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Ducks will let veterans lead way this season, GM Murray says

Young players 'fighting for three or four jobs' in quest to return to playoffs

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- The Anaheim Ducks want to get younger and faster. But that doesn't mean they're planning on playing a lot of kids in a rebuilding year, and they will emphasize more than footspeed.

General manager Bob Murray made it clear during development camp in June that there will be fewer spots available to younger players than has been speculated. Coach Dallas Eakins has been making his expectations clear in conversations with players.

"We feel we have a bunch of good, young hockey players coming," Murray said while scouting the World Junior Summer Showcase at USA Hockey Arena this week. "There's no superstars. We haven't drafted at the top where you get those guys. We think there's a bunch of really good young players there, and they're fighting for a few jobs.

 

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"I'm not going to put six, seven kids in our lineup right off the bat. You're setting them up for failure, and we have to set them up for success. We have to give them an opportunity to have some success. So they're fighting for three or four jobs, and they've been told that.

"They were just told that a month ago from me, personally. At the development camp, I just said, 'Guys, I know everybody thinks you're going to be here, you're going to be here, you're going to be here. Nope. Three or four of you will be here, and that's it. So you're fighting for jobs.' "

Anaheim missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time since 2011-12, finishing 10 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.

Center Ryan Kesler had hip surgery May 9 and might not play again. The 34-year-old has 573 points (258 goals, 315 assists) in 1,001 regular season games. Forward Corey Perry, first in games played (988), second in goals (372) and third in points (776) in Ducks history, had his contract bought out on June 19 and signed with the Dallas Stars on July 1.

Young players like defenseman Brendan Guhle, 22, center Sam Steel, 21, and forwards Troy Terry, 21, and Max Jones, 21, each will have an opportunity this season. But the Ducks still have goalie John Gibson; defensemen Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson; centers Ryan Getzlaf and Adam Henrique; and forwards Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg.

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"I take full responsibility for how that first half, three quarters went last year," said Murray, who replaced Randy Carlyle as coach Feb. 10 and promoted Eakins from San Diego of the American Hockey League on June 17. "We just weren't competitive enough. I think we're a better team than we showed.

"We are turning it over and becoming younger, but I still think we have enough core veterans that we can compete. We've got one of the best goaltenders in hockey. We've got good defense. So that alone …

"I think we should be competitive for a playoff spot."

Which should help the development of the younger players.

"They have to feel what it's like," Murray said. "You've got to experience it before you know it, and they have to experience it. So we've got to be competitive."

Video: Gibson remains crucial for Ducks this upcoming season

Anaheim tied for 17th in the NHL in goals against (3.02) and ranked last in goals per game (2.39) last season. Murray said the Ducks weren't hard enough as a team and let too many opponents get to their net. They need to be strong defensively, get the puck back and go.

"You're not standing around," Murray said. "You're moving it, and you know what you're going to do to get it up the ice as fast as you can.

"Playing fast, yes, you have to have fast skaters. But you've got to move the puck fast, and I think that's going to be the major difference with us going forward. Think fast. Move the puck fast. Everybody get involved."

Eakins knows the younger players from coaching them in San Diego for the past three seasons. He has been reaching out to the veterans this offseason, traveling to places like Sweden to see Rakell and Silfverberg and Pittsburgh to see Gibson. Murray said Getzlaf, the captain, was happy with his chat with Eakins.

"This wasn't done in the past here, and I'm not criticizing anybody," Murray said. "We had some success and didn't think it was necessary. But obviously we made some mistakes there. We've turned the page, and this is where we're going.

"With Dallas here, he's a different person than our former coaches. He's much more in tune with the modern athlete, the communicative aspects of it. Dallas has worked hard so far. So, for our players, it's going to be different for them. They better come ready to play at the beginning of the year."

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