NHL 2022 Offseason Guide: The Anaheim Ducks
Even though the Anaheim Ducks missed the playoffs for the fourth time in as many years and earned a bottom-ten position in the standings, this was not just another year in the doldrums for the Ducks. There was optimism to make the playoffs due to a surprisingly good start; the Ducks posted a 17-10-7 record from the beginning of the season to New Years’ Eve. That was good enough for ninth best in the league, even including an eight-game win streak.
Sadly, that success did not carry over into 2022. From January 1st onwards, the Ducks earned only 35 standings points in 48 games. Their .73 points/games played rate ranked third-worst in the NHL over that time. In hindsight, Anaheim’s second-half play is probably much closer to what this team was than its first-half emergence. But a fanbase that was sick of watching a perennial basement-dweller three years running was mesmerized by such huge improvements.
Following allegations of workplace misconduct, executive vice president and general manager Bob Murray resigned on November 10th, ending a tenure two days short of 13 years. This opened the door for the hiring of the sixth general manager in Anaheim Ducks history, Pat Verbeek. With a little over seven weeks before the trade deadline, he quickly set to work assessing the team and deciding his course of action. The deadline confirmed that plan involved taking a step back to (hopefully) take a step forward. Verbeek traded away some of the most familiar names on the roster, bringing back a bevy of draft picks and players.
His work is far from over though, with the draft quickly approaching and free agency not long after; Verbeek will have plenty of difficult decisions to make if he wants to kick the Ducks’ transition from rebuilder to contender into overdrive.
The Anaheim Ducks roster would look very good if one was equipped with a crystal ball and the ability to see years into the future; however, as it is currently constructed, this is a team with budding young talent that is surrounded by far too few complementary pieces.
Trevor Zegras: Highlight Reel Machine
Let’s begin with easily the most well-known player on the Anaheim Ducks these days, Calder Trophy finalist Trevor Zegras. At just 21 years old, Zegras showed up for his rookie campaign ready to play. Zegras finished the season as the Ducks’ leading assist man and second-leading scorer (23-38=61), behind Troy Terry. He showed off his eye-catching skill by walking defenseman on the rush, hitting his teammates with creative passes, lasering home one-timers on the power play, and churning out highlight-reel dekes and dangles all season long. Most notably he scored with the “Michigan” lacrosse-style move twice. Only two other players have pulled that move off in NHL history. And he assisted on a goal with a pass to Sonny Milano, now affectionately called the “Dish-igan”. He’s already emerging as Anaheim’s future No. 1 center as an elite offensive weapon, if he’s not that already.
Troy Terry’s Breakout Season
This season also saw the emergence of Troy Terry. The 24-year-old stepped into a larger role in 2021-22, leading the team in both goals and points (37-30=67). Terry considerably increased his shot rate from last season, from 1.44 to 2.56 shots per game. However, he was scoring on those shots at a 19.3% clip, a rate that will most likely regress next season. Terry continues to be one of the Ducks’ best defensive contributors. Using Defensive Point Share, a statistic that measures a player’s defensive play with regard to standings points, Terry contributed 1.5 standings points to the Ducks’ season. That was the second-highest Defensive Point Share by a forward on the team, trailing Isac Lundeström by only 0.1. If he can maintain the scoring success he had, he will be a two-way mainstay in the Ducks’ top six.
John Gibson Drama
Also of note this season, was John Gibson and his once again up-and-down performance throughout the year. Gibson is entering the fourth year of an eight-year deal he signed when Anaheim was still contending for the Stanley Cup. Since signing that deal the Ducks have fallen far, and it is clear that the frustration of losing the prime of his career is getting to him.
Gibson started the season exceptionally well. However, as has happened in each of the last few years, his play dropped off in the second half. This has been Gibson’s third straight year of finishing below league average in Goals Against Average and Save Percentage. Despite that, he is still highly regarded around the league as an elite goalie based on his play from 2015-18. During that stretch, only Corey Crawford had a better mark than Gibson’s .923 save percentage (min. 60 games played). And he did show flashes of brilliance this season, stealing games the Ducks had no business winning.
But that was not the norm. While Gibson has shown that he still has the talent that earned his elite reputation of years prior, questions remain about the team’s direction for the upcoming season. Combine that with newly voiced frustrations from management (see 32:00 on the linked podcast), and that talent might serve the Anaheim Ducks better in the form of a trade.
