Ryan Kesler

Ducks hope to rebuild on fly, return to playoff contention

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — After the Anaheim Ducks’ six-year playoff run ended with a resounding thud last spring, they added almost no significant outside talent to their roster.

If the Ducks hope to return to their usual heights this season, they’ll probably have to do it from within. That migration starts behind the bench, where coach Dallas Eakins is moving up from their AHL affiliate in San Diego to the big leagues.

The former Edmonton coach proved his acumen over the last four years while guiding many young players who will get prominent roles this season in Anaheim. Even after last season’s faceplant, the Ducks’ organizational depth is enviable, and they’re counting on new blood to refresh the veteran core of this longtime Stanley Cup contender.

”You can already see it and feel it around the room that guys are ready to go, and guys are ready to turn that page,” said forward Adam Henrique, a rare offensive bright spot last season. ”(Eakins) is great. It’s a lot of fun coming to the rink. He’s here to work.”

So are the youngsters gunning for major roles in Anaheim: Forwards Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry and Max Comtois are all 21 or younger. The Ducks need scoring after finishing last in the league in goals, and Eakins believes he has already coached the players who can help.

”This has always been an organization that’s hard to score against, and we don’t want to lose that,” Eakins said. ”We want that to be our identity. But if we don’t score, we can’t win, either. I’m a big believer that you can teach people how to score. It’s all about possession. We were near the bottom on shots last year, but telling players, ‘Hey, we need to shoot the puck more,’ is probably not a good plan. You’ve got to have the puck first.”

Anaheim is moving into the future after a bittersweet severing of its past. An era ended last June when the Ducks bought out Corey Perry‘s contract, ending his 14-year tenure alongside captain Ryan Getzlaf in parallel careers that started when the Ducks were still Mighty.

Perry scored just six goals in 31 games last year, but he was far from the only problem. Ryan Kesler will miss the upcoming season after struggling to return from major hip problems, and his career could be over even though he’s only halfway through his six-year, $41.5 million contract.

What’s more, a blue line that was once flush with elite homegrown talent is hoping for strong seasons from recently acquired defensemen Brendan Guhle, Michael Del Zotto or Chris Wideman.

But optimism currently runs high for the Ducks, who moved into a gorgeous new training complex in Irvine during the offseason.

Anaheim also has no problems in net. John Gibson is coming off another outstanding season despite his team’s woes, proving the Ducks were wise to lock him into a long-term contract, while they persuaded 39-year-old Ryan Miller to return as Gibson’s backup.

WHO’S HERE: Eakins, D Chris Wideman, D Michael Del Zotto, LW Nicolas Deslauriers.

WHO’S NOT: Perry, D Jaycob Megna, D Andy Welinski, C Ben Street, D Jake Dotchin.

KEY PLAYERS: Getzlaf’s connection with Eakins will be a key, and the captain appears to be completely on board. The Ducks badly need a bounce-back season from Rickard Rakell, who slipped from 67 goals over the previous two seasons to just 18 last year. Daniel Sprong, 22, is a candidate for a breakthrough after showing ample promise while scoring 14 goals last year. And with trade rumors finally dying down around Ondrej Kase, the Czech forward is positioned to build on the tantalizing promise he showed in 2017-18 before injuries largely ruined last season.

OUTLOOK: Anaheim has plenty of intriguing talent at all ages and experience levels. Eakins was considered a can’t-miss future star behind the bench when he took over the Oilers in 2013. If he proves to be a true difference-maker in his second shot at the NHL, the results should show up immediately.

PREDICTION: The Ducks are coming off their longest offseason since 2012 after going 35-37-10, and they’ve made no significant additions except behind the bench. Eakins will attempt to get improved results out of largely the same players – but the Ducks have more talent than they showed in their 5-21-4 collapse midway through last season, when they quit on Randy Carlyle. While it’s easy to categorize this as a rebuilding year, Anaheim hasn’t missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 2002. These written-off Ducks can muster a top-four finish in the Pacific Division, and maybe more.

NHL Power Rankings: 10 most exciting rookies for 2019-20 season

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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we continue to get you ready for the start of the 2019-20 season by looking ahead to some of the most exciting rookies in the league this season.

Included among them are the top two picks from the 2019 NHL draft class, a potentially overlooked New York Rangers prospect, and some key young players that could play big roles on contenders.

To the rankings!

1. Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers. The highlight of a wildly successful offseason in Manhattan was the Rangers moving up to the No. 2 overall pick in the draft lottery and winning the opportunity to select Kakko. He has been a highlight reel at every stage of his development and is the most fascinating rookie in this year’s class. He has NHL size, incredible skill, and pretty much everything an NHL team could want in a potential franchise player. The Rangers added a ton of talent to their roster this summer and Kakko might be the most important long-term piece to join the team during this rebuild. You need superstars to win, and Kakko has that potential.

2. Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils. Just like their arch-rivals, the Devils had a huge offseason that saw them hit the jackpot in the draft lottery to to win their second No. 1 overall pick in three years. Hughes scored two goals in his preseason debut and is going to enter the season as one of the Calder Trophy favorites. The fierce rivalry between the Rangers and Devils, as well as the fact the Rangers took Kakko No. 2 overall, is going to be a great subplot to their careers and development.

3. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. He was a late addition to the Avalanche’s postseason roster last spring and made an immediate impact. The Avalanche did not really shelter him much, and with Tyson Barrie having finally been traded after years of rumors they are going to have to lean heavily on Makar and Samuel Girard to play huge roles on their blue line.

4. Vitali Kravtsov, New York Rangers. Lost in all of the Kakko hype is that the Rangers’ have another top prospect ready to make his NHL debut this season. Kravtsov has spent the past three seasons playing in the KHL and more than held his own as a teenager, finishing the 2018-19 season as the third-leading scorer on his team. With him and Kappo making their NHL debuts this season there is plenty of reason for Rangers fans to be excited about their future.

5. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. Even though the Canucks haven’t had any draft lottery luck over the past four years they have still managed to pick some franchise cornerstones with their top picks. Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson already look like stars at forward, and now they get to see what Hughes can do on the blue line over a full season. He doesn’t have great size, but he has a ton of skill and has top-pairing potential. For a team that desperately needs a young impact player on defense, Hughes is going to be an important part of the Canucks’ rebuild.

6. Sam Steel, Anaheim Ducks. Even though he played 22 games in the NHL a year ago, Steel will still barely qualify as a rookie this season (the cut off is 25 games before the current season). He showed a ton of potential last year with 41 points in 53 games in the AHL, while also scoring six goals in his first brief taste of the NHL. With Corey Perry gone and Ryan Kesler out for the season the Ducks need their young players to take a big step, and Steel should be the one capable of making the biggest impact.

7. Ryan Poehling, Montreal Canadiens. After spending three years at St. Cloud, the 2017 first-round pick had a chance to play one game at the NHL level last year and it could not have gone any better for him, scoring three goals including the game-winner against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He figures to play a big role for the Canadiens this season and alongside Jesperi Kotkaniemi gives the Canadiens two promising young forwards to build around.

8. Alexandre Texier, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets have high hopes for Texier and they are going to need him to him to produce after the team said goodbye to Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel this summer. He never looked out of place a year ago, scoring three goals in his first 10 games (including two goals in eight playoff games).

9. Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes. While most of the attention in Carolina gets focussed on the quality and depth of their defense, they are quietly assembling quite a collection of forwards as well. Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Nino Neiderreiter are all already outstanding players, while Andrei Svechnikov looks like he is on track to be a star. This year they should add another young piece to that core with Necas. He had a great year in the AHL (his first full season of pro hockey in North America) and is just another outstanding young player in an organization that is already full of them.

10. Dylan Cozens, Buffalo Sabres. One of the players from the 2019 draft class after the top-two that has a real chance to stick in the NHL this season. That is still not a given at this point (and probably the biggest reason he is not higher on the list) but he has had a strong showing in camp and is giving the Sabres plenty of reasons to give him a look into the regular season. He still has junior eligibility, but the Sabres aren’t exactly loaded up front and would be an intriguing addition to alongside Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner.

Honorable mentions: Filip Zadina (Detroit Red Wings); Evan Bouchard (Edmonton Oilers); Owen Tippett (Florida Panthers); Eeli Tolvanen (Nashville Predators); Erik Brannstrom (Ottawa Senators).

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Previewing the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Worse. The Ducks have been competitive for over a decade, so it wasn’t surprising to see them take a step back last year. Unfortunately for Anaheim, their core is getting older and they really didn’t improve their roster very much over the course of the summer. They lost Corey Perry and some other depth players, but they didn’t add any significant pieces. They hired Dallas Eakins as their new head coach, but it’ll be tough for him to make a significant difference. It’s tough to argue that this group is better.

Strengths: Their biggest strength is between the pipes. John Gibson put together an incredible season last year. His numbers may not jump off the page but make no mistake, he was the reason they weren’t out of it earlier than they were. The 26-year-old had a 26-22-8 record with a 2.84 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage last season. If the Ducks are going to improve this season, they’ll need some of their kids like Troy Terry, Max Jones, Sam Steel, and Max Comtois to take steps forward and need their goalie to stand on his head on a nightly basis. Gibson is one of the top goalies in the league and that shouldn’t change in 2019-20.

