The Anaheim Ducks will be featured 14 times on US national TV this upcoming season. Several other teams are tied at that number, and only Minnesota and the Rangers have more national games, at 15. The Ducks didn’t make the playoffs last year, and by most accounts, won’t do so again this season. So why all the attention?
It would be nice to say it was on account of their young guys being poised for breakouts, but that’s probably a bit ambitious, even though they’ve got the hockey-est of hockey guys, Pat Verbeek, running the show as GM now. And they do have some youthful talent, no doubt.
But the real reason, as anyone who has followed hockey can tell you, is that one just never knows when Trevor Zegras will pull another trick goal, surprising everyone and guaranteeing eyeballs, something any league wants. However, look past Zegras and his (not unappreciated) antics, and you’ll see some real potential, albeit still emerging.
Youth in Anaheim is both a promise and a possible curse. The Ducks’ youngest stars, Zegras, Jamie Drysdale, and Troy Terry, are each, in their way, expected to move up their game. For Terry, the question is whether he’s on a forward trajectory after scoring 37 goals and 67 points last, season, or whether that was one-time brilliance. Last year, it felt like he had shifted his mindset and ensured that he would continue as a points leader on the team, not like it was a fluke or one-off.
For Zegras, the question is how well his complete game develops, to build on his star power and marketability. Also up for question is who he’ll play with after Sonny Milano’s time with the Ducks ended. It was this duo who made the famous flip over the net pass (Zegras) and bat it in (Milano) play against Buffalo.
Mason McTavish also tantalizes as the next great young NHLer, drafted #3 overall in 2021. He spent his requisite nine games with the Ducks last year, going 2-1-3, but his most famous moment of late was batting a puck away from the net to preserve the World Junior final game so that Canada could eventually gain the gold medal.
Let’s not forget Isac Lundestrom, whose point average last year improved considerably on his prior numbers. In 80 games, he went 16-13-29. Funny but those weren’t far off of Milano’s numbers (66 games, 14-20-34), but he’s on a PTO contract in Calgary’s camp after the Ducks didn’t extend him a qualifying offer.
These young forwards will now be balanced off by Ryan Strome (621 NHL games) and Frank Vatrano (401 games). Both signed in the off season, and each is signed until at least 2025 (Strome 2027). Of course, streaky Adam Henrique and fan favorite Jakob Silfverberg are still there to hopefully provide some leadership.
For Drysdale, who spent more time on ice against the Ducks’ top opponents than any other Ducks’ D-man last year, the question is whether, with a little more shielding, he can continue to grow his confidence. At times, especially when the Ducks gave up Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson in trades midway through last season, Drysdale was a man on an island, though with big, scary opposing forwards coming at him. He handled himself with poise, but there were times when it all looked too much, too fast. He’ll adjust, but getting comfortable by having experienced blueliners like John Klingberg and Dmirty Kulikov will balance out the group.
All that said, a couple of questions linger: How interested will goalie John Gibson be in salvaging victory from defeat on a nightly basis? He has started the season well in the past couple of years, only to unravel somewhere north of the team’s 50th game. No wonder—trading away your strongest defenders is going to make the goalie’s job a lot more stressful.
And finally: Who leads now that Ryan Getzlaf is retired? Captain for over a decade, Getzlaf always took a measured approach to things. Talking to him after a loss, you could always tell he was seething underneath, but he always remained poised, and he never leveled any blame he didn’t also shoulder on himself. The team has said that they aren’t giving anyone the “C” this year. A rotating core of A’s will instead share the job of leading.
What will happen as this year in Anaheim goes on? Probably some magic, certainly some stumbles, both from a team that has to take the long view.