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Ducks aim to continue push for Cup after quiet offseason

Healthy Gibson, return to form for Perry could lead to sixth straight Pacific Division title

by Dan Arritt / NHL.com Correspondent

The Anaheim Ducks did not make any drastic roster changes in the offseason after coming within two wins of reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in their history last season. They made their run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs after winning their fifth consecutive Pacific Division championship following a 14-2-3 push over the final five-plus weeks of the regular season but were defeated by the Nashville Predators in six games in the Western Conference Final. 

Injuries to veteran center Ryan Kesler and defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen have left openings in the lineup.

Kesler, 33, had surgery in Colorado on June 8 to remove several pieces of floating hip capsule. The Ducks are hoping to have him back by Christmas.

Vatanen and Lindholm each had offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum; Anaheim hopes each will return by Nov. 1.

Here is a look at the five keys for the Ducks, the inside scoop on their roster questions and projected lines for the 2017-18 season:  

 

5 KEYS 

1. Gibson's durability

John Gibson is one of the better goaltenders in the NHL when healthy. His .924 save percentage was tied for fifth in the League last season among goalies who played more than 25 games, and his 2.22 goals-against average was fifth. But he missed 17 of Anaheim's final 21 regular-season games with a lower-body injury and left after the first period of Game 5 of the conference final against the Predators. Gibson missed Game 6, and Anaheim was eliminated.

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm5: Gibson lays out to rob Neal down low

2. Rakell's move to center

Kesler's absence has created an opening in the middle, and the Ducks appear ready to fill it with Rickard Rakell. The 24-year-old is coming off a breakout season when he had 51 points (33 goals, 18 assists), and his 18.6 shooting percent was tied for fifth in the NHL among those who played at least 60 games. Most of those numbers came while playing on the wing, where he could focus more on his offense and less on defensive responsibilities.

3. Progression of young defensemen

The absence of Lindholm and Vatanen should open the door for defensemen Marcus Pettersson, 21, Andy Welinski, 24, and Josh Mahura, 19, but it will be up to last season's newcomers to help replace their production, including Brandon Montour, 23, who didn't make the Ducks out of training camp last year and was in the American Hockey League through late February. Despite that, Montour ended up being one of Anaheim's most skilled defensemen down the stretch and into the playoffs.

4. Regaining power-play strength

The Ducks led the League on the power play in 2015-16 (23.1 percent) but dipped to 17th last season (18.7 percent) before going 7-for-54 (13 percent) in the playoffs. Of Anaheim's top six point-producers on the power play two seasons ago, only Kesler improved his point total (from 15 to 20) last season. 

5. Perry's production

Forward Corey Perry scored 43 goals in 2013-14 and 34 two seasons ago, but he took a big step back last season with 19 goals despite playing in 82 games for the second consecutive season. Perry should still be in his prime at 32; he's six days younger than center and longtime teammate Ryan Getzlaf, who had 73 points (15 goals, 58 assists) last season. It's not unreasonable to expect a bounce-back season for Perry.

Video: The guys preview the Ducks' upcoming 2017-18 season

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Biggest lock

Getzlaf put together another All-Star caliber season and grew more productive as the games increased in significance. In his seventh season as Ducks captain, Getzlaf had 73 points in 74 regular-season games and 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 17 playoff games. In addition to his production, his physicality on the ice and leadership in the locker room make him irreplaceable.

Biggest battle

The fourth-line center role was vacated when Nate Thompson signed a two-year, $3.3 million contract with the Ottawa Senators on July 1. The Ducks already are thin up the middle with Kesler out indefinitely, so there's an opportunity for forwards Sam Steel, 19, Max Jones, 19, and Maxime Comtois, 18, to earn an opening night roster spot. Steel appears to have an edge on the competition because he's a natural center and played well in the Prospect Showcase in San Jose earlier this month.

Most intriguing addition

The Ducks signed 37-year-old goaltender Ryan Miller to a two-year, $4 million contract ($2 million average annual value) on July 1, providing insurance should lower-body injuries continue to be an issue for Gibson. One of the best in the League when healthy, Gibson missed key games down the stretch and in the playoffs last season. Miller, who had an NHL career-high 41 wins and won the Vezina Trophy in 2009-10, is more proven than Anaheim's backup in 2016-17, Jonathan Bernier.

Video: Ryan Getzlaf takes the No. 23 spot

Biggest potential surprise

Montour will look to take the next step this season. Injuries to other defensemen opened the door for him to enter the lineup consistently last season, and he parlayed that into a full-time role in April and May. He has the skills that have made teammate Cam Fowler an asset, and the two figure to form a strong pair.

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Nick Ritchie -- Ryan Getzlaf -- Patrick Eaves

Andrew Cogliano -- Rickard Rakell -- Jakob Silfverberg

Ondrej Kase -- Antoine Vermette -- Corey Perry

Chris Wagner -- Sam Steel -- Logan Shaw

Cam Fowler -- Brandon Montour

Jacob Larsson -- Josh Manson

Kevin Bieksa -- Korbinian Holzer

John Gibson

Ryan Miller

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