Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Three questions facing Anaheim Ducks

1. Will Ryan Kesler play this season?
Kesler missed the first 37 games last season while recovering from hip surgery he had June 8, 2017. Although the center played 48 games (including the Stanley Cup Playoffs), Kesler, who turns 34 on Aug. 31, could miss significant time and perhaps the entire 2018-19 season, Sportsnet reported.
"I really couldn't squat last summer or even leading up to coming back," Kesler said after Anaheim's season ended. "I couldn't really build up any leg strength off the ice. I'm looking forward to that. I'm going to work with [strength and conditioning coach Mark Fitzgerald] until I end up moving back to Michigan for the summer."
The Ducks need a healthy and productive season from Kesler (14 points; eight goals, six assists), Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Getzlaf (61 points in 56 games; 11 goals, 50 assists) missed the first two games because of a lower-body injury and six weeks with a facial fracture sustained Oct. 29. Perry (49 points in 71 games; 17 goals, 32 assists) saw his production decline for a second straight season, including his lowest goal total in a full NHL season since 2006-07.
2. Can John Gibson stay healthy?
The 25-year-old goalie was 14-4-2 with an NHL-leading 1.95 goals-against average and .937 save percentage (minimum 20 games) after the All-Star break, but his durability remains in question because of numerous injuries. Gibson missed eight games and was unable to finish another six last season because of injuries.
With backup Ryan Miller turning 38 on July 17, the Ducks are at least preparing for the future. They've drafted three goalies in the past two years and signed free agent Jared Coreau on July 5. Miller had surgery on his left wrist May 18 but is expected to be ready for training camp.
3. Will the young forwards continue to improve?
Rickard Rakell, 25, and Ondrej Kase, 22, lead a young forward group the Ducks hope will take the next step this season.
Rakell's 34 goals and 69 points led the Ducks last season; he was the first player to lead them in points other than Getzlaf, Perry or Teemu Selanne since 2003-04 (Sergei Fedorov).
Kase made major strides last season. His 20 goals in 66 games were tied for second on the Ducks with Adam Henrique and 15 more than his rookie season in 2016-17.
The Ducks could also see an even younger forward make a case for a roster spot in training camp. Sam Steel, 20, was a first-round pick (No. 30) at the 2016 NHL Draft and had 83 points (33 goals, 50 assists) in 54 games for Regina in the Western Hockey League last season.

Anaheim Ducks key statistics

1. Negating a disadvantage
Playing aggressively has resulted in the Anaheim Ducks being shorthanded an NHL-high 845 times over the past three seasons. The Ducks have spent 1,453:32 on the penalty kill and 1,177:11 on the power play for a difference of minus-276:21, first in the NHL. But in that span, the Ducks have outscored opponents 141-126 on the power play.
The key has been the penalty kill, which has led the NHL in the past three seasons combined (85.1 percent). It's been led by Ryan Kesler, who ranks fourth among forwards with 538:16 killing penalties and whose average of 2:38 per game ranks third among the 517 forwards to play at least 50 games. Kesler was limited to 44 games last season after having hip surgery June 8, 2017, and his status for this season is in question.
2. Primary playmaker
Forward Ryan Getzlaf is fourth in the NHL with 293 assists, and first with 193 primary assists, since 2012-13. He ranked second or tied for second in primary assists three of the past six seasons.
Getzlaf had 34 primary assists in 56 games last season. That works out to 50 over 82 games. Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler led the NHL with 48 primary assists in 81 games. 
3. Young, solid goaltending
John Gibson's .924 save percentage among the 78 goalies to play at least 20 games combined over the past three seasons is second to Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta (.925).
Of the 1,872 shots Gibson faced in 2017-18, he allowed 139 goals. Based on the NHL average shooting percentage of just under 8.8 percent last season, the average goalie would have allowed 162 goals on 1,872 shots. That difference of 23.0 goals saved above average ranked third behind Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators (25.2) and Raanta (23.1).
Of goalies to play at least 50 games by their 25th birthday, the only one with a higher NHL career save percentage than Gibson in the salary cap era is Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins (.926).

Anaheim Ducks fantasy preview for 2018-19

Ryan Getzlaf, C ( rank: 45) -- The 33-year-old is averaging better than a point per game (1.03; sixth in NHL, minimum 130 games) over the past two seasons and is a perennial top 50 fantasy player. He could slip in drafts because he's center-only in Yahoo and missed 26 games last season, but he has an elite track record when healthy and proven chemistry with wings Rickard RakellCorey Perry and Patrick Eaves (illness; likely returning).

John Gibson, G** (62) -- The 25-year-old had NHL career highs in wins (31), save percentage (.926) and starts (60) last season, but there is concern surrounding his fantasy value. No one should be surprised if the Ducks goalie takes a step further in his contract year (potential 2019 restricted free agent), but Gibson's injury history in recent years and Anaheim's quiet offseason make it risky to reach for him among the top 10 fantasy goalies.

