Russell LaBounty / USA TODAY Sports
The Anaheim Ducks may be flying under the radar right now, but come playoff time, they’ll be a team absolutely nobody wants to face. If they can get there, that is.
At this point, the Ducks sit three points back of a playoff spot after stumbling out of the gate with an 11-11-5 record. It’s largely because their top two centers, and arguably their two best players – Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler – have played just six combined games due to injury.
Furthermore, defensemen Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Sami Vatanen have missed a combined 35 contests due to various ailments. The latter, of course, was traded to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday in exchange for center Adam Henrique in order to help replenish Anaheim’s lost depth up the middle.
While there’s a strong argument to be made that Vatanen is the better player with a higher ceiling, Henrique makes a healthy Ducks roster one of the deepest in the entire NHL – and perhaps the best Anaheim roster since the days when Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger roamed the blue line.
Here’s a look at a projected healthy Ducks lineup, with asterisks attached to the players sidelined due to injury in the team’s most recent game:
|Nick Ritchie||Ryan Getzlaf*||Corey Perry|
|Andrew Cogliano||Ryan Kesler*||Jakob Silfverberg*|
|Ondrej Kase||Adam Henrique||Rickard Rakell*|
|Joseph Blandisi||Antoine Vermette||Patrick Eaves**|
**Eaves has Guillain-Barre Syndrome and there is no timetable for his return.
|Hampus Lindholm||Josh Manson|
|Cam Fowler||Brandon Montour|
|Francois Beauchemin||Kevin Bieksa|
On paper, the Ducks have all the ingredients of a team that would be favored to win the Stanley Cup. They’re strong down the middle, have scoring depth, feature a blend of mobility and physicality on the blue line, and employ a goaltender who’s capable of stealing a series. Without the Henrique-for-Vatanen deal, however, they wouldn’t check off all of these boxes.
Henrique – who already has a goal and an assist in two games with the Ducks – now provides the same element that Nick Bonino gave the Penguins over the last two years: a third-line center who’s good enough to exploit soft matchups.
That’s because Getzlaf will always draw opponents’ top checking lines and D pairings, while Kesler will always play against top lines, which leaves Henrique – previously a top-two center – with the easiest matchups of his career. With Rickard Rakell (or Corey Perry) likely playing alongside him to offer balance, it could be one of the league’s most productive third units.
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
The trade-off is that Anaheim must now rely more heavily on Brandon Montour to fill Vatanen’s shoes. But in many ways, Montour is a younger, better version of Vatanen. While he’s not the biggest defender, he’s a puck-moving, right-handed-shooting offensive blue-liner who can quarterback a power play.
Montour already has 14 points in 26 games – good for third on the Ducks – while Vatanen has gotten off to a slow start with just four points in 17 contests. It’s possible Montour could flourish even further with an increased role.
Given the hole the Ducks have dug themselves, it’s unlikely they’ll finish as one of the top seeds in the Western Conference this season. Instead, they’ll most likely have to make the playoffs as a wild-card team – something that would give them an underdog mentality that could catapult them all the way to the Stanley Cup title.