teams have in the west.
Up front, the Ducks are led by their dynamic duo in captain Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They were the young guns on the 2007 banner team but fast forward eight years later, they are now expected to lead the way. They have collected Olympic gold medals and numerous individual accolades between the two of them. For secondary scoring, Anaheim brought in Ryan Kesler who has been a nice addition while Matt Beleskey has over 20 goals so far this season. But if Anaheim wants to go further, they are going to need more up front. They have a lot of young forwards but at this stage in their careers, they aren’t the players they are going to be in a few years.
On the blueline, Anaheim is pretty young. They have three very good young defenders in Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm alongside some solid veterans in Francois Beauchemin and Ben Lovejoy. This is a solid blueline but is it championship quality? Chicago has Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook with a solid supporting cast behind them. Los Angeles has Drew Doughty who can change the complexion of a hockey game on his own. Nashville has Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Seth Jones and just added Cody Franson in a trade from Toronto. St. Louis can count on Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester. The three youngsters are all very good but it’s still a question if they can handle the pressure of big minutes in the playoffs against some of the best players in the world.
In goal, Frederik Andersen and John Gibson are the current goalies. Andersen has played the bulk of the games for the Ducks this season but his numbers aren’t overwhelming. Goalies are judged by wins but it is a question whether Andersen can deliver them come playoff time, and he wasn’t great in last year’s playoffs. The very talented Gibson made four appearances in the post season last year for Anaheim but the pressure got to him in game seven of the semi-finals against Los Angeles.
Of everyone in the Anaheim Ducks organization, you can argue that coach Bruce Boudreau has the most to lose if he doesn’t go far in the post season this year. Boudreau has coached some very good teams in recent years with a ton of regular season success but nothing past the second round of the playoffs. He coached a star studded team in Washington featuring the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green to regular season heights but at the end of day, the team failed to meet expectations. Anaheim is looking to make the next step and have a lot of teams standing their way but Boudreau needs to show he can coach his team deeper into the playoffs.
GM Bob Murray and his staff have compiled one of the best prospect pools in the league. Highlighted by Gibson, Rickard Rakell, Shea Theodore, William Karlsson and Nick Ritchie, the organization has found guys early on in the draft and in the later rounds. With the trade deadline quickly approaching and with major trades involving Evander Kane and Cody Franson already happening, general managers are acting fast. Having a quality prospect pool gives Murray options if he chooses to deal a youngster for a roster player. Murray isn’t shy about making trades as he did get Kesler over the summer and dealt Bobby Ryan two years ago. The pressure is on for him to improve this team to go all the way.
The Anaheim Ducks are a pretty good team right now but if they want to be great, they are going to need more. Having two stars in their prime is a good start but they need more depth behind them to help alleviate the pressure, especially since they will be facing the top defense units and checking lines of other teams. The defense could stand to gain some more depth players and the goaltending needs a vote of confidence. The pressure is on for the organization to show the progress expected of them and take a step towards another Stanley Cup championship.
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