If you've been an NHL reporter for any stretch of time in recent years, you undoubtedly saw Pat Verbeek at the rink. The hard-working former NHL star was always around, building up a knowledge base that has brought him to this point: The new GM of the Anaheim Ducks.
It's a job he was seemingly destined to grab at some point based on the experience he has racked up and now specifically, it's Anaheim that will be cashing in on Verbeek's ascent.
In his introductory press conference with Ducks co-owner Henry Samueli, there was one name that came up quite often in reference to Verbeek's growth as an executive and that's Steve Yzerman. The Hall of Famer and current GM of the Detroit Red Wings worked with Verbeek in both Detroit and Tampa Bay and clearly carried a lot of weight with the Ducks.
"Absolutely that was a crucial factor," Samueli said. "Steve's record speaks for itself and he has been a tremendous mentor for Pat."
Samueli also thanked Yzerman for granting the Ducks permission to interview Verbeek in the first place; not a small ask in the middle of a season.
For Verbeek, his off-ice resume began as a pro scout with the Red Wings, brought on by legendary execs Jim Devellano and Ken Holland. Yzerman gave Verbeek opportunities to grow as an executive in Tampa Bay, where he was assistant GM and director of player personnel for years, building up a roster that would eventually win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021. Both Verbeek and Yzerman were back in Detroit by that time, but Samueli counted 17 players on those Lightning teams that could be traced back to Verbeek's tenure with the organization. Needless to say, the two had great chemistry.
"We really thought the game similarly," Verbeek said. "Steve allowed me to really branch out on certain things and allowed some of my ideas to be implemented in Tampa Bay and Detroit. That gave me a lot more experience."
As for Verbeek himself, the Ducks found their guy in a very competitive field that included some strong internal candidates in the final five.
"Pat checked more boxes than anyone else," Samueli said. "He matched our values, ethics and vision and we reference-checked that thoroughly throughout the league."
Anaheim is in a very interesting position right now. Heading into the 2021-22 season, the Ducks were seen as a rebuilding outfit that would probably be fun, but wouldn't necessarily win a ton of games. But thanks to a lot of things going right on the ice, Anaheim is right in the thick of the Pacific Division playoff race (due to a disparity in games played right now, they sit in third, but Calgary and Edmonton both have the chance to pass them).
On top of Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale taking big steps forward as two of the franchise's future cornerstones, there was the unexpected rise of Troy Terry and Sonny Milano, plus captain Ryan Getzlaf thumbing his nose at Father Time and excelling at age 36.
"What's nice about young players is that they give a boost of enthusiasm to older players and that helps the team win," Verbeek said. "I would look at this as being in the middle of a rebuild. We have strengths and weaknesses. The goal is to eliminate the weaknesses."
And there is something to be said for having success early: Getting to the playoffs would be great for the likes of Zegras and Drysdale, who would get a taste of what it takes to win in the NHL sooner than later.
On the other hand, the Ducks have a lot of significant players on expiring contracts who could be flipped to even stronger teams at the trade deadline: Pending unrestricted free agents this summer include Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson.
Luckily, as Verbeek noted, he still has seven weeks until the trade deadline to assess his new franchise and come up with different scenarios for how he wants the deadline to go. Having helped build a champion before, Verbeek knows that it takes years and while he wants to get at it as soon as possible, one of the most important values he learned from Yzerman in all their years together was patience.
Based on what the Ducks already have in the NHL and their developmental system, it's fair for Anaheim fans to get excited, however: Verbeek knows what he's doing.