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Player Review: Deadline Acquisitions

Tidbits on Milano, Heinen, Agozzino, Djoos, Irwin and Backes

by Kyle Shohara @kyleshohara / AnaheimDucks.com

The end of the 2019-20 Ducks season was made official when the NHL announced its Return to Play Plan on May 26. Anaheim concluded the season with a 29-33-9 record and 67 points, having played 71 games until the regular season was paused March 12 and eventually deemed completed May 26 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over this offseason we're featuring a different Ducks player in numerical order in our annual player review series highlighting key stats and moments from the past season. You can find published pieces and a full schedule on this landing page.

Trade Deadline Day was an active one for Ducks Executive Vice President/General Manager Bob Murray, who made a franchise-record six trades and a waiver claim in the hours leading up to the noon PT cut-off on Monday, Feb. 24.

Five new players joined the Ducks that day: forwards Sonny Milano (Columbus via trade), Danton Heinen (Boston via trade) and Andrew Agozzino (Pittsburgh via waivers), and defensemen Christian Djoos (Washington via trade) and Matt Irwin (Nashville via trade). Three days earlier, Murray acquired veteran forward David Backes, prospect defenseman Axel Andersson and a first-round selection in the 2020 NHL Draft from Boston.

The flurry of moves made for an interesting lineup in the game that followed, a home contest on Feb. 25 vs. Edmonton that marked the Ducks debuts for Milano, Heinen, Agozzino, Djoos and Irwin. Backes made his Ducks debut on March 1 vs. New Jersey, while Andersson played out the season with QMJHL Moncton.

What a first night it was for 24-year-old Milano, who scored two goals, including his second career overtime tally in the 4-3 OTW. Milano became the 10th player in NHL history to score an overtime goal in their first game with a franchise (career debut or otherwise).

His first goal was an example of dogged determination.

Video: EDM@ANA: Milano pushes backhander past Smith

On his OT winner, Milano switched spots with veteran Adam Henrique. The move paid off.

Video: EDM@ANA: Milano taps home PPG for OT winner

"It was definitely a lot of fun," he said, in this get-to-know feature from the day after his debut. "Good opportunity to be out there in overtime and capitalizing. It was nice. Henrique made a great play there. It was a great feeling."

Milano became the fourth player in club history to score two goals in his Anaheim debut (also Alex Hicks on Nov. 15, 1995 vs. Colorado, Steve Thomas on March 12, 2003 vs. Chicago and Dan Winnik on Jan. 19, 2013 at Vancouver).

He had five points (2g/3a) in his nine games with the Ducks before the NHL season was paused on March 12. Acquired from Columbus in exchange for Devin Shore, Milano combined for 23 points (7g/16a) in 55 games with the Ducks and Blue Jackets. Milano's 100th career game took place with the Blue Jackets on Dec. 14 at Ottawa.

Heinen split his third NHL season with Anaheim and Boston, recording 26 points (10g/16a) in 67 games. Acquired from the Bruins in exchange for Nick Ritchie, the 25-year-old forward picked up points in three of his first four games as a Duck (2g/1a), including his first goal with the club in a 3-2 victory on Feb. 28 vs. Pittsburgh.

Video: PIT@ANA: Heinen chips in pass from Sherwood

The newcomers factored in on his second goal with the Ducks in a game on March 3 at Chicago. The impressive sequence began with Milano finding Djoos creeping down from the point, who then outwaited Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford before feeding it to Heinen.

Video: ANA@CHI: Heinen finishes great pass from Djoos

Agozzino split the 2019-20 season with the Ducks and Penguins, recording three points (1g/2a) in 22 games. He spent the majority of the season with AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he posted 33 points (14g/19a) in 37 games.

His first goal as a Duck came on March 4 against Colorado, a game-tying marker in the first period. Undrafted, Agozzino earned a contract with the Avs in March 2013 and made his NHL debut with them on Nov. 22, 2014.

Video: ANA@COL: Rowney sets up Agozzino's first goal of year

Like Agozzino, Djoos spent most of the season in the AHL playing with Hershey, where he earned 32 points (5g/27a) in 42 games. His stint with the Capitals lasted all of two games, a back-to-back set Dec. 27-28. Perhaps a change of scenery was needed for the 25-year-old defenseman because he fit in seamlessly with the Ducks.

