The Anaheim Ducks finished first in the toughest division in hockey a year ago thanks to a deep, talented, high-scoring group of forwards that carried the club.
Following their second-round elimination at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings, Ducks general manager Bob Murray went out and doubled down on his club's standout strength, upgrading his forward group by adding two-way centers Nate Thompson and Ryan Kesler in late June.
Anaheim's forwards will likely be counted on heavily again this season, because there are some holes elsewhere on the Ducks roster. In goal, John Gibson and Frederik Andersen are talented, but also young and untested. The Ducks similarly a whole host of defenders that are question marks because of their age - either too old like Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray, or too young like Hampus Lindholm. Up front though, the Ducks are loaded.
In discussing his lineup during an appearance on Sportsnet 590 the Fan on Monday evening, Anaheim's head coach Bruce Boudreau sounded nearly giddy when elaborating on how he might choose to deploy various Ducks forwards next season.
"I've never coached a team that's had a 1-2 center punch like this," Boudreau told Bob McCown, "so it's going to be interesting."
Continued Boudreau on Anaheim's offseason moves: "I think it made our team better, I'm sure Bob wouldn't have done it if he didn't think this would make our team a better team. We gave up some good pieces in [Nick] Bonino and [Mathieu] Perreault, but I think we made ourselves a bigger, stronger, better team - more playoff ready - than we were a year ago.
"Taking nothing away from [Saku] Koivu, Perreault, Bonino - but they were small centers. Now I can put [Ryan] Getzlaf and Kesler against any line, and have the other line ready to play against whomever we choose to play against."
Boudreau's teams have generally rolled four aggressive forward lines that look to generate offense, which provides the veteran coach with more opportunities to exploit favorable matchups - particularly against "thinner" forward groups. It sure sounds like he's salivating at the thought of sending the Getzlaf and Corey Perry line over the boards against secondary competition on occasion...
As for who will ride shotgun with Getzlaf and Perry, Boudreau suggested that free-agent signing Dany Heatley would get a long look as a trigger-man on Anaheim's first-line:
For the first time in an awful lot of years, he's not making a lot of money by NHL standards, if he wants to continue playing his motivation should be at an all time high. Thinking that he might be starting playing with Getzlaf and Perry would make me want to be in the best shape of my life, it could be the way to get another five year contract with a lot of money to end his career if he does what he's supposed to do. [...]
His whole life he's been a scorer and he's been a dynamic scorer. I believe you put people in a position to succeed, a lot of times you put a player like Heatley on the third or fourth line, he's going to play like a third or fourth liner. You give him the opportunity and the ball and say "here, let's see what you got" and it won't take long to find out if he's got it or he doesn't...
Finally, Boudreau discussed his plans for who will play with Kesler on Anaheim's hypothetically potent second line.
"I think we've got a multitude of guys who we could put," Boudreau said. "Cogliano, Silfverberg and Kesler would be a line that could skate as well as anybody in the league, could check and score. I think that would be a perfect combination. I don't know if that's how it'll end up, but it sounds like a pretty good line when I've gone over it in my head."
That's bad news for Devante Smith-Pelly, who was the breakout star of Anaheim's playoff run this past Spring.
Feature photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports/Kirby Lee