NHL

Projecting the Anaheim Ducks’ 2020-21 Lineup

With the NHL’s targeted start date for the 2020-21 season a little over six weeks away, we here at The Hockey Writers thought we would take a look at what the Anaheim Ducks lineup could look like that night. While it hasn’t been the most exciting offseason in Southern California, last season ending so shortly after the trade deadline means there are still a few players looking to make their mark. Add in Kevin Shattenkirk joining the Ducks fresh off a Stanley Cup run with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the return of #Elite1C Derek Grant, there will be plenty of decisions for head coach Dallas Eakins to make in his second season behind the bench.

On top of that, Anaheim will be hoping that some of their established players can get back to finding their best form on a nightly basis while also seeing some significant improvements from the younger ones. While the top of the lineup will largely be a matter of mixing and matching to find what works, the bottom of the lineup will be far less definitive. With more than a few players for only a handful of spots, anyone hoping to earn a role in the bottom six or on a third pair will have to earn their keep on nightly basis.

We’ve tried to address those questions, and a few others we think will be of import and relevance to the upcoming season. So, without further ado, it’s time to see what our wonderful panel of writers thinks fans can expect to see whenever the NHL starts back up again.

Derek Lee

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Sonny Milano Ryan Getzlaf Danton Heinen
Rickard Rakell Adam Henrique Jakob Silfverberg
Max Jones Sam Steel Troy Terry
Nicolas Deslauriers Derek Grant Carter Rowney
David Backes
Left Defense Right Defense Goalies
Cam Fowler Josh Manson John Gibson
Hampus Lindholm Kevin Shattenkirk Anthony Stolarz
Christian Djoos Kodie Curran
Brendan Guhle Jacob Larsson

This is not exactly an intimidating lineup. The Ducks haven’t had any all-stars besides the obligatory choice since 2017 when Cam Fowler and Ryan Kesler were both selected. They also haven’t had a player eclipse 60 points in a season since the 2017-18 season.

While this is, in fact, a team that won’t be competing for a Stanley Cup Final berth any time soon, this upcoming season will be analyzed through the progression of the Ducks’ young players and whether or not the team is capable of moving on from running their offense through Ryan Getzlaf, when the time comes. Keep an eye on the third defensive pairing as well, as there are a handful of players that could win out that spot.

Max Comtois, Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One Surprise: He’s not listed on my tentative lineup sheet, but Maxime Comtois has a big opportunity to force the hand of Ducks management. The 21-year-old isn’t missing a beat during the offseason in terms of his fitness. It’s a crowded depth chart for sure, but a good training camp performance could have him in the starting lineup ahead of players who underperformed last season.

One Big Question: Can Rickard Rakell get back to his goal-scoring ways? While the young guns surely have to take a big step forward, he is a more proven commodity and will be relied on for more production than players like Max Jones, Sam Steel, and Troy Terry. In the past, Rakell has done his best work alongside Getzlaf, but a dearth of offensive talent has led to the Swedish winger shifting around the lineup in an effort to get his groove back. Rakell ended last season on a line with Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg –– arguably Anaheim’s best line on paper –– and will look to bounce back after another disappointing season.

Player to Watch: Sonny Milano. Milano marked his Ducks debut with two goals, including the game-winner in overtime, but didn’t score at all in the next eight games prior to the season shutdown. Formerly a top prospect, the winger received a change of scenery when the organization acquired him from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline for Devin Shore. Milano has a chance to play alongside Getzlaf this upcoming season and if he can get back to the production level that he was at during his early AHL seasons, this deal would look like a coup for Bob Murray.

Rebecca Radtke

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Rickard Rakell Adam Henrique Jakob Silfverberg
Sonny Milano Ryan Getzlaf Troy Terry
Sam Steel Trevor Zegras Danton Heinen
Nic Deslauriers Derek Grant David Backes
Left Defense Right Defense Goalies
Hampus Lindholm Kevin Shattenkirk John Gibson
Cam Fowler Josh Manson Anthony Stolarz
Jacob Larsson Jamie Drysdale

Projected lineups in hockey shouldn’t even be a thing right now being that it is November, but here we are. Starting in net, I think that John Gibson, despite having his worst season, remains Anaheim’s unquestioned starter. Blending the younger with the more experienced is what could make the Ducks successful upcoming season. With the strong defense and established coaching with Eakins, they are looking good in that regard.