Other Notable Players
Other notable positives on this roster were Adam Henrique, Sonny Milano, Isac Lundeström, Cam Fowler, and Jamie Drysdale. Henrique, one year removed from being placed on waivers, returned to form finishing tied for third on the team in points (19-23=42). Milano has proven to be a great acquisition, using his skill and motor to take advantage of playing with Zegras. Isac Lundeström showed that he could be a shutdown center on the Ducks’ third line, owning the highest Defensive Point Share among forwards.
Fowler continues to be the best defenseman on the team. He elevates his defense partners and led the team in defenseman scoring (9-33=42). Drysdale showed improvement on the defensive side of his game, improving his even-strength Corsi For percentage, a statistic that measures the percentage of shots taken by a player’s team with them on the ice, from 42.2% to 47%. That number still needs work; under 50% means the opposing team is controlling the majority of shot attempts while he is on the ice. But Drysdale is still only 20 years old.
For as many positives as there was this season, there were just as many negatives as well. After having his best season last year, Max Comtois followed it up by having his worst season this year. Granted, he was injured. But in the games he did play, he posted the lowest goals and assists per game of his career. There were rumors that Verbeek was shopping Comtois at the trade deadline, so his days in Anaheim could be numbered. Sam Steel continues to disappoint, it appears at this rate he may be best suited as a depth option.
Jakob Silfverberg is clearly on a steady path of decline as he gets older. He no longer offers any offensive contributions but is still serviceable defensively. Derek Grant is a liability whenever he is on the ice, his Corsi For percentage is one of the lowest on the team. And Jacob Larsson finally wore out his welcome with the big club, seeing an NHL sheet only six times this season before being sent down to the San Diego Gulls.
It would feel remiss not to mention some of the players the Anaheim Ducks have in the system right now, as that is where the majority of their strongest players lie. Mason McTavish, the third overall pick in the 2021 draft, helped lead the Hamilton Bulldogs to an OHL Championship. Olen Zellweger, 2021 second-round pick, won the WHL’s Top Defenseman award, leading the league in assists and points among defensemen. Sasha Pastujov, 2021 third-round pick, showed his goal-scoring prowess, lighting the lamp 34 times this season in the OHL. And lastly, Lukáš Dostál showcased his technical abilities in net for the San Diego Gulls, even earning a call-up to the Ducks.
After the trade deadline, the Anaheim Ducks are a team that needs a lot of things. The question that general manager Pat Verbeek needs to answer, is how soon will they begin loading up to contend for the Cup. There are options available that could add a much-needed infusion of talent to the roster immediately. But adding those pieces too soon could be a detriment to the team’s growth.
The most important need the Ducks have can be filled from within. The youth need to be given the reins this upcoming season. With Getzlaf’s retirement, Anaheim needs a No. 1 center. That role should be given to Trevor Zegras without hesitation. Too often this season Zegras was utilized sparingly, finishing a game with less time on ice than players like Derek Grant multiple times. He was also moved to the wing late in games so that faceoffs could be taken by someone else. This treatment only hinders his development. Head coach Dallas Eakins needs to give Zegras the freedom to play center without the fear that one mistake or lost faceoff will have him planted on the bench.
Mason McTavish is another player that could be ready to take on a spot with the club full time. With his size and work ethic, he should be able to fit into the men’s game with ease. Playing in juniors might not offer any more developmental progress for McTavish, where there can be very large discrepancies between the skills of players. McTavish should certainly be given another nine-game tryout, as he was this season. And unless he performs terribly during those nine games, he should be kept on the team to allow his skills to develop in the NHL.
However, as stated above, the youth that figures to play a prominent role this coming season needs more help. And based on the Ducks’ cap situation (more on that later), this is the season to do it. A player like Jamie Drysdale needs to have talented veterans around him to develop effectively. After trading away Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim’s blue-line is barely NHL caliber. There have been talks of Manson returning after his playoff run with Colorado. He would help solidify the top-four on the right side and could come at a reasonable dollar amount. The question becomes how much term Manson will want on a new contract.
