30 in 15: Ducks Look to Fly Higher

Sunday, 09.29.2013 / 2:51 PM

By NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

Having won the Stanley Cup in 2007, watching his Anaheim Ducks lose to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs certainly wasn't the ideal situation for general manager Bob Murray.

However, he was able to find positives in a season that saw the team return to the postseason after a one-season hiatus, and win its first division title since the 2007 Cup season.

"Our younger players, while it would have been nice to have another round, got some really quality playoff time and played very, very well for us," Murray told NHL.com. "That's a giant plus for us, that they were there and they got to experience playing a great team like the Detroit Red Wings.

"I don't look at any negatives from that -- except we lost."

This season the team will do its best to eliminate any negatives.

FORWARD

Two-thirds of the Ducks' big line returns intact, as Ryan Getzlaf will be in the middle of the first line with Corey Perry at right wing.

Perry was solid last season with 15 goals and 36 points in 44 games, and after a rough 2011-12, Getzlaf bounced back with a team-high 49 points in 44 games.

"The year I struggled I had my first child, I was newly married and all the other stuff that I dealt with away from the rink. I think that was a part of it," Getzlaf said of a 2011-12 season in which he scored a career-low 11 goals. "And I was a new captain at that point, and you're dealing with all the stuff you have to learn. That season, me and my wife had to learn how to have a child and [me] be away. I felt a lot of times that I was guilty of being away from my family and not seeing a lot of my son's initial stuff. I remember the first time he walked, I watched it on my phone."

Murray also believed Getzlaf learned to handle his role as captain better.

"Being the captain, I think sometimes he overthinks it a little bit," Murray said. "Last year he didn't overthink at all."

While the forward ranks are stocked with talent beyond the big two, the biggest question is who fills the top-line left-wing spot left vacant by the trade of Bobby Ryan to the Ottawa Senators.

There are plenty of options for coach Bruce Boudreau, but the leading candidate could be someone with a history with the Ducks' top duo.

Dustin Penner, who returned to the team this summer as a free agent, will get the first shot to play on the top line. During the 2007 Cup run, Penner, Perry and Getzlaf formed the Ducks' most productive line, combining for 16 of the team's 58 goals.

"They enjoyed playing together," Murray said. "You don't know if the chemistry will still be there or not. There's been lots of guys moving in and out of that spot over the years. Dustin has done just as well as anyone else has there, probably better, because that line was very good in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that year. That's definitely in Bruce's and my mind."

If the Penner experiment doesn't work, other options for that spot could be Kyle Palmieri, speedy 2010 first-round pick Emerson Etem and Jakob Silfverberg, part of the return from Ottawa in the Ryan trade.

If Penner gets the coveted spot alongside Getzlaf and Perry, the Ducks could have a second line of 20-somethings Nick Bonino and Silfverberg with 43-year-old right wing Teemu Selanne, who announced last month he would return for a 21st and final NHL season.

Selanne certainly hasn't slowed with age, as his 12 goals last season were fourth on the team, his 25 points ranked fifth and he played 46 of 48 games.

"He can still skate like the wind," Getzlaf told NHL.com. "It's pretty incredible. He can rejuvenate himself from last season and be back in form."

Saku Koivu also signed on for one more season. He'll center the third line, flanked potentially by Andrew Cogliano and Palmieri. Cogliano had a strong season, with 13 goals, 23 points and a personal-best plus-14 rating.

Competing for the fourth-line center spot likely will be a pair of first-round picks, Peter Holland (2009) and Rickard Rakell (2011), each of whom got some time to showcase themselves last season.

DEFENSEMEN

It will be a bit of a patchwork at the start, with Sheldon Souray out possibly until January, Francois Beauchemin working his way back from knee surgery and Luca Sbisa recovering from a sprained ankle sustained during the preseason.

That puts pressure on Cam Fowler, 21, to rediscover the form from his rookie season, when he had 10 goals and 40 points in 76 games. He had 11 points and a minus-4 rating in 37 games last season.

"I don't want to put pressure that yes, Cam, you have to be the guy this year. But ... it's his fourth year. I think that he's no longer a rookie," Boudreau told the Orange County Register. "You can only hope that, if the last 10 games of the season and the playoffs are an indication of whether he's ready to be going, then I would think that he's a guy that we're really counting on to step up and be the guy that we think Cam can be."

Fowler understands this is a big season for him.

"I've certainly had my ups and downs," he told the Orange County Register. "I'm a fourth-year player now. It doesn't matter about my age. I have experience in this League and I need to go out there and prove it."

Fowler won't be alone in leading the defense. Ben Lovejoy had 10 assists, a plus-6 rating and averaged more than 18 minutes per game in 32 games after being acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins. That performance earned him a three-year contract this summer.

Bryan Allen and Sbisa, who could be available for the season-opener Oct. 2 at the Colorado Avalanche, could form a second pair.

Hampus Lindholm, the sixth pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, has had an outstanding preseason, with three goals in four games, and could earn a full-time roster spot. He spent last season with the Ducks' American Hockey League team in Norfolk, and had 11 points and a plus-5 rating despite sustaining a pair of concussions that limited him to 44 games.

Also competing for a roster spot are Mark Fistric, Nolan Yonkman and Sami Vatanen, who made his NHL debut last season.

GOALTENDING

The Ducks will go with the same formula they used so successfully last season, with Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth splitting time. Fasth had a dazzling start to his NHL career, winning his first eight decisions and filling in admirably while Hiller worked through injuries early in the season. He finished the season 15-6-2 with a 2.18 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and four shutouts in 25 games.

Hiller came on strong late when Fasth started to fizzle, going 7-2-3 in March and then playing strong in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2.46 goals-against average and one shutout in seven games against the Red Wings.

"I love the way our goaltending was last year," Murray said. "They picked each other up. When one would be banged up, the other guy would carry the ball for a while. They get along very well. I think we have good goaltending and we have good young goaltending coming."

The good young goaltending Murray referred to is John Gibson. The 20-year-old will start his professional career this season in the AHL, but likely won't need much seasoning. He backstopped the United States to the gold medal at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, winning the tournament's MVP and best goalkeeper award. He followed that by playing five games for the U.S. at the 2013 IIHF World Championship, winning three games, including a five-round shootout to win the bronze-medal game.

Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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