With their focus on competing for the Stanley Cup in 2015-16, the Anaheim Ducks haven’t left many openings for prospects to claim in training camp. Still, Nick Ritchie is someone worth keeping an eye on in September.
Taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, he’s arguably the team’s top forward prospect. Even when he was drafted he had the size to play in the NHL at 6-foot-3, 236 pounds, but he’s got more than just an imposing frame. Ritchie can play a skilled game too and is coming off of a campaign where he scored 29 goals and 62 points in 48 OHL contests. He added another 13 goals and 26 points in 14 playoff games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Going into training camp, he’ll likely be competing primarily with Jiri Sekac, Nicolas Kerdiles, and Stefan Noesen for a roster spot. All three of them have more experience than Ritchie, but arguably don’t match him in raw potential.
Ducks GM Bob Murray made it clear back in June that he wouldn’t rush Ritchie, per the Orange County Register, but he didn’t dismiss the possibility of him making the team anyways. Ultimately it will be a tough task for him to stick with the Ducks at the age of 19, but he might end up being a noteworthy complimentary player this season and much more than that down the road.
Any team still seeking to bolster its blueline won’t have to look hard to find help. While we’re in August now, there are still plenty of noteworthy defensemen left on the unrestricted free agent market.
Here’s some of the blueliners up for grabs:
Cody Franson — Arguably the best player left, the 27-year-old (28 on Aug. 8) ended the 2014-15 campaign on a sour note as he didn’t mesh well with Nashville, but he still finished with a career-high 36 points. Although he’s stayed on the market for far longer than anticipated, the offensive defenseman was speaking with five or six teams as of July 21, including the Boston Bruins. He’s hoping to get more than a one-year deal though after playing through three consecutive single season contracts.
Marek Zidlicky — Boston’s desire to add to its defense has also led to GM Don Sweeney reportedly speaking with Zidlicky. At the age of 38, Zidlicky is obviously in the twilight of his career, but he still recorded 34 points last season and would be expected to play a valuable role with the man advantage.
Christian Ehrhoff — Ehrhoff was limited to 49 games last season due to concussion problems, but at the age of 33, the possibility of a bounce back campaign certainly can’t be dismissed. After all, with the exception of the lockout shortened 2013 season, he had recorded at least 30 points in five straight campaigns going into 2014-15. Ehrhoff has been linked to Columbus, but the Blue Jackets are a little less than $4 million under the ceiling, per General Fanager, so they are unlikely to sign him unless it’s at a meaningful discount.
Lubomir Visnovsky — Visnovsky will celebrate his 39th birthday on Aug. 11 and is coming off of a rough season where he recorded five goals and 20 points in just 53 contests. He’s made it clear that he wants to continue his career, but at this point he’s reportedly considering European options. With 883 NHL games under his belt though, he has the potential to be a valuable veteran presence on an NHL squad.
Sergei Gonchar — Like Visnovsky, Gonchar expressed a desire to continue his career, but at the age of 41, there might not be interest in him. Gonchar had a goal and 14 points in 48 contests last season and he didn’t end up playing at all for Montreal during the postseason. The Canadiens don’t plan on bringing him back, so he would have to find work elsewhere. If this is the end for Gonchar, then he would be closing the book on a 1,301-game NHL career.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Jonathan Bernier won’t need an arbitrator to determine his market value as the two sides have agreed to a two-year, $8.3 million extension, per Elliotte Friedman.
That comes after the Maple Leafs and Bernier went into Friday’s arbitration hearing with vastly different asking prices as Bernier was requesting a one-year deal worth $5.1 million while Toronto countered at $2.89 million. The Maple Leafs’ asking price was particularly noteworthy as it was below Bernier’s 2014-15 salary of $3.4 million, although it was roughly in line with his $2.9 million annual cap hit over the now expired two-year deal.
The final price tag is obviously closer to Bernier’s request in terms of average salary, but by making it a two-year agreement he has conceded the first season of his unrestricted free agent eligibility.
Like many of the Maple Leafs, Bernier is coming off of a rough campaign where he posted a 2.87 GAA and .912 save percentage in 58 contests. The 26-year-old (27 on Aug. 7) now has a 2.63 GAA and .916 save percentage in 175 career games.
The Anaheim Ducks are out to win the Stanley Cup now after falling just one win shy of beating the eventual champions in the Western Conference Final. They certainly have the core to go far, but do they have the depth?
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are one of the best offensive duos in the league while Ryan Kesler is a great two-way center that helped improve their second line in his first campaign with Anaheim in 2014-15. However, those three were the only members of the Ducks to record at least 40 points last season, which is part of the reason why Anaheim finished close to the middle of the pack with 2.78 goals per game.
There are reasons to hope for more in 2015-16 though, even if they did lose Matt Beleskey (22 goals) over the summer. The Ducks have added some capable secondary scorers Carl Hagelin, Shawn Horcoff, and Chris Stewart, but it’s Jakob Silfverberg that stands out the most among Anaheim’s forwards outside of its top-three. The 24-year-old had 39 points in the regular season, but he broke out in the playoffs with four goals and 14 assists in 16 contests. He meshed well with Kesler in the playoffs after Silfverberg only spent spent about a third of his five-on-five regular season minutes with the second-line center. If the two share the ice more frequently this season, it could result in a significantly improved second line.
Defensively, the Ducks will be anchored by newcomer Kevin Bieksa after losing Francois Beauchemin on the free agent market. That being said, it’s the team’s young defensive core of Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler that will go a long way towards determining if this is a successful campaign for Anaheim. They’ll also be leaning heavily on 25-year-old goaltender Frederik Andersen.
The hope is that their younger players have grown thanks to their lengthy playoff run. That needs to be true for the Ducks because while Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler are a vital part of their success, they’ve also already reached their peak. If Anaheim is to grow enough to get over the final hurdle standing between it and a championship, then that improvement will have to come from its talented youngsters.
Erik Haula and the Minnesota Wild couldn’t agree to terms before their arbitration hearing on Friday, but they have managed to come to a settlement before the arbitrator was forced to pass judgment.
The Wild announced that they have signed Haula to a two-year contract. They didn’t reveal the financial terms of the deal, but it’s a two-year, $2 million contract, according to the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo.
Haula was asking for $1.2 million in arbitration. Minnesota countered at $775K, which would have been a pay cut from his salary of $900K in 2014-15.
The 24-year-old forward had seven goals and 14 points in 72 contests last season. He only averaged 12:09 minutes of ice time per game, but he was leaned on heavily in shorthanded situations on a team that killed a league-best 86.3% of its penalties.