Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, where Last Word on Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 Anaheim Ducks.
2020-21 Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks suffered from mediocrity in 2019-20, marking their second straight season of missing the playoffs. Anaheim hired Dallas Eakins as their head coach before the season started, but he wasn’t enough to jumpstart Anaheim’s young talent. Anaheim had a successful October, starting off 4-1-0. However, it would be their most successful month, as the Ducks couldn’t break .500 the rest of the way, finishing the season with a 29-33-9. It was good enough for a sixth-place finish in the Pacific Division, winning (or losing) the California Tank Battle with the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. The Ducks were plagued with inconsistency all year, though. After October, the Ducks never won more than two games in a row.
Part of this was due to an inability to score. 29-year-old centre Adam Henrique led the team in points with just 43 in 71 games. He and Jakob Silfverberg were the team’s only 20-goal scorers. This offensive inability was compounded by an uncharacteristically pedestrian season from goalie John Gibson. The 27-year-old phenom posted career lows in nearly every stat, including a .904 save percentage. Gibson actually led the entire NHL in regulation losses with 26, but that’s more a reflection on the team.
Anaheim followed up a quiet regular season with a relatively quiet offseason. Their biggest splash was undoubtedly the signing of Stanley Cup champion Kevin Shattenkirk. The offensive defenceman signed a three-year deal with Anaheim, paying him $3.9 million a season. He’s likely to see time on the power play, helping a Ducks unit that posted an abysmal 14.67 percent success rate last year. October 2020 also saw Derek Grant and Andy Welinski return to the organization after brief absences. They signed Vinni Lettieri for some minor-league depth (or possibly a taxi squad body), and got a wild-card addition out of Europe by the name of Kodie Curran.
Jakob Silfverberg – Adam Henrique – Rickard Rakell
There’s no doubt that Anaheim’s top six forward group is one of the weakest in the league. Silfverberg is a good two-way presence on the wing, but doesn’t excel at even strength in any area. He has a good shot, though, and he can be a deadly weapon on the power play. Henrique is in a similar position without the power-play upside. He’s a good player, but is punching a bit above his weight class receiving top-six minutes. Rakell is no doubt one of Anaheim’s best offensive talents. But he doesn’t boast the two-way prowess of his linemates, making for a top line that isn’t incredibly effective offensively or defensively.
Anaheim’s ‘second line’ won’t be at much of an ice-time disadvantage compared to the first. They’ll see relatively equal even-strength usage. Getzlaf may be seeing his offensive numbers decline, and he’s more injury prone at age 35. He can still be an effective second-line centre who’s Anaheim’s most talented playmaking forward. He’s great at generating quality shot attempts and he’s adequate defensively. Milano is a speedy winger suiting up for his first season in Anaheim. He’s yet to really make his mark on the NHL, but his skating skills are a solid groundwork for a player who’s still got a lot of potential at age 24.
Skating alongside Getzlaf, Milano could see some inflated offensive numbers this year. Heinen is also preparing for his first full season as a Duck, and he complements Milano and Getzlaf quite nicely. An argument could be made for him as Anaheim’s best defensive forward, and he isn’t exactly a black hole offensively either. He could see a boost in numbers playing with Getzlaf as well.
As a unit, Anaheim’s bottom six is rather pedestrian as well. But there are a few bright spots, especially with Anaheim’s third line expected to be stocked with the team’s future. 22-year-old Sam Steel has top-six potential, but hasn’t reached it yet. He’s struggled to generate chances at times at the NHL level, but he’s fared a bit better on the power play. He’ll have Max Jones flanking him on the left, a similar story. Also 22, Jones has really disappointed offensively but has shown glimpses of solid two-way ability. Steel will likely be the main source of offence on this line along with right wing Troy Terry, who’s a year older than Jones and Steel and is developed much more defensively. The Ducks’ young third line could be a surprisingly effective unit defensively, but all playing with each other, they could struggle to produce on the scoresheet yet again.
