By John Ahlers
Ducks TV Play-by-Play Announcer
The 2013 NHL “Dash for Cash” – better known as the abbreviated 48-game regular season –
presents a list of intangibles unlike any season we’ve seen in quite some time. Each of the league’s 30 rosters will be sprinkled with players who have not played a game in anywhere from six to nine months, to those who have played sparingly or those who are literally in mid-season form. While the Ducks are no exception, their shortened training camp leaves them little time and no game action to make roster determinations.
Up front, the usual suspects return among the top-six forwards, with some familiar questions lingering. Ryan Getzlaf returns to center the top line which will include 2011 Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry on his right side. But who mans the left wing remains to be seen.
Bobby Ryan, the familiar wing man of that trio, could find himself playing on Bruce Boudreau’s new-look second line with the face of the franchise, Teemu Selanne opposite him. The pivot of that group could be a fresh face, as Boudreau appears to want Saku Koivu to be in the middle on his third line, where he is likely to be joined by Andrew Cogliano. So, and stop me if you’ve heard these before, but who are the candidates to skate with the big two and center the second line?
Before we address those inquiries, remember that Boudreau wants to roll all four of his lines as much as possible in an attempt to get production from more than just the top two units and to create match-up problems for opponents. So while a third line role for Koivu and Cogliano may reduce their ice time, it is not seen as a demotion.
As for potential top-line candidates, they include former first-round pick and AHL sniper Kyle Palmieri and offseason free agent addition Daniel Winnik. Palmieri has shown the offensive flair to potentially fit in nicely with the Ducks’ top skill forwards and is another right-hand shot. The left-shooting Winnik is a good skater with good size whose career-high 11 goals in Phoenix in 2007-08 may only be a testament to opportunities, or lack thereof.
Meanwhile, the search for a second-line center could give great opportunity to some of the Ducks’ youth coming up through the organization. Nick Bonino could be ready for a long look in between goal scorers Ryan and Selanne, and if that’s not the answer, Boudreau could try Peter Holland there. Having just turned 22 this month, Holland has been a consistent point producer this season with the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals and has a slight size advantage over Bonino, who put up large numbers playing in Italy during the lockout.
Rounding out the third and fourth lines will likely be Winnik and Holland (if they don’t land higher) and any of a group including physical free agent addition Brad Staubitz, 20-year-old Devante Smith-Pelly and hard-shooting Matt Beleskey. Depth, always a concern – especially in a shortened year with virtually no training camp – will be a huge factor. So count on seeing others from Norfolk, such as Patrick Maroon (a tantalizingly large forward with good hands) and perhaps Emerson Etem, the former first-round pick from Long Beach now playing his first AHL regular season.
On defense there are several new additions, and they will be noticeable because they’ll be impossible to ignore. The Ducks got bigger on the blueline with the signings of free agents Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen. The 6-4, 237-pound Souray is renowned for his huge shot from the point that will give Anaheim a power play wrinkle they have not enjoyed in recent seasons. The 6-5, 226-pound Allen is a shot blocker in the same realm as Toni Lydman and Francois Beauchemin who will add beef and grit to the Ducks defense corps.
Another year wiser are 21-year-old Cam Fowler and soon-to-be 23-year-old Luca Sbisa, who figure to benefit greatly from the addition of Scott Niedermayer to the Ducks coaching staff. The only right-hand shot in the group is Nate Guenin, who played solidly in limited minutes last season in Anaheim while Jordan Hendry was an offseason depth addition. Intriguing young prospects include the undersized-yet-offensive Sami Vatanen and last June’s first-round selection Hampus Lindholm, who are each nursing injuries at the moment but could be called upon.
In goal the conversation is a short one: Jonas Hiller. The sixth-year man from Switzerland started 32 straight games for Boudreau last year when the Ducks were desperately looking to get into the playoffs, and this truncated regular season will see much of the same. There is a new backup in town though, as Viktor Fasth was signed out of Sweden, where he was named that nation’s Elite League Goalie of the Year the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Jeff Deslauriers, who saw action in four games with the Ducks last season, returns to the organization.
So whether it’s players with 40+ games under their belt at the AHL level, 10-20 games in Europe or none, it’s time to get ready to play. Those 48 games in 99 days will go by quickly, and certainly take a toll. Depth, conditioning and injuries are just some of the intangibles that will decide every team’s fate this season.
Frankly, I can’t wait. And thankfully, now we don’t have to.
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