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September 30, 2013 | 8:56am ET
2013-14 Season Preview: Anaheim
By Dennis Bernstein, TheFourthPeriod.com

At the start of the lockout shortened season, few gave the Anaheim Ducks a shot at the playoffs.

Captain Ryan Getzlaf was coming off the worst season of his career, Corey Perry had a 38 point drop from his Hart Trophy winning totals, and mediocre defense and goaltending plummeted the Ducks to a 13th place finish in the 2011-12 season.

More of the same was expected last January, but a red hot start led to a Cinderella regular-season that culminated in a Pacific Division title and the second seed in the Western Conference.

But the clock stuck twelve for the Ducks a mere seven games into the post season, losing an agonizing first round Game 7 at home to the Detroit Red Wings that had many suggesting that the Ducks were the biggest benefactor of a shortened season and their lack of depth would have exposed them in a normal regular season.

Ducks GM Bob Murray pulled off the daily double of convincing both Getzlaf and Perry to return to Honda Center with huge long term deals. He revived memories of the 2007 Stanley Cup championship when he recruited Dustin Penner back to Orange County on a one-year deal. The biggest move in the summer was the trade of Bobby Ryan to the Ottawa Senators for a package that had rookie Jakob Silfverberg at the top. While consistent 30 goal scoring wingers like Ryan are a rarity, management believes that the Swede can reach the same level. The reality is that as they end this season, theyíre neither a two or thirteen seed but will be a team on the cusp of the playoffs.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

FORWARDS

The projected top line of Getzlaf, Perry and Penner will lead the defense of the Pacific Division title. While the trio can go skate-to-skate with any in the West, the supporting three lines output will be the key to this season's destiny. The second line stands to have distinct European flavor with Selanne and Silfverberg centered by Saku Koivu. The effective third line headed up by Daniel Winnik and Andrew Cogliano was the key to last season's fast start and to expect a repeat is a stretch. The emergence of youngsters Etem, Kyle Palmieri and Peter Holland will bolster Anaheimís standing in the highly competitive Western Conference.

Ryan Getzlaf -- This time last year the smart money said that Getzlaf would play out his five year extension and walk to unrestricted free agency for a big money deal. The deal came in, but it anchored Getzlaf by the Pacific shores for the next eight seasons. Unlike other players who lose motivation with the security of a deal that secures their future, Getzlaf responded with a snarling, productive season that was the prorated equal of his career best 2008-09 season.

Teemu Selanne -- A first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest ambassadors of the game will embark on his farewell tour October 2 in Denver. At 43 years old, heís still one of the fastest skaters on the team, but showed signs of fatigue late last season and into the playoff loss to Detroit. Heís listed on the depth chart as the second line right wing but with youngster Emerson Etem coming quickly, Selanneís last ride may be primarily as a power play specialist.

Jakob Silfverberg -- His first season will be benchmarked against Bobby Ryanís production and although he has huge potential, he only potted 10 goals in 48 game with the Senators and may be slotted into a second line role without a legitimate offensive center. While his offensive potential probably wonít be the equal of Ryanís, most believe he has a long and productive NHL career ahead of him.

DEFENSE

The Ducks start the season behind the eight-ball by virtue of the status of Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray. The former is hoping heíll be a full strength opening night coming off ACL surgery while a summertime training wrist injury will delay the latter from starting the season. Those veteranís statuses puts more pressure on Cam Fowler to emerge as a true top-pair defenseman. Though they lack a superstar defenseman, the group was good enough to rank the Ducks ninth overall in goals against. Murray smartly re-signed Ben Lovejoy and made a value signing with Mark Fistric but Beauchemin, Souray and Bryan Allen in their mid-to-late 30ís, youngsters Luca Sbisa and Sami Vatanen must contribute more.

Cam Fowler -- Once thought a steal by the Ducks when he dropped to the twelve overall pick in the 2010 Entry Draft, the time has come for the 23-year-old to emerge as a top pair defenseman. He had marked improvement in his plus/minus ranking last season, cutting it to a minus-4 after registering an ugly combined minus 53 in his prior two campaigns. Fowlerís TOI was a bit above 20 minutes during the regular season and it increased to over 22 in the playoffs, a work rate that will start from game one. The question Fowler must answer is if he sacrificed offense to improve his defense as he registered a long goal in 44 combined regular season and playoff games.

Francois Beauchemin -- A sterling season for Beauchemin earned him a fourth place Norris Trophy finish and an All Star nomination. He was a primary reason that the Ducks coasted to a division title but the focus is on his surgically repaired knee as the season starts. Originally injured in a late season game against Dallas, he fought through the pain through the playoffs and then found the ACL was 90% torn at the end of the season. If the knee doesnít respond, thereís a gaping hole in the Anaheim defensive depth chart.

GOALTENDING

Viktor Fasth came across from the Swedish Elite League and was a key figure in the Ducksí strong start and quickly earned him a two year extension. As the season progressed, Coach Bruce Boudreau opted for the veteran NHL netminder Jonas Hiller and Fasth saw no action in the first round loss to the Red Wings. If the Ducks falter early, the landscape between the pipes could change quickly. Hiller is on the walk year of his deal and John Gibson is highly regarded off his performance for the US team in the World Championships last Spring.

With Ryan Miller likely to play out his deal and with firm Southern California roots, heíd be the perfect mentor of Gibson. Regardless of Millerís future travels, Hiller is likely starts the season as the number one with Fasth in reserve giving Ducks solid net minding but itís not the strength of this team.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Ducks jumped from 21st to fourth in the NHL on the powerplay and if Penner can rekindle the chemistry with Getzlaf and Perry, the Ducks can keep flying with the man advantage. They will miss Sourayís heavy shot from the point early on, as well as Beaucheminís quarterbacking skills if heís not available on opening night. While they lack a true offensive center for the second unit they have plenty of skills on the wings with Selanne, Etem, Silfverberg and Palmieri to choose from. Anaheim was a middle of the pack team on the penalty kill and with the same cast of characters on the blueline and in net, theyíre not likely to make a big move either way statistically.

PREDICTION

With their core players locked up and a playerís coach in Boudreau, thereís little stress in the Anaheim front office or locker room as the season starts. Penner will makes things entertaining on a team devoid of personality and he stands as the X-factor in a contract year. The schedule is tough thru the seasonís first month as eleven of their first 16 matches are on the road including an extensive East Coast trip for the first time in two seasons. Their road warrior status makes the likelihood of repeating last seasonís fast start minimal, if they get through that stretch at .500 or better, itís a sign that the Ducks will be in the running for a playoff berth for the balance of the season.

Over an 82 game schedule, the roster isnít the equal of division mates Los Angeles, San Jose and Vancouver, but could nestle into a 6-7-8 seed in the spring.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period.


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