There’s no redemption for Anaheim’s fourth line, however. They won’t be too harmful in limited usage, but there isn’t much to like here. Deslauriers is a gritty winger who isn’t terrible defensively, but doesn’t stand out either and has no offensive upside. Grant has been a valuable depth piece for a variety of teams in recent years. However, his advanced numbers suggest regression is coming, and he certainly won’t be aided by his linemates. Rowney plays a similar game to Deslauriers, and he still struggles to produce offensively. For the 10 minutes of ice time they’ll be receiving a night, this unit won’t be counted on for much.
Cam Fowler – Kevin Shattenkirk
Christian Djoos – Kodie Curran
Extra: Jacob Larsson
Anaheim’s defence is a different story. Uncharacteristically bad seasons all around last year could lead to a resurgence for the 2020-21 Anaheim Ducks. Lindholm is a well-rounded defenceman who’s the highlight on this Anaheim blueline. He’s not a great shot, but that’s admissable for a defenceman. He excels at feeding the puck up the ice and he limits opportunities against. Partnered with another two-way presence in Manson, an improvement from this pair in 2020-21 could boost Anaheim’s offensive numbers when they’re on the ice.
Moving to the second pairing, we see a familiar face in Cam Fowler. His play has worsened in recent years, and chances of a rebound year are slim compared to Lindholm. He’s still a decent two-way defender but lacks pizzazz or high-end skill. This is where Shattenkirk comes in. He regained his even-strength effectiveness with the Tampa Bay Lightning after a rough stretch with the New York Rangers.
Djoos is a young piece who could surprise for Anaheim this year. After winning a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals, he’ll now look to make a name for himself in Anaheim after some AHL time in 2019-20. Like Manson, he’s a solid two-way defender who doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses and is a stable presence on the third pairing, helping out the defensive depth for the 2020-21 Anaheim Ducks. Kodie Curran is a bit of a wild card here. The undrafted 30-year-old has never played an NHL game, but the offensively-minded defenceman has had a successful past few seasons in Europe. He’ll come over to the Ducks to be a potential secondary power play option, but could also look to help boost the offensive success of Anaheim’s depth when deployed alongside their bottom six forwards.
Extra: Olle Eriksson Ek
The main difference between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 Anaheim Ducks will likely be the play of Gibson in net. Gibson has consistently put up elite seasons since taking over as Anaheim’s full-time starter in 2016-17. He was remarkably average last season, though, but there’s very little reason for him not to return to form.
Stolarz is a 26-year-old goalie who’s an unproven backup at the NHL level. He’s got a promising career that had largely been derailed by injuries, and with the likely departure of Ryan Miller who remains without a contract, he’ll be the no. 2 man in Anaheim. In previous NHL experience, Stolarz has been decent but nothing special. If he can float around his career average save percentage of .910, he’ll be a reliable option in net.
Players to Watch
As highlighted in our bounce-back and breakout series, Gibson will be make-or-break for Anaheim in goal. He has the potential to steal multiple games for the Ducks and boost the team’s record despite a similar team heading into this season. If Gibson rebounds to a .920+ save percentage, which is certainly reasonable considering their fortified defence, Anaheim’s stock could rise quickly this season among its rivals.
This year will be crucial in determining Getzlaf’s future in Anaheim. He’s only got this season left on his current deal, and if he underperforms, he could be a trade deadline asset. But if Getzlaf maintains some consistency and delays his declination, he could still be a core contributor to the Ducks’ offence. His ceiling isn’t high but he could centre a second line and spur breakouts from both Milano and Heinen, an ideal situation for the aging centre.
Prediction for 2020-21 Anaheim Ducks
There have been no sweeping changes to the Ducks roster this season, so don’t expect any sweeping changes to their standings position. However, there’s cause for hope in a variety of young wingers, and a rebound season from one of the best goalies in the world is sure to help.
Anaheim won’t be a playoff team yet this season, but they should surely work their way out of lottery territory. Gibson is an incredible goaltender and should not be underestimated. His ability to boost this team to games that they shouldn’t win is definitely there. Anaheim should rise back over the .500 mark this season due to some promising performances, but won’t crack the playoff picture in the supposed West Division.
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