Pacific Division Preview: How the West Will Be Won

SAN JOSE, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: Mike Smith #41 and Travis Hamonic #24 of the Calgary Flames stop Rourke Chartier #60 and Marcus Sorensen #20 of the San Jose Sharks from scoring during their preseason game at SAP Center on September 27, 2018 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: Mike Smith #41 and Travis Hamonic #24 of the Calgary Flames stop Rourke Chartier #60 and Marcus Sorensen #20 of the San Jose Sharks from scoring during their preseason game at SAP Center on September 27, 2018 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
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Pacific Division
LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 29: Goaltender John Gibson #36 and Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks celebrate after defeating the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 in the preseason game at STAPLES Center on September 29, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Anaheim Ducks

Head Coach: Randy Carlyle

Key Additions: Brian Gibbons, Carter Rowney, Luke Schenn, Patrick Eaves (Returning from injury)

Key Losses: Antoinie Vermette, Derek Grant

Strengths: Goaltending, Veteran presence, and Defensive core.

Weaknesses: Speed, Lack of scoring depth, and Health concerns.

Predicted Point Total: 97 (42 – 30 – 10)

The Anaheim Ducks didn’t do much during the off-season when it comes to impact free agent signings. They did lock down a few players already on their roster. They are banking on their core players to come back and reclaim their contender status in the Pacific Division.

Anaheim is coming off a hard fought regular season during their 2017 – 2018 campaign. They scraped and clawed enough to place 2nd in overall points in the Pacific Division with 101 points.

For the first few weeks of the season the Ducks were plagued with injuries to their most important players. At times last year the Ducks team consisted of a majority of their AHL affiliate San Diego Gulls roster regulars.

They were missing core players like Hampus Lindolm, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Eaves and Ryan Kesler for chunks of last season. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle was able to stitch together impactful line ups in order to perpetuate his reputation of being a playoff coach. He relied on exceptional goaltending from John Gibson and contributions from players casual hockey fans weren’t aware of.

The Ducks leaned on young skaters like Rickard Rakell, Ondej Kase, and Brandon Montour to drag them through the rough patches of their season. Rakell led the team in points with 69, 34 of which were goals. He used his deceivingly fast skating ability to sneak into shooting lanes or open space in the offensive zone. There he was able to launch his quick wrist shot towards that crease where the Ducks big bodies are parked in order to screen the goalie.

Ondej Kase came out of the woodwork last year and put up nice numbers for a Ducks team desperate for depth scoring. He had 38 points with 5 clutch game winning goals in 66 games. The Czech skater got more and more comfortable in his role as the season went on.

Something that is impressive about the young winger is that a major chunk of his production happened at 5v5. This illustrates that he is impactful in all 3 zones and coach Carlyle trusts his ability to score during crunch time. He is a name to keep tabs on next season; the Ducks are banking on the 22 year old to continue to progress with a full season with the big club.

On paper the Ducks are very solid defensively, with having one of the most formidable top 2 pairings in the Pacific Division. But this is a very volatile group where things can go wrong quick if any of Lindholm, Fowler, Manson, or Montour go down to injury.

The Ducks had a difficult time suppressing shots last season they finished in the top 10 for shots allowed and top 3 in High Danger Scoring Chances allowed. These stats are concerning, but with a fully healthy defensive core look for them to bounce back in both of those statistical categories.

You might be asking yourself if this team had trouble scoring goals and got peppered by that many scoring chances how the hell did they finish their season with 101 points? The answer is a simple one, John Gibson is a spectacular goalie. The Ducks seem to feel the same way; they extended their franchise goalie with an 8 year 51 million dollar contract over the summer, per capfriendly.

Gibson’s prowess in the crease is exhibited by one key team stat. Their High Danger Goals For to High Danger Goals Against differential ended the season at an astounding +34. The Ducks give up a lot of dangerous scoring chances but John Gibson is there to make the tough saves. I don’t think Anaheim wants to repeat the this type of defensive strategy but having Gibson in net is a great insurance policy for a team still figuring out who they are.

The Ducks believe they have playoff roster with the all of their returning players. They suffered a huge blow in training camp with the loss of Corey Perry, but I wouldn’t dance on this team’s grave just yet.

Along with their extension to Gibson, they locked up last year’s trade acquisition Adam Henrique who played very well for them since coming over from New Jersey. Patrick Eaves is also returning from a long term injury and is looking to reformulate the chemistry he built with this Ducks club.

Also keep an eye out for young forwards Sam Steel and the unsigned Nick Ritchie. This team has done a decent job of incorporating their young impact in with their grizzled veterans so it is tough to judge how they’ll compete this upcoming season in the Pacific Division.

Overall I would be wary of counting the Ducks out of a playoff spot just yet. Head Coach Randy Caryle is known for getting his team in the playoffs, and this roster has an all pro goalie, still littered with experienced veterans, strong defensive core and also possesses young high end scoring talent.

The Pacific Division has changed a lot and the Ducks have managed to stay relatively the same. They are hoping their old recipe for success will continue to result in regular season success. Anaheim starts their season off against the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 3.

Lucas Burrell