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Anaheim Ducks 2023-24 NHL Season Preview

Anaheim Ducks

Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry were two of the only bright spots for the Ducks in a dismal 2022-23 season. Can they lead Anaheim to brighter pastures this year? (John Cordes / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Anaheim Ducks
Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry were two of the only bright spots for the Ducks in a dismal 2022-23 season. Can they lead Anaheim to brighter pastures this year? (John Cordes / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Anaheim Ducks 2023-24 NHL Season Preview

What was supposed to be a relatively normal 2022-23 season turned into a historic one for the Anaheim Ducks — for all the wrong reasons. After fading in the second half of 2021-22, the Ducks looked like a middle-of-the-pack team after a slew of good but not great additions.

Instead, the Ducks were a total disaster from the moment the puck dropped. After winning their opening game, Anaheim lost seven straight and never looked back. Their first regulation win didn’t come until Nov. 23. While a few players at the top of the lineup held their own, the new additions never gelled and the depth cratered. It culminated in the league’s worst record and the worst season by points percentage in franchise history.

However, GM Pat Verbeek didn’t sit on his hands over the summer. The Ducks changed coaches, dropped jaws at the draft and dove into the deep end of the free-agent pool for the second straight summer. Anaheim has a long way to go to return to relevance. But they should be able to at least close some of that gap this season.

Projected Lineup (via Daily Faceoff)

Adam HenriqueTrevor Zegras (RFA)Troy Terry
Alex KillornMason McTavishRyan Strome
Frank VatranoLeo CarlssonJakob Silfverberg
Max JonesBenoit-Olivier GroulxBrett Leason
Bold = New Addition; Italics = Rookie
Cam FowlerJamie Drysdale (RFA)
Jackson LaCombeRadko Gudas
Robert HäggIlya Lyubushkin
John GibsonLukáš Dostál

New Faces

The league’s worst team usually doesn’t make many offseason headlines, especially for making additions. The Ducks apparently didn’t get that memo. Their summer began with a bang, as the Ducks bypassed projected No. 2 pick Adam Fantilli to select Leo Carlsson. The Swede is a bit older than Fantilli and certainly isn’t lacking skill. But taking that kind of leap can define a GM’s tenure — for better or for worse.

Physicality was the theme of the Ducks’ approach in free-agency. Anaheim’s two biggest additions, Alex Killorn and Radko Gudas, are far from afraid to throw the body. They also bring a winning pedigree with them. Killorn was a key part of Tampa Bay’s Cup wins in 2020 and 2021, and Gudas played a top-four role in Florida’s Final run in 2023.

They’re good players, but their fit on Anaheim’s roster is questionable. The Ducks aren’t exactly a win-now team, yet they threw $6.25 million at Killorn until he’s 37 and $4 million at Gudas until he’s 36. Culture is important, but it shouldn’t be the selling point of pricey contracts. By the time Anaheim is ready to turn the corner, Killorn and Gudas may not be of much help.

Robert Hägg and Ilya Lyubushkin fit with the physical, defense-first mandate. Lyubushkin had a pretty strong 2021-22 split between Arizona and Toronto but was the odd-man out in Buffalo. Hägg reunites with Gudas from their days in Philadelphia; the two played together frequently for the Flyers, but their overlapping playstyles mean they’re better separate. Troy Terry signing a seven-year, $49 million deal in the offseason is well-deserved after his breakout over the last two seasons and locks in a key building block for the long haul.

Three Players to Watch

  1. John Gibson — It’s no secret Gibson is not happy with how things have transpired in recent years. Once universally regarded as one of the league’s top goaltenders, Gibson’s game has fallen off just as rapidly as the team around him. Part of that is due to playing behind one of the league’s worst defenses. But here are Gibson’s rankings in Goals Saved Above Expected over the last four seasons: 100th, 112th, 72nd, 82nd. Both sides are probably better off with Gibson moving on, but he needs to show that he’s worth the $6.4 million cap hit he carries through 2026-27.
  2. Jamie Drysdale — The 2020 No. 6 pick played in just eight games last season due to shoulder surgery. He put up a solid 32 points in his first full NHL season in 2021-22 and is an incredibly smooth skater. Anaheim has some solid defense prospects in their pipeline, but none have the upside of Drysdale. Perhaps nothing better could happen for the Ducks this season than for Drysdale to prove he’s still on the path to become a true No. 1 blueliner.
  3. Ryan Strome — All of the Ducks’ free agent signings last summer struggled in their first year in Anaheim. But none bombed worse than Strome, who put up his worst scoring output since 2018-19 and was one of the league’s biggest defensive blackholes. His season was so dismal it earned him a spot on Dom Luszczyszyn’s list of the league’s 10 worst contracts. With the Rangers, Strome proved he could be a quality second-line center. A return to anywhere close to that form would be a much needed morale boost for both player and team.

Riser and Faller

Riser: While most players on the Ducks roster were stagnating or taking a step backward, Mason McTavish put up 43 points in a season strong enough to earn him a seventh-place finish in Calder Trophy voting. It certainly wasn’t all perfect. McTavish’s underlying numbers, though positive relative to his teammates, could definitely be better (43.06% Corsi, 41.91% xG). But he flashed the skill you’d expect from a top-three pick. Now, likely with Killorn alongside him to help, it’s time to put it all together.

Faller: Max Jones was once part of a trio of highly touted prospects that were supposed to bridge the gap between the Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry era and their next run of success. Now, Max Comtois and Sam Steel are gone, with the team deeming them unworthy of qualifying offers over the last two offseasons. The 25-year-old 2016 1st round pick could meet a similar fate in 2024 if he doesn’t take a step forward. Jones has yet to score so much as 10 goals in a season. And his underlying numbers last year were nothing to write home about. With the next wave of Ducks prospects on the horizon, Jones could be bumped out of the picture if he doesn’t take a step forward this season.

The Big Question

How much of last year’s struggles were due to coaching? It was clear very early last season that Dallas Eakins‘ days were numbered. In fact, he probably wouldn’t have survived the season if Anaheim very clearly wasn’t content with maximizing its chances of chasing Connor Bedard. Greg Cronin, who is taking over behind the bench, did a nice job as head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles. But as Eakins proved, AHL success isn’t guaranteed to translate.

Cronin will have a long leash; the Ducks know they aren’t ready to contend this season (or next). But he needs to at least restore some good vibes to a team that seemingly felt like almost every game last season was a punishment. Coming to terms with Trevor Zegras is a “when, not if” situation, although it will be interesting to see if they settle for bridge deals or make a long-term commitment like Terry.

Revisit where the Ducks were heading into last offseason.

The Verdict

Adding a second-line forward and a No. 4 defenseman isn’t going to make up the cataclysmic gap separating the Ducks from a playoff spot. Nor will the development of key young players like McTavish, Drysdale and Leo Carlsson. But it shouldn’t be hard for the Ducks to have a successful season for their standards. It will be nearly impossible for things to tailspin as bad as they did a year ago. Granted, even pushing for a wild card spot would be just as unlikely. However, Anaheim should at least see glimpses of a bright future in 2023-24.

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Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick and; Contracts via CapFriendly

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