2014/15 NHL Season Preview – Anaheim Ducks

http://cdn3-www.hockeysfuture.com/assets/uploads/2014/03/john_gibson_anaheim_011114.jpg

2013/14 Season Record – 1st in Western Conference, 1st in Pacific Division

W

L OT PTS

GOAL DIFF.

54 20 8 116

+60

2013/14 Season Recap

Setting: Honda Center, Anaheim. Cheers turned to stunned silence, a Game 7 encounter seemingly fabricated from the most vivid of hockey nightmares; a young goaltender put brutally to the sword, his conquerors physically imposing and possessing an irrefutable resolution of the mind.

Tears rolled unapologetically down the cheeks of an orange and black-clad crowd as they bade farewell to one of the game’s greatest and kindest – their hero not as many hoped, waving back from beneath the joyous weight of Sir Stanley’s cup; an ending of pure immortality. There simply was no picturesque way to say “näkemiin” to Teemu Selanne or upon reflection, any way to say goodbye at all, but the Kings were far too strong, far too Quick and carried a storm of indomitable will at their backs – one that would lend itself to achieving ultimate glory for the second time in three years.

For Bruce Boudreau and the Ducks, a dream-shattering 6-2 Game Seven blowout and postseason exit left nothing but a bitter taste and questions of ‘what might have been?’ on the tip of every post-match reporter’s tongue – however, the ashes curdling in the mouths of fans were subtly different to those from a year previous.

No, the vanilla first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Red Wings the year before had left an overriding sense of underachievement and paid homage to the miraculous invisibility act of superstar Corey Perry – but this was so very different, like glimpsing a shimmering speck of light on the darkest of days…a trace of cautious optimism. The ‘Big Guys’, Getzlaf and Perry had given their heart, soul and talent to the epic clashes – and even left a few teeth in Texas the round before. Then there was the real spark, the play of youngsters such as John Gibson in net and Hampus Lindholm on the blue-line, naive and wondrous to watch, coated pearls buried in the depths of limitless potential.

The Kings had stalked their prey; a wily pack of wolves, hungry, grizzled and devastatingly clinical. To put it simply, there was no shame in the Ducks’ Conference Semi-Final defeat, LA would go on to repeat the feat against the defending champion Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Conference Final – a barnstorming match-up that had us all dangerously breathless, before eventually outclassing the Rangers to take it all.

For Anaheim, last year was once more a tale of regular season prowess, record-breaking form at home and goal-scoring superiority, unmatched by what followed (The Boudreau Trademark if you will). Once more short of their Stanley Cup target – not even the gloriously fading light of Selanne could ignite a repeat of 2007 and the neighbours from along the bustling freeway, with Carter, Williams and Gaborik, paint a startling and horrifying comparison when it comes to effervescent crunch-time.

Narrative to a close, a young and inexperienced team froze under the brightest of spotlights but still managed an important step forward in their playoff life-span, meaning the future is distinctly orange. Purveyors of advanced stats will tell us smugly that the Ducks’ possession and face-off numbers meant that this was always going to be the outcome, but the ‘Freeway Series’ – pitting Californian power-houses against each-other in a titanic battle of speed and strength – ended up a lot closer than most ever imagined it would.

Once the dismal clouds of the final act dissipate, we can truly reflect on the Ducks’ season. Anaheim finished one point away from having their beaks all over the Presidents’ Trophy and only finished a single goal behind the Blackhawks for the mantle of top-scorers. The bulk of this offence once more came from line-mates Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, both of whom finished in the top five of NHL scoring, a vital return for the latter after an ‘out of sorts’ campaign the year before.

Biggest surprises were Cam Fowler, who began realising some of his enormous potential and chipped in with 15 points on the power-play and Ben Lovejoy, who rose from rejection by the Penguins to have an outstanding season with the Ducks, playing plenty of tough minutes each night and ending on a +21 differential. Frederik Andersen’s rookie season also had plenty of fireworks (.923 Save % in 28 games) and along with the emergence of John Gibson, sealed Jonas Hiller’s departure.