On the left side, Jakob Chychrun or Ivan Provorov could be potential trade targets. Both are coming off seasons that were less than good, but there is potential for a rebound. Before last season, Chychrun posted great numbers, and is still easily Arizona’s best defenseman. But as they embark on another rebuild, they are looking to move on from him. Provorov has not lived up to his potential as a 7th overall pick. He has only posted a Corsi For percentage above 50% in one of his six seasons. However, this could be due to the Flyers rushing him into a role he was not ready for. With Philadelphia in a bit of a cap crunch, he could be pried away for a reasonable price. If either of these players returns to form, they would be great additions to bolster Anaheim’s defense.
The Ducks also need help up front. Trading away Rakell and Getzlaf retiring has left holes at the top of the roster. Kevin Fiala’s name has been in the news recently as he will most likely want a contract in the realm of $8 million, something the Minnesota Wild cannot afford. The cost to acquire him either through trade or offer sheet would be pricey. But it is something Pat Verbeek should explore thoroughly. Fiala would bring tons of skill to the Ducks. And at 25 years old he fits the Ducks’ timeline perfectly.
Other forwards that could be added to this roster to great effect include Alex DeBrincat, Ondřej Palát, or David Pastrňák. However, the key to any of these acquisitions is that the Ducks can find a way to get there without trading their future core. With a prospect pool as deep as Anaheim’s it should be easy to keep Zegras, Drysdale, McTavish, and Zellweger and add talent from outside.
The salary cap situation in Anaheim looks great. Almost too great, as they need to add almost $18 million to reach the cap floor this season. They do have nine restricted free agents to sign. But of those, only Isac Lundeström or Sonny Milano will be able to demand anything far above a million dollars. There is the chance that Anaheim even lets a couple of their RFAs walk, namely Brendan Guhle and Jacob Larsson. And on the unrestricted free agent side, only Zach Aston-Reese and Dominik Simon would be worth keeping around.
If we look ahead to the 2023 off-season, the Ducks have only $27 million committed beyond this upcoming season. Yes, they will have added money this year and will need to sign Zegras, Drysdale, and Terry. But even after that, they will still have plenty of money to throw at free agents or use in trades.
This abundance of cap space makes the Anaheim Ducks one of the few teams capable of making big moves this off-season. With numerous star players potentially on the move, if Verbeek decides to swing for the fences, he could add one or two elite players to this roster.
This draft looks to be an interesting one, with many prospect gurus having big differences among the top 10. Even the top pick is in flux, with some beginning to favor Juraj Slafkovský’s combination of size, speed, and skill over Shane Wright. With the 10th overall pick, the Ducks will have plenty of options to choose from. Kevin Korchinski, a highly mobile, puck-moving offensive defenseman, could be the Ducks’ pick at ten. Scouts report that his defensive play could use some work. But his ability to break the puck out and transition it through the neutral zone makes up for it.
If the Ducks opt for a forward they could instead target either Jonathan Lekkerimäki or Matthew Savoie. Both have tremendous skill but are smaller players (5’11”/172 lbs and 5’9”/179 lbs, respectively). Lekkerimäki is a right-wing whose main strength is his shot, it is easy to imagine Zegras feeding Lekkerimäki for goals in the future. Savoie on the other hand is more of a playmaker. Savoie plays center currently but could move to the wing in the NHL. He brings great compete, which you need when you are an undersized player.
Anaheim also owns the 22nd overall pick, acquired from Boston in the Lindholm trade. Later picks are always harder to project, but one player the Ducks should look into is forward Ivan Miroshnichenko. The 6’1”, 185 lb left-winger has potential top-five upside. However, him playing in Russia, coupled with his diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, could cause him to fall in the draft. With an extremely deep prospect pool and four picks in the first two rounds, the Anaheim Ducks can afford to take a flyer on a high-risk, high-reward player like Miroshnichenko.
Pat Verbeek and the rest of Anaheim’s front office have their work cut out for them this off-season. They need to see improvement from the team and will make the necessary moves to do so. But Verbeek has stated that his goal is not to build short-term success, but success in the future as well. He cannot add too much this off-season, or he risks accelerating the rebuild too quickly and becoming another middling team. But the Anaheim Ducks are also hungry for more consistent progress than they showed in 2021-22. With holes to fill and cap space to spare, there should be at least one high-profile move this off-season. However, this coming season should be about development. Look for Trevor Zegras to continue to leave his mark on the NHL as he assumes a larger role on the team this coming year.
All Salary Cap Information via CapFriendly
All Statistics via Hockey-Reference