Ducks counting on internal growth to end playoff drought
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Anaheim Ducks made no significant offseason additions to the lowest-scoring team in the NHL. They’re expecting to find goals and victories from within after the worst season in franchise history.
That’s how much Anaheim general manager Bob Murray believes in his core of young talent, and many of his more experienced players agree. Goalie John Gibson is one of the Ducks’ few top-shelf veterans, and he’s expecting to see new levels from his younger teammates.
“We have guys that have been here for three or four years now, and I think it’s time for them to step up,” Gibson said. “We obviously have some core guys that have been together for years, and then we have some young guys that aren’t so young anymore, and it’s time for them to take things to the next level, and if they do, I think we’re going to be a good hockey team.”
Anaheim finished last in the Western Conference and second-to-last in the NHL at 17-30-9, posting the worst record in team history by points percentage.
The Ducks never missed the playoffs four straight times in their first 27 years of existence, but the current team is in serious danger of reaching that new low.
The problem is scoring: The Ducks have finished last in the NHL in goals in two of the past three seasons, and only Detroit has scored fewer goals over the past four years combined. Max Comtois was the Ducks’ leading scorer last season, but his 33 points ranked 112th in the overall NHL.
There is undeniable potential in that young core: 20-year-old Trevor Zegras appears to have the makings of a star center, while 19-year-old Jamie Drysdale looked like he could be an elite puck-moving defenseman during his first 19 NHL games last season.
Comtois, Troy Terry, Sam Steel, Max Jones and Isac Lundeström also have ample potential to become consistent scorers. They’ve already been given chances to play at the top level, but the Ducks still stumbled through a horrific campaign in 2020-21 during which they were only occasionally competitive with top teams.
The Ducks’ biggest personnel additions were behind the bench. Coach Dallas Eakins returns for a third season, but with three new assistant coaches: former Calgary head coach Geoff Ward, longtime AHL head coach Mike Stothers and three-time Ducks assistant Newell Brown.
Plenty of factors suggest the Ducks face a long road to regain the form that put them in the Western Conference finals in 2017 after five consecutive Pacific Division titles. Anaheim is ready for a fresh start this fall with an eye on the next step up the ladder.
“I think you go into every year fresh,” Gibson said. “If you go into this year dwelling on last year, I don’t think you’re going to have success. You’ve got to come in with the mindset that we want to be a competitive team and try and make the playoffs.”
The Ducks had the worst power play in NHL history last season, scoring on just 8.9% of its chances. That shocking ineptitude was addressed by the front office when Anaheim parted ways with Eakins’ former assistants and rehired Brown, a power play guru. The Ducks’ success could hinge on the development of its young talent in power play roles, particularly in Drysdale’s evolution as a quarterback.
NO NEW FRIENDS
The Ducks made no notable signings in the free agent market despite being significantly under the salary cap. That inaction underlined Murray’s faith in his youngsters, but also suggested the third longest-tenured GM in the league might be looking to use cap room and prospects to acquire an elite scorer, perhaps former Buffalo captain Jack Eichel. Whatever his plan, Murray hasn’t revealed it.
Captain Ryan Getzlaf put off retirement and late-career ring-chasing to return for his 17th season in a career spent entirely in Anaheim. He scored a career-low 17 points last season, but the center is still a gifted playmaker whose skills should prove helpful as the young Ducks’ offensive abilities mature.
After Ryan Miller’s retirement, Gibson’s backup is likely to be Anthony Stolarz, who has 34 games of NHL experience. The crease has been the best spot on Anaheim’s roster for three years, and the 28-year-old Gibson has so far been content to spend the prime of his career with minimal goal support and no playoff appearances since 2018. It’s reasonable to think his happiness could wane if the Ducks struggle again.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports