Apologies if the horse is long dead and mercilessly beaten, but THN sees good things ahead for the Anaheim Ducks.
It's fair to assume any team with a fantastic crop of 21-and-younger talent dwells near the bottom of the NHL standings. Endure horrible season, get high draft pick, hoard high-end talent, rinse, repeat. That's why teams like the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres rank so highly in our Future Watch edition. But what about spoiled Anaheim, a.k.a. the Lucky Ducks? Our scouting panel rates their farm system as the best in the business and they finished with the Western Conference's top record this season.
The Ducks had their hearts broken in round 2 at home to the Kings in Game 7, but, sheesh, things are looking up for this squad. It advanced a round further than last year and its new guard of prospects will get to spread its wings even more going forward.
"One of the things we needed as a group was just more experience in those playoff games," says coach Bruce Boudreau. "We were throwing a lot of – I don’t want to make any excuses, but there were a lot of young guys playing in their first Game 7."
That highly rated young group features blueliners Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and forwards Devante Smith-Pelly, Jakob Silfverberg and Kyle Palmieri. The D-men logged crucial minutes in these playoffs and, with the probable retirement of Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, the young forwards should get increased opportunities. Emerson Etem has a great chance to stick in the NHL once and for all. Boudreau adds Swedish pivots Rickard Rakell and William Karlsson as names to watch in the near future.
Boudreau is especially amped about Anaheim's growth as a Cup contender because he sees one crucial similarity between his team and the champions of this half-decade.
"We look at the teams that have won the Cup, the last four teams anyway – Chicago twice, Boston once, L.A. twice – and the teams have stayed together," he says. "They were able to grow together. That's the case with this team here, because the two stars are on long-term deals, and the rest of the guys are for the most part young. I think they’ll be able to keep this team together, and if they can keep it together, the continuity will grow. So I think they will be as good or better next year than they were this year."
The two stars to whom Boudreau refers, of course, are Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, inked through the 2020-21 season. And Fowler is locked up for the next four seasons. That's not a core to rival Chicago's or L.A.'s just yet, but it's more than a start, especially if the Ducks' goaltending keeps developing. Toss out John Gibson's Game 7 debacle, by the way. It was almost unheard of to throw a goaltender into that situation with only six NHL games to his name. He remains the game's top netminding prospect and a big part of Anaheim's plans. The question on many minds, however, is where Gibson fits in the short term, relative to fellow standout Ducks rookie Frederik Andersen.
"It’s too early to tell, quite frankly," Boudreau says. "But Gibson did have a great first year, and we did see the vast potential of what he could become. At the same, Frederik Andersen is another young guy, he’s a first year guy, and we saw his advancement was great, so he could become a really good one. Or (GM Bob Murray) might go out and get an experienced one and have one of them play in the minors. I don’t know what the plan is yet."
Read between the lines and there's no vote of confidence for Jonas Hiller there. Intentionally or not, Boudreau seems to be telling us the Ducks will let Hiller walk as an unrestricted free agent. That means there's a strong chance Anaheim rolls with its two young tenders in hopes of building that championship core Boudreau envisions.
But for now, he'll pause his prognosticating to recharge over the off-season. Does that mean there's time for a little fun?
"Nope, I've got no fun in me," Boudreau deadpans. "I wish I did, but I’m going to go back East. I have my own hockey school, and we’ll run that. Other than that, it’s just seeing a lot of friends you haven’t seen all winter long."
If all goes according to plan, Boudreau and the Ducks will travel East as a team for some crucial games next June.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin