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Ducks hoping additions lead to Stanley Cup Final

by Curtis Zupke continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams.

ANAHEIM -- Change is good for the Anaheim Ducks.

At least that was the thinking of general manager Bob Murray, who brought in four forwards, a defenseman and a goalie after the Ducks fell one win short of the Stanley Cup Final last season.

Some of those moves were because of the NHL salary cap. But Murray never is satisfied when it comes to upgrading his team's roster. Will it be improved enough to get Anaheim to the Cup Final in 2015-16? That will be played out during the coming months.

The players understood the changes and liked them in what has been an all-business training camp.

"The pieces [Murray] brought in are definitely pieces of the puzzle that we need to get over the hump to move forward," said forward Corey Perry. "The guys have come in and jelled well together. Everybody's getting along with everyone. Everybody's kind of fitting in. That's kind of the atmosphere we want here."

Coach Bruce Boudreau spent much of training camp learning the new faces to find roles that suit their skills.

"We're throwing everybody into the mix and seeing what comes out," Boudreau said.

Carl Hagelin is the most high-profile of the acquisitions, and his speed and penalty-killing will be a major asset. Hagelin can play left wing and might get a look with center Ryan Kesler and right wing Jakob Silfverberg to start. He also could be tried on the top line with center Ryan Getzlaf and Perry, whose eyes got wide when Hagelin's name was mentioned.

"His speed, it's crazy to watch him on the ice," Perry said. "When you're down there and you see him jump over the hole and catch a guy in five strides, it's pretty impressive. He's going to be a guy that's going to be used [in a lot of situations] and people are looking forward to seeing him play."

Chris Stewart projects as an interchangeable piece because of his size and offensive capabilities.

Veteran Shawn Horcoff, a former Edmonton Oilers captain, brings leadership, penalty-killing and occasional scoring at center while Nate Thompson recovers from shoulder surgery.

The other addition is Mike Santorelli, who Boudreau calls a "jack-of-all-trades" player who can play all three forward positions. Rickard Rakell secured a bottom-two center spot last season and looks to build off that.

Jiri Sekac, Chris Wagner and Tim Jackman are among those that will fill the remaining positions. Top prospect Nick Ritchie, 19, made the first big cut in camp.

Kevin Bieksa replaces Francois Beauchemin as the veteran physical presence on the right side.

"He's a guy that we're looking forward to having back there," Cam Fowler said. "And he can help us out in a lot of ways. He can contribute offensively and he's a pretty nasty guy to play against."

Anaheim's defense otherwise is unchanged, with Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen providing the offensive punch, and Simon Despres and Clayton Stoner staying at home. Fowler and Lindholm looked at training camp to have bulked up significantly.

Josh Manson signed a one-way contract, meaning he would have to clear waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League.

Shea Theodore, 20, could get a look at some point. Theodore, the Ducks' top defense prospect, is a two-time Western Hockey League defenseman of the year who helped Canada win a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Theodore said he transitioned well from his junior team to brief stints in the AHL the past two seasons.

"But obviously there's the next big step," he said, "which is the big guys at the NHL level. And that's what I'm trying to work on, and my speed is something I'm going to have to keep up and work on."

The Ducks signaled a long-term commitment to John Gibson when they signed him to a three-year contract extension Sept. 21.


2014-15 record:
51-24-7 (109 points)

2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs: lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in Western Conference Final

Key additions: LW Carl Hagelin, D Kevin Bieksa, RW Chris Stewart, G Anton Khudobin, C Shawn Horcoff

Key subtractions: LW Matt Beleskey, D Francois Beauchemin, RW Emerson Etem, RW Kyle Palmieri, D James Wisniewski

What happens from there should make for another interesting season in goal.

Frederik Andersen remains the No. 1 and Anton Khudobin is his backup. But if either struggles, Gibson, 21, who is expected to start the season with the San Diego Gulls of the AHL, is 90 minutes away. Gibson's contract allows for him to be sent down and recalled without having to clear waivers.

Andersen solidified the job last season but showed cracks during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, notably a soft, game-tying goal allowed to Jonathan Toews in Game 5 of the 2015 Western Conference Final. Andersen retains a stubbornness about being the No. 1 goalie and returns hungrier.

"Everyone stepped it up a notch over the summer," Andersen said. "Definitely for me, I worked harder and smarter and got more determined all summer for what's [coming] this year."

Anaheim at least has itself covered to avoid the scenario last season when Gibson and Andersen got hurt and it was forced to bring in Ilya Bryzgalov.

For his part, Khudobin wants to make a case for more action.

"I want to compete and make No. 1," Khudobin said. "I always want to be No. 1, and I think every goalie has that attitude. If I work here, do only what I need to do, just stop the puck, [and] it's going to be the coach's choice."

Anaheim's power play fell from 22nd in the NHL (16.0 percent) in 2013-14 to 28th (15.7 percent) last season. Murray fired assistant coach Brad Lauer and replaced him with former Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean in an effort to improve the unit.

It might be a matter of finding the right spot for Getzlaf, who has played on the half wall and at the point at various times.

The Ducks certainly have the personnel to convert. Vatanen led them with seven power-play goals, which equaled Perry (four) and Getzlaf (three) combined.

The penalty kill remained middle-of-the-pack, but has shorthanded threats in Hagelin and Andrew Cogliano.

There's no denying the progress Boudreau has made the past three seasons. Despite three straight Game 7 home losses, Boudreau remains well-liked by his players and has the Ducks poised to get to their first Cup Final since 2007.

Murray wouldn't commit to Boudreau returning after the season ended in the Western Conference Final, but a week later said Boudreau would be back.

The only change on the coaching staff was the hiring of MacLean as an assistant; he will oversee the power play.

In three full seasons under Boudreau, the Ducks have won their division each season.

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