By Thomas Harrington
Over the last 10 games, the Ducks weren’t a great team but they weren’t a bad team, finishing with a record of 4-4-2 and in the playoff picture. Individually, the Ducks were led by some great performances, but a few players are struggling early in the new season.
The Ducks’ best forward has been Ryan Getzlaf. Despite missing the game against Nashville, he leads the team with eight assists and nine points. He’s also been lights out in the faceoff circle, winning over 57% of his draws. An example of his stellar play came in the recent win against LA. On the powerplay, Getzlaf’s zipped pass to Ryan Kesler put the Ducks up 3-0 in the game. He’s been making those kinds of plays all season, and at one point led the league in assists.
There’s no question, Anaheim’s best defenseman (and arguably best player) over the first 10 games has been Cam Fowler. He’s off to the best offensive start in his career, scoring three goals and seven points. As good as Fowler has been in the offensive zone, his defensive game has been even better. He’s rarely caught out of position and doing a great job of shutting down the opposition. Fowler has long been one of Anaheim’s best skaters, but he seems to be even better this year. He made a great play against Los Angeles when he got body position on Anze Kopitar and intercepted and cleared a pass into the crease that would have likely led to a goal against.
Anaheim’s worst forward over the last 10 games was Mason Raymond. He only appeared in four games and went scoreless in those games. He was placed on waivers, and after clearing them was assigned to San Diego. He has yet to appear in any games with San Diego since being sent down. Raymond was signed as a reclamation project and the hope was that his speed and familiarity with Randy Carlyle would lead to a bounce-back season for him. That hasn’t happened and it looks like his contract with Anaheim will be terminated.
The Ducks’ worst defensemen to start the season has been Clayton Stoner. It’s not that Stoner has been bad; he’s actually played fine in seven games so far this season and even has a couple of assists. However, when Anaheim has a full complement of defensemen, he’s at best the sixth or seventh defenseman on the team. When Hampus Lindholm returns to game action, Stoner is going to need to step up his game if he wants to continue to see playing time.
In net, John Gibson has seen the majority of the starts. He had a bit of a rough start to the season but has gotten better the more he has played. Against the Islanders, he kept the Ducks in the game during a terrible opening period. Against San Jose, he came in the second period of the game and made a number of highlight-reel saves until he was finally beaten in overtime. Against the Kings, he picked up his first shutout of the season, turning aside 30 shots in the win. Jonathan Bernier has looked good in limited action; however, an injury has kept him to only two starts so far this season. He’s looked good when he’s been in net, and hopefully, he returns to action soon. In the loss to Columbus, Dustin Tokarski made his Anaheim debut in the third period after Gibson was pulled. He looked good in very limited action but probably won’t see much ice time in Anaheim this season unless Bernier misses a significant number of games.
So far this season, Anaheim has used several rookies in its lineup: Shea Theodore, Nick Sorensen, Jacob Larsson, Michael Sgarbossa, and Joseph Cramarossa. While technically not a rookie, Nick Ritchie is still a very young player and I would include him in this group as well. Overall, Anaheim has a strong rookie class this year. Sorensen, Larsson, and Cramarossa all made their NHL debuts this season. Sorensen and Larsson have both since been returned to the AHL and are playing well for the Gulls. In their most recent game, Sorensen scored his first career AHL goal. Cramarossa scored his first NHL goal against Los Angeles on a pretty wraparound goal in his fifth career game. Sgarbossa picked up his point as a Duck against Nashville and has played well next to Cramarossa. Ritchie has looked good on the top line and has already matched his goal output from last season. Through 10 games this season, he is second in the NHL in hits. Since being called up, Theodore has looked great and deserves to stay in the NHL. However, when Lindholm rejoins the team, Theodore may go back to San Diego in order to get more playing time because of the number of NHL-caliber defensemen that Anaheim has.
A few other things that stood out from the first 10 games. First, the Ducks have been absolutely dominant in the faceoff circle, led by Antoine Vermette who had won over 70% of his draws on the season until facing off against the Kings. That was the first game he won fewer than half his draws. Even though he hasn’t scored much, his skill in the faceoff circle has vaulted the Ducks to the top faceoff team in the league, and he picked up his first goal of the season against Los Angeles. After 10 games, Andrew Cogliano is tied for the team lead in goals with Corey Perry. Both of them have four goals, putting both well ahead of where they were last year. Emerson Etem was claimed off of waivers but he went scoreless in three games. He has since been waived and placed in the AHL but has yet to play a game for the Gulls. Hopefully, he can get things going in San Diego. Fowler and Sami Vatanen have been lighting up from the blueline, and Fowler is in the top 10 scoring for defensemen on the season. However, the rest of the defense has only combined for five points (two of those coming from Stoner), and the Ducks will need more offense from their back end going forward. Rickard Rakell returned in Anaheim’s 10th game and got the first goal of the game off of a won faceoff from Ryan Kesler and assisted on both Vermette’s and Cramarossa’s goals. While he looked a little rusty at times, putting up three points in his first game this season was a great sign of where he’s at.
On the injury front, things aren’t looking good for Simon Despres. He only played in the first game and has been shut down since then. It appears that his concussion symptoms have returned and it’s unclear as to when he’ll be healthy enough to play again. For now, it’s a waiting game. Bernier hasn’t played since the loss to San Jose, but he will backup Gibson tonight. Ritchie did take a head hit in the game against Los Angeles and did not return to the contest. It’s unclear if he was held out because of the hit or if the Ducks were just being cautious with him because of the 4-0 score. It appears he will not play tonight against Pittsburgh.
Anaheim struggled out of the gate but has gotten better as the season has gone along. They still have a way to go before they can be considered an elite team, but the Ducks have a solid foundation to build on and will hopefully continue to get better over the next 10 games.
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