Erie Otters Jamie Drysdale
Jamie Drysdale of the Erie Otters. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

One Surprise: With the contracts of right-handed defenseman Jamie Drysdale and play-making center Trevor Zegras taken care of, the Ducks are looking solid even with the lack of cap space. Having these two guys on the roster is definitely on the gutsy side, but let’s dive into this line up.

Drysdale was the sixth-overall pick in the 2020 Draft. At 18 years old, he has the ability to grow as a player and become one of the faces of the franchise in the coming years. He is able to create goal-scoring plays and be an adaptable player for Anaheim. As for Zegras, in 2019 he was drafted ninth overall and is also on the younger end at only 19 years old. This kid has moldability as either a wing or a center and he is able to create plays as well as finish them. Zegras and Drysdale both are going to be a threat for any team the Ducks play in the future.

One Big Question: So, I guess the one big question that everyone is looking into is COVID-19 affecting the season and how it will make play more complicated. The question for me is how are potential hub cities going to affect the team overall? Will we have to worry about more young players getting COVID in this scenario?

Player to Watch: I think the player to watch is Trevor Zegras. The former ninth-overall pick is the next generation of the Ducks and will be expected to lead them to their next Stanley Cup. The 19-year-old is exactly what the team needs to expand its depth and change the lineup.

Eddy Jones

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Sonny Milano Ryan Getzlaf Troy Terry
Rickard Rakell Adam Henrique Jakob Silfverberg
Max Jones Sam Steel Danton Heinen
Nicolas Deslauriers Derek Grant Carter Rowney
David Backes Maxime Comtois
Left Defense Right Defense Goalies
Hampus Lindholm Kevin Shattenkirk John Gibson
Cam Fowler Josh Manson Anthony Stolarz
Christian Djoos Jacob Larsson
Kodie Curran

Starting with the forwards, not much, if anything, has changed from the 2019-20 season. Grant returns to the team after departing at the trade deadline, but other than that, there are no new additions to the Ducks’ lineup. Getzlaf retains his spot as the number one centre, but the Ducks’ second line of Henrique, Rakell and Silfverberg is likely their go-to option for generating offense. Terry gets bumped up with Getzlaf and Milano in hopes that he can find some offensive consistency that’s evaded him thus far.

Danton Heinen Anaheim Ducks
Danton Heinen, Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Steel and Jones get paired up with Heinen on the third line, which for me is the most intriguing trio for Anaheim heading into the 2020-21 season. It’s another “wait-and-see” season for the Ducks’ young forwards and their success depends on the progress made by the likes of Jones, Terry, Steel and company. The fourth line stays the same with David Backes likely checking in every two or three games to change things up.

It was a difficult choice leaving Comtois on the outside looking in, but he’ll have to beat someone out of a roster spot if he hopes to make the opening-day lineup. Most notably, Zegras was excluded from the roster entirely. I believe he starts the season in the AHL and we’ll see him up with the Ducks’ later on in the season.

Trevor Zegras Anaheim Ducks 2019 NHL Draft
Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On defense, there is both a sense of familiarity and optimism heading into the 2020-21 season. Fowler, Lindholm and Manson return as the Ducks’ stalwarts on the blue line. However, the addition of Shattenkirk provides the Ducks with a legitimate top-four defense corp. The big question is if you keep Lindholm and Manson together, can you rely on Fowler and Shattenkirk to get the job done defensively? I opted to switch it up and pair Shattenkirk with Lindholm in hopes that it would give the former more freedom to operate offensively.

The bottom pairing remains a revolving door of three to four different players. Christian Djoos and Jacob Larsson are likely to have the inside track on spots for opening night. However, the likes of Brendan Guhle, Josh Mahura and Kodie Curran will be challenging for spots all season. Gibson remains the starting goaltender, but Anthony Stolarz checks in as his back-up with Ryan Miller hitting free agency.

One Surprise: Benoit-Olivier Groulx plays more than 10 games with the Ducks during the 2020-21 season. This one is a bit of a long shot, but I just have a feeling he plays his way into the lineup. He’ll likely start in the AHL, but his commitment to the defensive side of the game will be evident from the get-go and I have confidence that his progress offensively will earn him a call-up. He will have to wait until a roster spot frees up, but when it does it will be hard to take him out of the lineup.

Max Jones Anaheim Ducks
Max Jones, Anaheim Ducks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

One Big Question: The question this year is the same as last year for me. Can the kids take another step forward this season? Steel, Jones and Terry all made progress during the 2019-20 season, but they will have to start contributing more offensively if the Ducks are going to challenge for a playoff spot. Comtois and Zegras will also work their way into the fold this year and expectations will be high for both of them. Beyond maybe four players (Getzlaf, Henrique, Silfverberg, and Rakell), no one’s roster spot is guaranteed.

