Anaheim Ducks: 3 storylines to watch this season
Anaheim sprinted past its California rivals to the Pacific Division crown last year. Yet the 82-game mastery that allowed the Ducks to scale the Western Conference mountain failed to translate into the postseason, as they fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
This season, with a center-ice position devised to match wits with the team who spoiled their banner season, Anaheim should be better equipped to win when it matters.
Here are three storylines to watch out for as the Ducks embark on their third decade:
Anaheim's most-glaring offseason need was satisfied without any meaningful courtship when the strong-armed Vancouver Canucks plopped Ryan Kesler on the Ducks' doorstep.
He is the prototypical second-line pivot Anaheim managed to compile 54 wins and 116 points without, but also the center they clearly lacked when crumbling to the West's top dog.
Kesler gives the Ducks a legitimate shutdown pivot who can score 40 goals, agitate, win draws, and do the necessary ancillary work, but his sandpaper style also seems to affect those wearing the same crest. Episodes of friction with teammates, staff, and the media were whispered throughout his 10 seasons with the Canucks.
His two-way impact is not really up for debate, but how his attitude mixes with the free-spirited Ducks is less assured.
Two kids, one crease
One of the most intriguing position battles in training camps throughout the league resides in the blue paint of the Honda Center. Frederik Andersen (24) and John Gibson (21), who each have limited but first-rate experience between NHL pipes, are the latest prototypes being tested by the goaltending factory out west.
While the athletic Gibson could very easily be the sport's top prospect, he might be better served remaining just that. He showed the makings of the next great goaltender in his postseason spot starts, but was also quite raw - a notion that has carried into the preseason.
Andersen, who owns a 20-5 record as a starter, proved that he wasn't any worse for wear after his season ended in injury, shutting out the Colorado Avalanche in his first preseason start. Since supplanting Jonas Hiller as the Ducks' No. 1 netminder, Andersen hasn't done anything to warrant a demotion.
General manager Bob Murray said last week that they would "run with the kids," but if Andersen is the starter, wouldn't Gibson's development be better served playing every night in the AHL?
Youth serving them well
Young Ducks will live outside the blue paint as well this season.
Anaheim's mean age and payroll each took a sharp nose dive following the retirement of Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu. Those decisions, which helped shave $3 million off the cap, will charge a modest-earning group of impressionable youngsters the responsibility of curtailing their contributions.
Jacob Silfverberg, Devante Smith-Pelly, Emerson Etem, and Rickard Rakell are among those 20-somethings who appear prepped for a greater role, and what they lack in seasoning is made up for in potential.
As a bonus (and for bargain bin shopping for two-time 50-goal man Dany Heatley), the Ducks, who already boast one of the deepest teams on paper, own a whopping $9 million in cap space to tinker with - more than any other Western Conference playoff team last year.
With money to burn and stable full of prospects, Anaheim has nearly limitless opportunities from now until the trade deadline to continue pushing its roster against the West's elite.
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