Welcome to our latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. The Puck Drop Preview series takes you through each team as the season is fast approaching. The preview will focus on the narratives surrounding the team ending last year, during the offseason, and heading into the 2021-22 season. Puck Drop Preview also focuses on what the season has in store for each team from a roster and expectations perspective. Join us, as we look at all 32 teams before the season starts. Today, we take a look at the 2021-22 Anaheim Ducks.
2021-22 Anaheim Ducks
The 2020-21 shortened season for the Anaheim Ducks was an unfortunate year from a points perspective. They finished last in the Western division and second-last overall. However, this wasn’t unexpected from most Ducks fans heading into the season. They are in a weird place as a franchise. After a long run of one of the best teams throughout the 2000s, the Ducks have taken a step back and have found themselves outside the playoff picture lately.
The Ducks had some promising prospects come through the system over the past few years but not all of them have completely hit their potential. Mix that with franchise goalie John Gibson dealing with injuries throughout the past few seasons, and you have a team that has struggled and is looking to keep adding talent. Last season, much like this upcoming one, is all about growth. Finding a new identity while mixing with the old core is going to be crucial going forward.
The 2021-22 Anaheim Ducks forward core boasts an interesting mix of talent. One the first line, Comtois is really starting to develop into an interesting piece for Anaheim moving forward. The 22-year-old winger has gotten better each year since he was drafted in the second round back in 2017. He will look to build on his 33 points in 55 games from last season, which was just shy of a 50 point pace.
Sam Steel, who was drafted 30th overall in 2016, hasn’t developed quite as the Ducks would have hoped. He has yet to break 25 points and isn’t capable of playing big minutes super effectively. However, stopping that from happening with someone like Zegras is why he may start the year on the top line. As the year goes on, the plan is likely to see Steel slide down the lineup and someone like Zegras move up. But to start, look for Steel to help shelter some younger guys.
The second line is the opposite of the first. If the first line was one generation of prospects, this is certainly another. They mix things up to get the younger first line playing with some seasoned veterans in Henrique, Getzlaf, and Rakell, but they may also let this line slow the game down and play a more grinding defensive style. We could see this line take some of the defensive matchups at least to start the year as Getzlaf and Henrique are solid in their own end. If the Ducks stay at the bottom this year, look for at least one piece of this line, likely Rakell, to be shipped off via trade.
This is where things get very interesting. The biggest piece is Zegras. Their stud prospect was drafted ninth overall in 2019. He tore up the AHL in his short stint last year and looked pretty solid in the NHL too. His development is absolutely crucial for this team heading forward, as they hope he can be their 1C of the future. It’s why we have him starting on line three. Yes, he played 24 NHL games last year, but entering his official rookie season it is important to ensure he is comfortable. If he shows he is ready for more responsibility, he will get it as the year moves on.
Lundestrom is another interesting name. He played 41 games and had nine points last year. That needs to improve and maybe having a skilled player like Zegras beside him will help that. However, his defensive impact was positive which is at least something to be happy about. Silfverberg is another name that can slide up and down the lineup as needed. He has three more seasons at just over a five million dollar cap hit so it seems reasonable he is here to stay.
The bottom line is also interesting. Jones hasn’t really hit his potential but is looking to carve out an effective role as a bottom-six guy. Volkov is a 24-year-old who has a bit more upside than someone like Nicolas Deslauriers, who will also see time in the lineup. Grant is also just a solid player who won’t add a ton but won’t hurt you by any means either. Other names that have a shot include Sonny Milano and Buddy Robinson.
The 2021-22 Anaheim Ducks defence will be an interesting unit to watch. This core is older than some may think, with the top four all being between 27-32. The biggest question of the top four will be can Lindholm get healthy and back to the player he once was? Lindholm was one of the more underrated defencemen a few years ago but has struggled with injuries lately. His partner in Manson is the same story. Not the same peak as Lindholm but both missed a ton of time last year and over 15 games the year prior too. Both staying healthy could go a long way.
Fowler and Shattenkirk bring the most experience to this defence core. Expect Shattenkirk to move around the lineup, which may include sliding down a pair if a certain rookie is ready. However, to start it seems possible for these guys to match up with each other to give a calming and steady pair to go out there. Whether they take the big matchups or not will remain to be seen, but they will be a vital part of any success Anaheim wants to have.
This is where things are the most interesting. Drysdale is the name everyone wants to see this year with Anaheim. Much like Zegras upfront, we have Drysdale starting third pair to get comfortable in what will be his first full NHL season. He also looked amazing in the AHL last year and looked pretty good as a 19-year-old in the NHL too. His development is absolutely crucial on the backend though so it can’t be rushed. As Drysdale keeps gaining confidence, he will likely get an increased role while the season goes on. Look for him to start on the third pair and work his way up. The sky is the limit for this kid.
On his side, it seems likely that Larsson will play there. Analytically, Larsson has struggled so far in his NHL career. However, the Ducks are hoping to turn that around given he is 24. Other names for the bottom pair or injury depth include Kodie Curran, Brendan Guhle, and Trevor Carrick.
This is a pretty easy one. Only two guys on NHL contracts. The Ducks have some young guys in the system but at least to start they will probably get AHL time. Gibson is the key to everything this year. It’s no surprise that when he struggled to stay healthy and his performance dipped, so did the team in the standings. Now, that goes a bit of both ways too. The Ducks have been brutal in front of him for a while now. However, peak John Gibson covered a lot of issues. The Ducks are just hoping to keep him healthy and back to at least an average NHL starter. Not just for this season, but because it is crucial going forward. Gibson still has six more years left under contract and if he continues to struggle, that will be a real issue.
Stolarz looks like an OK option as a backup goalie but isn’t someone who can play 40+ games effectively. His time in Anaheim has been a success, in the minors and NHL. With Ryan Miller retiring, it is time for him to show he can play a backup role at a solid pace. If they can get 30 games or so of average play out of Stolarz, that is all you can ask for.
Players to Watch
The 2021-22 Anaheim Ducks don’t have high expectations. Because of that, the two players to watch will be crucial to their future success. Now, it would be very easy to pick both Zegras and Drysdale, but we will select just one. Zegras blooming into a legit top-line centre this year will be the biggest storyline in Anaheim. You don’t want to put too much pressure on anyone, but every good rebuild needs that top centre coming out of it. If he can show that’s what he is then this Ducks team is looking really good going forward. He is also a year older than Drysdale, which is why Zegras’s development is more important this given season.
The other player we are selecting is Gibson. Simply because of what was stated earlier. They need him to be a foundational piece moving forward into his 30’s. Right now, it doesn’t matter in terms of results. However, with one or two more seasons of high draft picks the Ducks will want to start turning the corner again. Without a healthy and effective Gibson, it seems unlikely they can do that. So that makes Gibson the second player to watch throughout this season.
Prediction for 2021-22 Anaheim Ducks
The 2021-22 Anaheim Ducks season may be a long one for fans. The expectations should be kept at a low for results in the standings. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be reasons to watch this team. Zegras and Drysdale alone could be must-watch TV. Add in Steel, Terry, and another year of Getzlaf, and there are still reasons to tune into Anaheim games.
From an overall perspective, the development will be the key to the season though. Getting younger players into bigger roles so they can take this team forward. The Getzlaf and Rakell type players will start to take more of a backseat in terms of driving the bus. It doesn’t mean they can’t be important and effective players, especially off the ice, but if this team wants to grow it needs to come from the young players. Expect some learning curves and unless Gibson reverts back to his peak form, expect this team to finish near the bottom of the West and likely close to bottom five in the league too.