Player to Watch: It would be easy to say Zegras for this section, but for me it’s actually Comtois who is the player to watch this season. He’s entering the same point in his career that Terry, Steel and Jones faced during the 2019-20 season. It’s time for him to earn consistent minutes in the NHL and he seems due for a breakout season. As mentioned earlier, he will have to beat someone out of a roster spot, so he will have to take advantage of the opportunities given to him

Stephen Dohner

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Max Jones Adam Henrique Danton Heinen
Rickard Rakell Sam Steel Jakob Silfverberg
Sonny Milano Ryan Getzlaf Troy Terry
Rowney Carter Derek Grant David Backes
Nicolas Deslauriers Isaac Lundestrom
Left Defense Right Defense Goalies
Hampus Lindholm Josh Manson John Gibson
Cam Fowler Kevin Shattenkirk Ryan Miller
Josh Mahura Christian Djoos
Kodie Curran

The Ducks lack anything even approaching first-line talent. Anaheim essentially has a top six built of all middle-six guys and a bottom-six of unproven kids and replacement-level veterans. This lineup is basically the equivalent of buying a lotto ticket on your way home after lighting a candle and thinking you did your part. I mean, sure, once you buy the ticket all it takes is a bit of luck for you to win the lottery, but you’re better off not counting on that for retirement.

In much the same way, you definitely have a better chance to win the Stanley Cup with this roster than no roster at all. But improving your odds from outright impossible to wildly improbable isn’t really a coherent plan. You’d like to hope that Bob Murray has more of a plan than a few young wings and a prayer, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case. This could be a long year for Ducks fans.

Rickard Rakell Anaheim Ducks
Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One Surprise: Someone is getting traded, and by someone I mean one of the older players. This team isn’t going to be able to compete at the level that Murray expects them to. And I think he’s either going to get fired, in which case all bets are off on who is or isn’t safe, or he’s going to rage trade someone to prove a point. If I had to put money on it, I would lean towards one of Rakell, Manson or Henrique, with Lindholm and Fowler being reasonable long shots. One way or another though, at least one of the names at the top of the payroll won’t be there by the end of the year.

One Big Question: Who steps up? Murray has made it abundantly clear that he expects this team to compete for the playoffs next season. He brought in Shattenkirk to try and add some creativity and offensive punch to an unproductive blue line and breathe new life into a power play that has languished in futility for years. He also brought back Grant to round out the bottom of the roster. And he gave both of them three-year deals, ensuring they would be around for a while.

But neither of those moves address the team’s biggest issue, a lack of offensive production from the young forwards on the team. Not a one of Jones, Steel, Terry, and Comtois has reached 10 goals in a season, and relative newcomers Heinen and Milano have yet to reach the 20-goal mark. Henrique, Silfverberg, and Getzlaf are all on the wrong side of 30 years old and Rakell is coming off his second straight season failing to pot 20 goals. Someone from this group is going to need to develop into a difference-maker sooner than later if Murray is going to get his wish. The question is, who will it be. 

Cam Fowler Anaheim Ducks
Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Player to Watch: Cam Fowler. For the second year in a row Fowler will ultimately be the bellwether for the front office’s offseason decisions. Last season his play was seen as a viable proxy for evaluating Eakins’ ability to update and overhaul an embarrassingly outdated style of play. Replacing Erik Gudbranson with Shattenkirk should provide Fowler with a similar opportunity to fulfill the potential that so many saw in him when he was drafted 12th overall in 2010.

Shattenkirk should take some of the back end playmaking burden off of Fowler, and hopefully move him down to the second power-play unit. However, if the Shattenkirk signing is ultimately a bust, Fowler might take the biggest hit. And, even if it’s not, there is no guarantee that Fowler can repeat what was a career season last year.

Conclusion

As it stands now, the 2020-21 Ducks lineup is basically the salad bar at Sizzler. There are more than enough options to fill a plate, but you’re counting on more than a few things being better than they look for the experience to be anything more than mediocre. Ultimately Anaheim’s roster will be defined by how many, if any, players can perform up to expectations, let alone exceed them. There is certainly a lot to like about the potential on this roster, but a lot of that potential feels more likely to come good in the next 2-3 years as opposed to the next 2-3 months.




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