By Adam Brady
He’s still more than 24 hours away from his first home game in a Ducks uniform, but 27-year-old forward Dan Winnik is already a fan favorite. That will happen when you score two goals in each of the team’s first two games, helping Anaheim to a 2-0 record to start the campaign.
Winnik, who signed with the Ducks as a free agent last summer after splitting last season between Colorado and San Jose, was thrust into a third-line role with Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano right out of camp. And it’s quickly paid off, as the unit combined for 14 points in those first two games, while also playing solidly in their own end.
It was back in camp that coach Bruce Boudreau showed faith in Winnik, saying, “I know he’s a good defensive player. If you look at him, just statistically, you wouldn’t think that he’s got a lot of goals. But he had a lot of chances last year.
“I talked to a few people. He was either snake bitten or hit posts of whatever. It didn’t go in. He’s a guy that is going to be pretty dependable. And I think I can put him in most situations.”
The 6-2, 201-pound Winnik has earned that faith so far, and talked about his hot start following a practice leading up to Friday’s home opener against Vancouver.
Is it weird to be a fan favorite already?
It is weird, not having played a game in Anaheim yet. But four goals in two games, I guess that’s somewhat to be expected.
Have any of the guys reacted to you being an unlikely team leader in goals?
Yeah, we’ve chuckled about it. It hasn’t been as bad as people might imagine though.
You were actually leading the league in goals after the Calgary game.
Yeah, after that game someone asked me what it meant to be tied with [Marian] Hossa for the league lead. [Laughs] The goal-scorers are gonna score goals. They’re gonna lead the league. Our third line has obviously scored more than what’s expected. But we’re there to do our job, play well defensively and do our job offensively, have good shifts in the offensive zone and change some momentum. That’s what a third line has to do.
Why do you think the three of you have been able to jell so quickly?
In camp, even though it was only five days, we seemed to mesh well right away. We would have line meetings with Sak and Cogs, and I would talk about where I liked to be in the offensive zone, off rushes and everything like that. So, it was all about talking about where we would be on certain plays and you get used to it. It stays in your mindset, and you get used to playing with each other. I think that’s the reason we’ve been so successful so far.
You didn’t have a lot of time to get to know the guys before camp, did you?
I came to town late Wednesday night before the Sunday camp. So, I skated with guys Thursday, Friday and Saturday before camp started. I knew Cogs from before, and I worked out with Devo in the summer in Toronto. But that was about it. I lived with Cam in Newport Beach for a little bit when I first got here, but now I’ve got my own place on the peninsula.
What was the appeal of coming to Anaheim when you were a free agent last summer?
Obviously the weather is a nice perk. But I always thought it was a good team, when you have guys like Teemu, Bobby, Getzy and Perry. They’re always solid, and Jonas has been a top goalie in this league. You can’t look at last year and say this team is on a downturn, because they were phenomenal under Bruce. That was one of the reasons for coming here, and I thought there were opportunities in the lineup to play. It’s always been a strong team, and they’ll bounce back.
Bruce said near the beginning of camp that he’d heard you were a guy who can score a lot of goals, but you’ve had some bad luck in that department. Is that accurate?
Yeah, I think so. Former teammates and I have a joke about that, the amount of posts I’ve hit, the unlucky breaks I’ve had. I’ve gone on some slides in past years, maybe gripping the stick a little too much. One of my focuses this summer was focusing on scoring when I had the chance, and not worry so much about getting back defensively. It’s important, but I think that’s been a problem in the past, focusing on that a little too much. Hopefully it keeps going.
You’re a veteran guy, but with the home opener tomorrow night, do you still get pumped for those kinds of games?
You always do. Even for the first game of the season on the road, everyone was jacked up for that game in Vancouver. We kind of pounced in it with Vancouver so amped up for that game. Sometimes you need to conserve some of that excitement for games like that. But we’re definitely ready to go.
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