By AJ Manderichio
AnaheimDucks.comAs part of the AnaheimDucks.com annual Player Reviews, we will be featuring a different Ducks player throughout the coming weeks, in numerical uniform number order. Each review will include key stats, a highlight from last season and an outlook for 2016-17.
Kevin Bieksa’s first season as a Duck is a two-part story.
The first follows the same trajectory as the team. Mired in a first-half malaise, Bieksa struggled to find consistency. Playing with Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm, the veteran rearguard complied just four points, all assists, in 36 games.
When the team turned on the jets, the man nicknamed “Juice” found his mojo.
Over the last three months of the season, Bieksa posted 11 points (4g,7a) while finding his comfort zone on the defensive end. He consistently brought the physical brand of hockey promised when he was acquired from Vancouver, and helped settle a shifting rotation on the team’s blueline.
Adversity just wouldn’t let go of Bieksa. In late March, an attempted hit during a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs left him with an upper-body injury, forcing him to miss the remainder of the regular season and Game 1 of the team’s First Round series against the Nashville Predators.
He returned for the remainder of the series, showing the same grit he put on display during the regular season. In Game 5, Bieksa laid out to stop Colin Wilson’s backhanded attempt. Taking the shot directly to the face, he skated off, spitting out pieces of his teeth.
He returned for his next shift.
After a disappointing finish to the season, Bieksa resisted the temptation to use his injuries as an excuse.
“Everyone plays, at some point, with injury, with illness. I’m not a guy who’s going to sit here and complain right now," he said. “You’d like to be a little healthier in playoffs. I wasn’t able to be super physical. I tried to be physical, but there were times when the arm just wouldn’t work. I had to manage my game that way.”
A summer spent recovering – and a full offseason as a member of the organization – should help Bieksa replicate his late-season success. The veteran defenseman returns to a blueline that helped goaltenders Frederik Andersen and John Gibson capture the organization’s first William M. Jennings Memorial Trophy. In 71 games last season, he finished second among blueliners in both hits (152) and blocks (108).
He can also chip in on special teams. Last season, Bieksa manned the point on the team’s second power-play unit and was a regular on the penalty kill, both areas where the Ducks led the league to finish the regular season.
Seeing head coach Randy Carlyle behind the bench won’t be new for Bieksa. He played for Carlyle while a member of the Manitoba Moose (AHL) during the 2004-05 season, a team that also featured Ryan Kesler. Bieksa posted his best season in the minors that season, recording 39 points (12g/27a) and helping the Moose reach the Western Conference Final.
It took longer than expected, but Bieksa ripped home his first goal as a Duck to help ground the Winnipeg Jets at Honda Center. With the team on the power play in the first period, the puck cycled around the boards, landing on the stick of Lindholm. He fed Bieksa at the far boards, and Bieksa paused to allow Kesler to set a screen in front of Michael Hutchinson.
The Jets’ goalie never had a chance.
Bieksa would go on to record an assist that night, tallying his first multi-point effort of the season in the 4-1 win.