He appeared in nine games with Anaheim after the trade (a 1-for-1 with Daniel Sprong), collecting three points (1g/2a) with a +3 rating. His work on the power play was one of the reasons behind the trade, as Murray said in his trade deadline recap. "We went out and got Djoos and [Joel] Persson (from Edmonton). They're power-play type people we wanted to get a look at here right now. We were able to get a couple guys on the backend we could look at for the power play, so to speak."

In addition to his nifty pass in the Heinen video earlier, Djoos delivered in the clutch on March 8 vs. Minnesota. His game-tying goal came with 1:42 remaining in regulation to force overtime, but again it showed his offensive instincts kicking in by creeping down to the left faceoff dot and making himself available for a pass. The slick no-look feed came from fellow Swede Jakob Silfverberg.

Video: MIN@ANA: Djoos hammers Silfverberg's set-up home late

Following the game, Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins had this to say about Djoos. "He can make the play. He's always looking to make a play. He rarely slaps the puck away. He rarely ices the puck. He has that ability that some defensemen have to control the tempo of the game at times. There's a guy doing his best in the American [Hockey] League this year battling it out. It's a great opportunity for him [with the Ducks]. So far, he's really played well."

On May 6, Djoos signed a one-year extension through the 2020-21 NHL season.

Fellow defenseman Irwin made his presence felt immediately. In his nine games with the Ducks, the veteran d-man led the club in blocked shots per 60 minutes (7.12) and in hits per 60 (8.02, minimum of seven games). He collected his first point as a Duck (assist) and logged a career-high 27:42 TOI in a 4-3 overtime victory on March 4 at Colorado. His Ducks debut saw him record a game-high seven hits in a 4-3 OTW vs. Edmonton on Feb. 25.

Acquired from Nashville with a sixth-round selection in the 2022 NHL Draft for Korbinian Holzer, Irwin combined for three points (all assists) in 36 games with the Ducks and Predators this past season.

When Backes made his Ducks debut on March 1 vs. New Jersey, it was more than just a game with his new team. The veteran of 14 NHL seasons was out to prove he still had gas left in the tank after an assignment to AHL Providence in January had some thinking it was the end of the road.

Backes put in the work during practices and pregame skates leading up to his Ducks debut, often one of the last to leave the ice. Even at 35 (he turned 36 in May), the Minneapolis, Minnesota native was all smiles after a hard skate. He wanted to lead by example.

"With the right situation and method of play and opportunity, you can still be a good player in this league," Backes said, in this feature posted on the morning of his Ducks debut. "I'm looking to still establish that and get it back. There's a little bit of gas left in the tank to give a little bit more. There's drive left in this body. I've seen a lot of things in this league. I want to prove, with opportunity, I can still be a very viable player. A productive player on a team that can win a lot of games."

He earned his first point as a Duck (assist) five days later in a game against Toronto. Backes followed it up with a season-high two-point performance (both assists) on March 10 vs. Ottawa, a game that also saw him establish a season high in TOI (17:13) and tie a season best in plus/minus (+2).

Backes took pride in being a mentor and showing what it means to be a professional. "It starts with that and doing it myself. From there, you gain a little bit of equity with guys to challenge them to jump right behind you. I'm sure Getz is going to be the engine on this train. I could maybe not be the No. 2 car, but somewhere in the line. Find your way. As long as he's setting that standard, we're all following right behind it, and it can be a powerful momentum to establishing an identity and a successful one."

Before the tragic passing of Oilers forward Colby Cave on April 11, Backes and his wife, Kelly, held daily Zoom prayer groups, detailed in this ESPN.com feature with Cave's wife, Emily, posted on July 9.

"We haven't been able to hold a funeral for Colby yet, but I've already asked David to speak at it because he was an incredible mentor to Colby," Emily said. "I know Colby admired him so much."

Being a mentor and positive role model has always meant a lot to Backes, who, in addition to his 950 games in the NHL has played in two Olympics, three World Championships and a World Cup.

"It's the ability to influence younger guys with setting a work ethic standard," Backes said. "How to carry yourself, how to be a pro and a good person with a grateful heart for every opportunity you've been given. This is an opportunity I've been given and I'm extremely grateful."

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