Weaknesses: Their overall depth has taken a hit over the last few years. Sure, they still have good players like Ryan Getzlaf and Adam Henrique down the middle, and Rickard Rakell, Ondrej Kase and Jakob Silfverberg on the wings. They also have Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Cam Fowler on defense. The rest of the team has taken a bit of dip. Perry’s gone and Ryan Kesler is injured, and Patrick Eaves is likely retired. When you’ve been good for so long, these things will eventually happen.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): 1. Let’s give Eakins some time. He’ll have plenty of challenges ahead with the edition of the Ducks. It’ll be important for him to assess the talent at his disposal quickly and he’ll need to figure out a way to get the most out of this group of players. Again, success probably won’t come as early as this season, but if the Ducks allow him to shape the roster how he sees fit, they could make strides in the near future. How much time he gets to build this program remains to be seen, but he can’t be on the hot seat yet!

[MORE: Three Questions | Under Pressure: Getzlaf | X-Factor]

Three Most Fascinating Players: It’ll be interesting to see how some of the young players perform this season. Daniel Sprong, Nick Ritchie and Brendan Guhle should all be part of this roster when training camp ends. How much will they contribute though?

Sprong was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. In 47 games with the Ducks, he put up 14 goals and 19 points, which isn’t terrible. Can he build on that season? We’ve mentioned that Anaheim’s depth may be a problem for them this year, so getting added contributions from talented youngsters like Sprong will be key. There’s no denying his ability on the ice, but the 22-year-old needs to put it all together now. 14 goals in 47 games works out to a 24-goal campaign over 82 contests. Can he flirt with 25 goals?

Ritchie is also a fascinating case. The 23-year-old was drafted 10th overall by the Ducks back in 2014, but he hasn’t had as big an impact as many expected him to since turning pro. Ritchie had nine goals and a career-high 31 points in 60 games in 2018-19. He needs to pick it up. He needs to lead the next waive of young players in the organization. He’s got size, he’s got skill and now he needs to make an impact on this Ducks roster. He can’t just be another depth player.

As for Guhle, he was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres last season. The former second-rounder played in just six games with Anaheim last season. The Ducks have Fowler, Manson and Lindholm on their blue line, but there are openings behind those three players. Guhle has to show that he’s capable of making this roster and eating up some important minutes for Anaheim this season. The 22-year-old needs to add stability to the Ducks on the back end.

Playoffs or Lottery: They’ll be in the lottery this year. Again, they have some talented players, but they don’t have enough of them. It’ll take some time for them to draft and develop the next generation of Ducks, but that re-tooling had to begin eventually. No playoffs for the Ducks this year.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL Power Rankings: Top storylines entering training camp

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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we take a look at some of the biggest storylines across the league that are worth watching throughout the 31 training camps. The top issue throughout the offseason has been the ongoing RFA standstill, but that has been discussed so much and is starting to resolve itself with signings trickling in that we are going to focus on topics outside of that.

Included among them, a major goaltending competition that could impact one team’s entire season, new coaches in new places, coaches on the hot seat, and whether or not a recent league MVP will want to re-sign with his current team.

What else are we keeping an eye on this preseason? Let’s get to the rankings to find out!

1. Columbus’ goalie competition. It might be the most interesting and important competition in any camp across the league. The Blue Jackets are getting fed up with being told how bad they will be this season, and while they still have a lot of reasons for optimism on the roster the ability of either Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins to adequately replace Sergei Bobrovsky will determine what the team is capable of doing.

2. Joel Quenneville’s impact in Florida. It has been a long time since Panthers fans have had a reason for optimism at the start of a season. This might even be the first time since they came off a Stanley Cup Final appearance all the way back in 1996 that they have reason to believe better days are ahead. They had a huge offseason that was kicked off with the addition of a future Hall of Fame, three-time Stanley Cup winning coach.

3. Taylor Hall‘s future in New Jersey. Ray Shero was one of the NHL’s busiest general managers this summer with the additions of P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Nikita Gusev, and the drafting of Jack Hughes with No. 1 overall pick. His biggest move, though, will be convincing his best player to stay in New Jersey and sign a long-term deal. Hall missed most of the last season due to injury and the Devils were never able to recover from that. Now that he is back the pressure is on New Jersey to get back to the playoffs. If they can’t do that after all of their summer additions, what motivation is there for Hall to want to re-sign?

4. Connor McDavid‘s health. This could probably be even higher on the list, but it seems like he is going to be ready for the start of the season. Still, he is coming back from a pretty significant injury at the end of the last season and there is reason to believe he may not quite be 100 percent at the start. He is the league’s best player and if the Oilers have any hope of competing they not only need him to be healthy, they need him to put the entire franchise on his back and carry it. Tough ask.

5. Coaches on the hot seat. Bruce Boudreau has to be pretty high on this list. He has already done the impossible for an NHL head coach and outlasted two GMs in Minnesota, but how long of a leash will he get under new GM Bill Guerin? Winnipeg’s Paul Maurice also has to be near the top of this list. The Jets badly regressed a year ago and have a ton of question marks entering the season and a slow start could lead to a change behind the bench.

6. The Colorado hype. They have what might be the best young core in the NHL, addressed their biggest depth needs at forward with the additions of Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and Nazem Kadri, and have a couple of young stars on defense in Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram. They already took a huge step a year ago by reaching Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and with the roster they have entering this season (as well as the salary cap space at their disposal) there is going to be plenty of pressure to take the next step.

7. First-round picks competing for roster spots. Jack Hughes (New Jersey) and Kaapo Kakko (New York Rangers), the top two picks in the 2019 NHL draft, seem to be locks to make their respective rosters, but are there any other 2019 first-round picks that can find their way onto a roster this season? Kirby Dach with the Blackhawks? Byram in Colorado? Maybe Dylan Cozens in Buffalo?

8. Craig Berube and Jordan Binnington in St. Louis. The hiring of Berube and call-up of Binnington were the two turning points for the Blues on their way to a Stanley Cup. What will the duo be capable of for an encore when expectations will undoubtedly be higher than they were when they made their Blues debuts? The biggest question probably rests with Binnington’s ability to duplicate his 2018-19 performance over a full season.

9. Ralph Krueger in Buffalo. The Sabres’ head coaching position has been a revolving door of mediocrity over the past eight years. Can Krueger be the one break the cycle that has seen them make a change every two years? Or will his tenure be more of the same for an organization that has given its loyal fans nothing but grief for nearly a decade now?

10. Will it be another lost season for the Southern California teams? The Kings were terrible from the start a year ago, while the Ducks eventually cratered in the second half after goaltending carried them as far as it could early in the year. Is there any reason to expect anything different this season? The Ducks already lost veterans Corey Perry (buyout), Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves (injury) and did not really add much to their roster over the summer. The Kings still seem stuck in limbo in what direction they want to take as an organization and will be relying heavily on bounce-back years from veterans. Instead of fighting for a Stanley Cup, this intense rivalry might be about draft lottery odds.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Kesler, Eaves will miss Ducks’ entire 2019-20 season

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The Anaheim Ducks announced sad (if not exactly surprising) news on Friday, as they confirmed that both Patrick Eaves and Ryan Kesler will miss the entirety of the upcoming 2019-20 season.

Each 35-year-old forward is dealing with lingering health issues.

In the case of Eaves, it appears that the winger continues to deal with Guillain-Barré syndrome, which affects the nervous and immune system. Eaves’ struggles were first documented in October 2017, and while he’s courageously managed to play in the NHL since then, Eaves has ultimately only played in nine games during the past two seasons (two in 2017-18; seven in 2018-19). Back in March, Ducks GM Bob Murray stated that, with both Eaves and Kesler, the first goal was for both to be able to live a “normal life.” Here’s hoping that Eaves can indeed do so, even if it’s fair to wonder if his playing days are over even beyond 2019-20.

Kesler’s longer-term future also remains a question.

The cantankerous center has accrued a lot of wear-and-tear from deep playoff runs with the Canucks and Ducks, and that’s really caught up with him during the last few seasons, with hip issues being his most prominent (but likely not only) physical concern.

Kesler went from generating 22 goals and 58 points while averaging 21:18 TOI per game in a full 82 games in 2016-17 to a tough couple of seasons. In 2017-18, Kesler played in 44 games, managing 14 points and seeing his ice time slip to 18:02. Last season represented even lower lows, with Kesler producing just six points in 60 games with a 16:30 TOI average. His possession stats plummeted as well, which had to sting the 2011 Selke winner.

Simply put, it seemed like Kesler played far from 100 percent, and might have created a lot of long-term pain for whatever short-term gains the Ducks received.

While Eaves’ $3.15 million cap hit will clear off of the Ducks’ cap after 2019-20, Kesler’s $6.875M last for three more seasons (ending after 2021-22). Kesler’s contract goes from a no-movement clause to a modified no-trade clause, yet the biggest obstacle to potentially moving that cap hit is probably the structure. His per-year salary is pretty close to his cap hit at $6.675M for each of the next three seasons isn’t that far from the $6.875M AAV. In other words, there’s not a ton of incentive for a budget-conscious team to take on Kesler’s cap hit, as the salary nearly matches it.

Then again, the Ducks might find themselves becoming one of those bottom-feeding teams, depending upon how 2019-20 goes.

Either way, this Kesler situation is another reminder of the perils that come with handing aging players long-term contracts, particularly gritty ones who may be that much more likely to suffer serious injuries, as Kesler has.

It’s a tough situation for the Ducks, but here’s hoping both forwards at least enjoy a return to the sort of health that can let them enjoy quality lives, on or (most likely) off the ice.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.