NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
The Anaheim Ducks made sure last season that their 13th place finish in the Western Conference in 2011-12 was just a bump in the road, as they rode a 7-1-1 start to a Pacific Division title and a second-place finish in the Western Conference.
However, the season didn't have the ending anyone wanted, as they lost in the Western Conference Quarterfinals to the seventh-seeded Detroit Red Wings, losing in Game 7 at Honda Center.
The Ducks opted to bring back most of last season's roster, including future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne, who will play one final season.
However, there are questions the Ducks must answer to make sure they're able to sustain the same level of play that got them so high in the standings last season.
1. Will a return to Anaheim rejuvenate Dustin Penner? -- The last time Penner played a meaningful game in an Anaheim Ducks sweater, it ended with him carrying the Stanley Cup. That was more than six years ago, but the hope is a return to a familiar spot -- including a chance to rejoin Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on a line -- can bring back the old Penner.
"I talked to Pens [Penner] a lot before we signed him," Getzlaf told NHL.com. "That was a big part of signing him, making sure that Pens was motivated to play and get back to proving he was the player that he was. … I think he'll be able to come back to Anaheim and settle into where he's a little more comfortable. He's got a house and all that other stuff is behind him."
The hope is Penner can slide into the top-line left-wing spot left vacant when Bobby Ryan was traded to the Ottawa Senators this summer.
"He'll never have a greater opportunity to play with players of the caliber of Ryan and Corey," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau told ESPN.com. "It's all up to him. We want it to work, but in the end, he's going to have to be the one that produces and shows that he deserves to be on that line."
If Penner doesn't work there, Boudreau will have other options, among them Kyle Palmieri, who started a game on the top line during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season; Emerson Etem, who played up and down the lineup and is a natural left wing; and Jakob Silfverberg, who came back from Ottawa in the Ryan trade.
"It's going to be a hell of a dogfight in our training camp to see who comes out playing," Ducks general manager Bob Murray told NHL.com.
2. What does the team do on defense? -- The early part of training camp has not been kind to the Ducks. Already missing Francois Beauchemin while he recovers from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, the team has lost Sheldon Souray for 3-5 months with a torn ligament in his right wrist and Luca Sbisa for at least two weeks due to a sprained ankle.
The hope is Sbisa can return for the season opener, Oct. 2 at the Colorado Avalanche, but Souray certainly won't be there, and Beauchemin is questionable. The latter two veterans were the team's biggest offensive producers from the blue line last season, and were plus-19 each.
That puts extra pressure on 21-year-old Cam Fowler, entering his fourth season and looking to get back to the level he reached as a rookie, when he had 10 goals and 40 points in 76 games.
He's also starting a five-year contract that will pay him $4 million per season.
"I've had kind of a grace period," Fowler told the Orange County Register. "I've certainly had my ups and downs. 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."
"I don't want to put pressure that yes, Cam, you have to be the guy this year," coach Bruce Boudreau told the Orange County Register. "But … it's his fourth year. I think that he's no longer a rookie. He's played about 150, 160 games in the NHL now. I think he's comfortable. His body is starting to grow into a man's body right now. 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 highly on to step up and be the guy that we think Cam can be. And the guy he thinks he can be."
3. Will there be a Stanley Cup Playoffs hangover? -- The Ducks took a 3-2 series lead against the Red Wings, but lost in overtime in Game 6 (after rallying from a 3-1 deficit to force overtime), and then lost in Game 7 at home.
However, Ducks general manager Bob Murray said he only had positives to take out of the experience. Because of that, he's not worried about any negative carryover from last season creeping into the team's thought process for the 2013-14 season.
"I think we got beat by a team that had been injured all year long but was getting healthy and was a very veteran, experienced playoff team," Murray told NHL.com. "I looked at it as some of our younger players, while it would have been nice to have another round, got some really quality playoff time and our younger players played very, very well for us. 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 form that -- except we lost."
Getzlaf said he hopes his teammates use the loss as anger and motivation.
"I think it's a combination of both," he told NHL.com. "I've been in some situations where I've lost some big games and I think I've learned a lot from those and I'm hoping guys that haven't been there, that haven't lost that Game 7 before, can take the same things out of it to motivate themselves."
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
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