Projected Roster

LW C

RW

Patrick Maroon

Ryan Getzlaf Corey Perry
Matt Beleskey Ryan Kesler

Jakob Silfverberg

Kyle Palmieri

Andrew Cogliano Dany Heatley
Tim Jackman Nate Thompson

Devante Smith-Pelly/Emerson Etem

 

LD

RD
Francois Beauchemin

Hampus Lindholm

Cam Fowler

Ben Lovejoy
Clayton Stoner

Sami Vatanen

 

G

Frederik Andersen

John Gibson

 

EXTRAS

Bryan Allen (D)

Mark Fistric (D)

Top Call-Up Options

Forward

Louis Leblanc

Defense

 Jesse Blacker
Goal  Jason Labarbera

 

Top Prospects

1. Nick Ritchie

2. Rickard Rakell

3. Shea Theodore

Key Additions

  • Ryan Kesler (C) (from VAN)
  • Dany Heatley (RW) (UFA)
  • Nate Thompson (C) (from TB)

Key Subtractions

  • Teemu Selanne (RW) (Retired)
  • Saku Koivu (C) (UFA)
  • Jonas Hiller (G) (UFA)
  • Nick Bonino (C) (to VAN)
  • Luca Sbisa (D) (to VAN)
  • Mathieu Perreault (C) (UFA)

Roster Thoughts:

This is an incredibly strong team, though for me, the defence is still short of one all-round skater – one of the youngsters could conceivably render this pointless with a strong start. Areas of real weakness for the Ducks last season were the power-play and face-offs; introducing: Ryan Kesler. Beating out offers from Pittsburgh and Chicago to acquire the veteran center from Vancouver was the pivotal moment of the off-season for Anaheim, he will add grit and physicality at the second-line center spot, hopefully continuing his power-play and superb face-off numbers, easing the pressure a little off that top-line, who have often had to shoulder far too much responsibility when it comes to supplying offence.

It was disappointing to see Nick Bonino head the other way, as he was on an upward-trend, but the Ducks have undoubtedly killed more than a few birds with the same stone as far as bringing Kesler aboard goes, assuming his 30-year old body – which has racked up about a thousand miles – doesn’t deteriorate too quickly.

The acquisition of Dany Heatley – once a 50-goal scorer in the NHL – was another savvy move, again primarily to boost that horrendous power-play, though questions of whether his legs have completely gone still need to be answered and the Ducks will miss Selanne’s leadership in the dressing room this year – perhaps even more than on the ice.

The element of the roster that seems most overlooked is the fourth-line, which I think features a tremendous balance of security and excitement. Nate Thompson was a wonderful addition, adding experience and a good face-off skill-set to the bottom six, not to mention helping out a penalty-kill that ranked 13th in the NHL last season. One of the real highlights for Ducks’ fans this year will be watching the continuing emergence of Devante Smith-Pelly, Emerson Etem and Rickard Rakell, expect all of these to be involved throughout the season and their contributions may be priceless.

Key Player:

John Gibson. Perhaps a little odd for me to pick a rookie goaltender who will most likely start the season behind Frederik Andersen, but this kid is something special. His presence, his movement and reading of the game are far beyond his years; expect huge things because I know the Ducks do. Calder Trophy candidate?

2014/15 Expectations:

The Ducks play in a tough division and conference, no doubt about that, but with areas that were weak having been strengthened by new players, they are a certainty to make the playoffs this year barring some apocalyptic intervention.

Can they remove the postseason Bruce Boudreau shackles? Moving beyond that will depend on whether one of the young goal-tending tandem has emerged as a legitimate starter and their young defencemen moving up another level in their play. The one thing that could derail their challenge, injuries to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, because although the Ducks have incredible depth as an organisation, the reality is no-one in the NHL is that deep.

Follow Sam on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

RECENT ARTICLES:

28 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s