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2021-22 Anaheim Ducks Preview: The future is in their forwards

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Season previews continue with the Anaheim Ducks, who can only improve after an unimpressive year.

Isac Lundestrom #48 of the Anaheim Ducks handles the puck with Mats Zuccarello #36 of the Minnesota Wild defending during the game at the Xcel Energy Center on May 8, 2021 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

For the Anaheim Ducks, last season may have been the worst the team has ever been in recent years, which means the only way out is up. When it comes to the San Jose Sharks, the Ducks have made easy wins at times, and with both of these teams at different stages in the rebuild (excuse me, reset) process, next season will pose an interesting matchup between these two California teams.

The Sharks and Ducks will face each other three times during the preseason, and if you’re worried about getting sick of seeing these two teams play each other, have no fear — the Ducks and Sharks will only meet four times during the regular season. Their first regular season matchup will be in December.

Where they left off

For the past three years, the Ducks have languished in the standings, ending last season with a record of 17-30-9. The last time the team saw a glimpse of the postseason was in 2017-18, when they exited in the first round.

The Ducks are very clearly in the midst of a rebuild, and while the team isn’t out of the dark yet, the bright spots of exciting young prospects and developing players in the organization guarantees that the 2021-22 season will see some improvement.

The 2020-21 season ended with 124 goals for (31st in the league and 177 goals against (23rd), which left them with 53 goals against differential. What this tells us is that the Ducks have a lack of offensive initiative and goal-scoring, as well as gaps in the defensive lines.

The Ducks’ powerplay was the worst in the league at 31st overall, and with an 8.9 percent efficacy rate, special teams will be a focus. However, with the team identity and playing style still in flux, don’t expect too much improvement — the Ducks’ main concern will be increasing 5-on-5 offensive production.

The Ducks’ penalty kill is respectable — at 16th in the league, a 79.9 percent efficacy rate is just fine. This is good news for a team that sees the inside of the penalty box often — Captain Ryan Getzlaf alone had 43 penalty minutes in 48 games last season.

2021 Entry Draft

The Ducks had a prolific 2021 Entry Draft, with a pick in every round except for Round 7. With eight picks in total, the Ducks took a smattering of players in a variety of positions, showcasing their continued emphasis on building a young group from within.

Starting with the third-overall pick, the Ducks selected Mason McTavish, a center from Ontario, Canada. He spent the 2020-21 season playing the Swiss League for EHC Olten, where, in 13 games, he scored 9 goals and 2 assists, with 6 PIMs and a +4 rating. McTavish’s instincts are already spectacular at such a young age, and while the Ducks would, I’m sure, love to put him in the lineup, they very rarely test their young players in NHL waters without extra time spent developing.

Their remaining selections were as follows:

Round 2 (34th): Olen Zellweger
Round 3 (66th): Sasha Pastujov
Round 3 (76th): Tyson Hinds
Round 4 (98th): Joshua Lopina
Round 5 (130th): Sean Tschigerl
Round 5 (148th): Gage Alexander
Round 6 (162nd): Kyle Kukkonen

Roster

Captain, center Ryan Getzlaf inked a new one-year, $4.5 million contract for his 17th season with the team. There were questions regarding his return, and the fact that Getzlaf is around for another year is yet another indication that the Ducks’ aren’t expecting their rebuild to be over this season.

Getzlaf isn’t as young as he used to be, and his production has dropped off, with last year culminating in 5 goals, 12 assists and 17 points, for a -14 in 48 games. The Ducks’ brought him back to lead the locker room more than anything else. While they have a core of young up-and-coming talent, the Ducks don’t seem to have a clear leader in mind for the next phase of the team once Getzlaf moves on.

Notable exits from the team are Danton Heinen (43GP, 7G-7A-14PTS, -9) who was signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins to a one-year, $1.1 million deal in the off-season, and beloved goaltender Ryan Miller, who retired.

On the flip side, the Ducks hadn’t signed many notable new players, instead choosing to rely more on their younger players. However, the team did add stalwart defenseman Greg Pateryn to their line-up. Last season, Pateryn migrated through the AHL and NHL, beginning the year with the Minnesota Wild and then the Colorado Avalanche. He then wore the ‘C’ for the Colorado Eagles before ending the season with the Sharks and then the San Jose Barracuda. Pateryn’s a solid, depth veteran presence, ideally meant to help center and guide the next generation of Ducks defenders.

For the Ducks’ forward lines, youngsters Trevor Zegras, Max Comtois and Alexander Volkov are the future of this team, and will be relied upon more heavily now that they’ve had another year under their belts.

Zegras was selected ninth overall by the Ducks in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The Ducks are interested in developing centers to fill the roles that the veteran core will leave in the next five years, and it’s clear that Zegras, a proven two-way forward, is part of that long-term plan. Last year, the 20-year-old played 24 games with the Ducks, and in that time he totaled 3 goals, 10 assists, and 12 PIMs, ending with a +6 rating.

Left winger Max Comtois has the on-ice speed and instincts to excel in both the offensive and defensive side of his game. Last season he played his first full season with the Ducks, culminating in 55 games, 16 goals, 17 assists, 40 PIMs and a +3 rating. Among increasing his ability to separate players from the puck and drive the pace of play, expect his penalty minutes to decrease — too many players who are willing to get physical can be a liability, especially for a team like the Ducks who don’t have the goaltending or goal-scoring capabilities (or, frankly, the penalty kill) to offset the penalties they accrue.

The oldest of the young forwards, Alexander Volkov can play on both sides of the wing. Oscillating between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Syracuse Crunch since 2017, Volkov was a part of the 2019-20 team that won the Stanley Cup, but was traded to the Ducks before he could win his second title with the Lightning. In his abbreviated season with the Ducks, Volkov played 18 games, for a total of 4 goals, 4 assists, 2 PIMs and a -2.

The expectation is that the young players will be more settled into the Ducks’ lineup and the NHL, and will drive the majority of the offense and speed for the Ducks next season.

On the defensive side, 19-year-old Jamie Drysdale has the makings of a smart defenseman. It’s not guaranteed that he’ll spend all of next year at the NHL level due to his age, but it is expected that he’ll have opportunities to come up and test the waters. The Ducks put a lot of effort into developing their young players completely, so even if Drysdale isn’t in the lineup every night, rest assured that the Ducks’ have a plan for him in the future. Last season Drysdale played 24 games for the Ducks, ending with 3 goals, 5 assists, 6 PIMs and a -12.

As for goaltending, the tandem seems to be Anthony Stolarz and John Gibson, and aside from the general desire to improve save percentage every goaltender experiences, goaltending isn’t the Ducks’ main concern at this point. Stolarz played eight games for the Ducks last year, posting a 2.20 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. Stolarz will be the backup to John Gibson, who in 35 games earned a 2.98 GAA and a .903 SV%.

What can we expect in 2021-22?

All in all, if you’re a Ducks fan, you might be waiting a little bit longer for a consistent team and any real chance for the cup. The most exciting thing to look forward to with this team is the continued development of their young players.

The preseason begins for the Ducks at the SAP Center, where they will face the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, September 18 at 7:30 p.m. PT. Their first regular season game is on October 13 at Honda Center, where they will host the Winnipeg Jets at 7 p.m. PT.