Rickard Rakell, C/LW/RW (75) -- His goal, point, shots on goal and power-play point totals have improved each season since his first full NHL season (2014-15), and the 25-year-old is coming off one of the most well-rounded seasons in the NHL. Playing mostly on Getzlaf's wing when the center was healthy, Rakell was one of 10 players with at least 34 goals, 34 assists (35), 18 PPP, 230 SOG and a plus rating (plus-6). Target him among the top 75, especially if he retains tri-eligibility in Yahoo.
Corey Perry, RW (147) -- Prior to the past two seasons (49 points in 2017-18, 53 in 2016-17), Perry hadn't scored so few points in a full NHL season since 2006-07 (44). The 33-year-old will be available later in fantasy drafts than we've seen over the past decade. But it's important to remember his category coverage is still rare, so it's hard to write him off completely. Perry is a bounce-back candidate who can cover all six standard categories and finish in the top 100 overall, especially if he plays with longtime sidekick Getzlaf all season.

Brandon Montour, D (183) -- The 24-year-old saw significant power-play time (2:15 per game), sometimes on the first unit, in his second NHL season and covered all six standard categories well. But Montour's value remains complicated in the short term because the Ducks have a crowded defense (Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm) and Fowler is usually productive when healthy (same point total as Montour in 13 fewer regular-season games). That said, Montour is a potential sleeper if available outside the top 150 and with 50-point point potential if he gets a full season on the first power play with Getzlaf and Rakell.

Cam Fowler, D - INJ. (189) -- He remains the Ducks' safest fantasy defenseman option when healthy, but Fowler was limited to 67 regular-season games because of a lower-body and shoulder injury; the latter injury kept him out of Anaheim's four games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when it was swept by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round. Fowler, 26, has not reached 40 points or 20 PPP since his rookie season (2010-11) and comes with injury risk.
Josh Manson, D (219) -- The 26-year-old barely played any power-play time last season but was one of the best 5-on-5 defensemen in the NHL, leading his position at plus-34 and finishing tied for eighth in even-strength points (36 in 80 games). If he takes on a greater offensive role, his fantasy stock (161st in Yahoo) can skyrocket. Manson is a known hits commodity (180 last season; 2.3 per game) but will go undrafted in many standard, 12-team leagues.

Ondrej Kase, LW/RW - RFA (246) -- If center Ryan Kesler (hip) misses the season, Kase and center Adam Henrique could be moved up together to the second line. Kase scored 20 goals in 66 games last season playing mostly on the third line with Henrique and left wing Nick Ritchie, and had two impressive stretches (eight points in first 10 games; 20 points in 23 games from Dec. 19 to Feb. 17). Kase is a deep sleeper who can thrive if given a top-six or first power-play role.

Other players with fantasy upside in late rounds or off waiver wire: Jakob Silfverberg, LW/RW* (235); Ryan Kesler, C (INJ.); Adam Henrique, C; Patrick Eaves, LW/RW (INJ.); Ryan Miller, G* (INJ.); Hampus Lindholm, D
RFA - Current restricted free agent
*Potential 2019 unrestricted free agent
**Potential 2019 restricted free agent
INJ. - Injury concern entering 2018-19

Top prospects for Anaheim Ducks

1. Jacob Larsson, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 27 pick in 2015 NHL Draft
Last season: San Diego (AHL): 50 GP, 3-13-16
Larsson should be in the mix for one of the final two spots at defenseman.
The 21-year-old played four games for the Ducks during the 2016-17 season before having offseason surgery to repair his right MCL. After a lengthy recovery, he's back to 100 percent and appeared bigger and stronger (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) during development camp in July.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
2. Sam Steel, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 30 pick in 2016 NHL Draft
Last season: Regina (WHL): 54 GP, 33-50-83
Steel led the Western Hockey League in scoring two seasons ago (131 points; 50 goals, 81 assists) and has 338 points (123 goals, 215 assists) in 258 WHL games. He helped Canada win the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, scoring nine points (four goals, five assists) in seven games, and was named Memorial Cup MVP in May after leading those playoffs with 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in five games.
The 20-year-old is an undersized center (5-11, 185) but has speed the Ducks need down the middle. General manager Bob Murray said he was opposed to bringing up a top forward prospect to play on the fourth line at the end of last season, so Steel's debut may have to wait until one of Anaheim's veteran centers is unable to play.
Projected NHL arrival: Next season
3. Troy Terry, F
How acquired: Selected with No. 148 pick in 2015 NHL Draft
Last season: Anaheim: 2 GP, 0-0-0; University of Denver (NCAA) 39 GP, 14-34-48
Terry was the second-leading scorer for the United States at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics with five assists in five games, and played two games with the Ducks at the end of the season.
Terry, who turns 21 on Sept. 10, has played well at the international level since he scored three shootout goals on three attempts to give the United States a 4-3 win against Russia in the semifinals of the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. He followed that by helping Denver win the 2017 NCAA Division I men's ice hockey championship.
What Terry lacks in size (6-1, 175), he makes up in speed. He can play wing, where more opportunities with the Ducks should be available.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
4. Marcus Pettersson, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 38 pick in 2014 NHL Draft
Last season: Anaheim: 22 GP, 1-3-4; San Diego (AHL) 44 GP, 0-14-14
The Ducks recalled Pettersson (6-4, 180) from San Diego on Feb. 13, and the 22-year-old made his NHL debut two days later in a 3-2 win at the Chicago Blackhawks.
Pettersson's steady play didn't stand out on the ice, but Anaheim played better when he was out there. The Ducks were 17-3-2 when he was in the lineup during the regular season and 0-3-0 when he was scratched.
Projected NHL arrival: This season
5. Andy Welinski, D
How acquired: Selected with No. 83 pick in 2011 NHL Draft
Last season: Anaheim: 7 GP, 0-2-2; San Diego (AHL) 51 GP, 10-24-34
Welinski made his NHL debut against the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 11 and assisted on the game-winning goal in a 3-2 win. He played four games for the Ducks before returning to San Diego.
The 25-year-old was recalled again April 4 after Fowler sustained a season-ending shoulder injury. Anaheim was 3-0-0 with him in the lineup.
Welinski (6-1, 206) played in three of the four Western Conference First Round games against the San Jose Sharks, earning valuable experience heading into training camp.
Projected NHL arrival: This season

Inside look at Anaheim Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks added some depth at forward and defenseman to a lineup that doesn't look much different from the one that reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth straight season in 2017-18.
They signed 30-year-old Brian Gibbons and 29-year-old Carter Rowney as free agents July 2 to join a forward group that features Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg. Anaheim also signed free agent defensemen Luke Schenn, 28, and Andrej Sustr, 27, for this season to help a group led by Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Brandon Montour.
"We needed to get faster, so the primary goal was to add some speed up front with some depth signings," general manager Bob Murray said July 2. "We also wanted a veteran defenseman with NHL experience and strong leadership traits (Schenn). We did inquire about other 'big names' on the market over the last week but found the prices extremely high."
The Ducks have their share of veteran forwards with playoff experience, but after Getzlaf, 33, there are a lot of questions.
Forward Patrick Eaves, 34, is expected to play, but it's unclear how effective he can be after missing all but two games last season with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.
Kesler, who turns 34 on Aug. 31, played 44 regular-season games after hip surgery June 8, 2017, and may sit out this season, Sportsnet reported. 
"We have a good plan set in place," Kesler said after Anaheim's season ended. "The guys I work with are very smart people, and we're going to attack this thing and get me back to where I should be."
Perry, 33, scored 17 goals last season, his lowest total in a full NHL season since he also had 17 in 2006-07.
Several forward prospects, including Troy Terry, 20, and Sam Steel, 20, could push for roster spots if the veterans are unable to play or are ineffective.
"We do have some good young players that we are not going to force-feed into our lineup just to make some people happy that we're trying to get faster," Murray said. "If some come along who have had a pretty good pedigree and have played in big games at higher levels in junior, they make the team."
Montour, 24, who played on a pair with Fowler much of last season, avoided arbitration by signing a two-year contract July 24.
Henrique, 28, signed a five-year contract extension July 16. He had 36 points (20 goals, 16 assists) in 57 games after he was acquired in a trade from the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 30, 2017.
"It was a seamless fit and I don't think you can overlook that," Henrique said. "That was a big reason why I wanted to stay."
The Ducks are hoping goaltender John Gibson can stay healthy. The 25-year-old missed eight games because of injuries and was unable to finish six others, but he had a 2.43 goals-against average (eighth among NHL goalies who played at least 41 games) and .926 save percentage (fourth). He could become a restricted free agent after the season, and Anaheim has made it a priority to sign him to a contract extension.
"I think it's important in this day and age," Murray told The Athletic on June 23. "I don't think I can go into this with those guys being a little bit away from unrestricted. It's dangerous to have that situation, and then you get to February or whatever the [NHL] Trade Deadline is and you're in the hunt and you're close, you're whatever, it's very difficult to move the people at that point in time. It doesn't work well.
"So yeah, I think it's important I try to get something done."
Making the playoffs is no longer considered a success for the Ducks, who followed up a trip to the Western Conference Final in 2017 by getting swept by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round.
"I think this hockey club, in a lot of ways, has proven that it can be competitive, but there are some things that we need to transition and do some things differently," coach Randy Carlyle said. "We're not any different than any other hockey clubs in the same situation. There's always things you can do to improve your group."