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Hiller's health key component for Ducks' success

by Curtis Zupke
As much of a relief it was to the Anaheim Ducks to have Teemu Selanne return, another development earlier this summer was just as critical.



B. RyaN R. Getzlaf C. Perry
J. Blake S. Koivu T. Selanne
B. McMillan A. Cogliano K. Palmieri
M. Beleskey D. SextON G. Parros
L. Visnovsky T. Lydman
F. Beauchemin C. Fowler
L. Sbisa K. Foster
S. Brookbank
J. Hiller
D. Ellis
ones to watch
F Peter Holland
F Nick Bonino
F Emerson Etem
F Mark Bell
*Unrestricted free agent
Goalie Jonas Hiller pronounced himself healthy, and if he returns to the form he displayed early last season, it will have a huge impact on the Ducks and the standing in the Western Conference race.

"Jonas is back 100 percent and obviously that hurt us a lot not to have him last year," Selanne said. "I think he was maybe the best goalie in the league going into the All-Star break."

Not only was Hiller having a Vezina Trophy-type season, buzz started to build about a possible run at the Hart Trophy.

However, Hiller played just three games after the break because of vertigo symptoms, and Anaheim did well to make the postseason without their top goaltender.

Hiller announced he was symptom-free last month and the club is keeping its gloved fingers crossed that he is set to play around 70 games behind a deeper and more seasoned squad.

Selanne was the other major piece that fell into place after he strengthened his surgically repaired left knee, and while no one is pegging the Ducks as a top-four contender in the West, their potential is as big as any.

"I've always believed that to win something big you have to go through some tough times as a group," Selanne said. "We were all very disappointed about losing in the first round last year, and I hope that's going to help us this year."

General Manager Bob Murray cited a lack of depth for its first-round playoff series loss to Nashville, as the team remains heavily reliant on the top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

Murray brought in center Andrew Cogliano from Edmonton, and he should help fill a third-line role, or possibly a second-line spot if coach Randy Carlyle follows his tendency to mix and match lines.


IN: Mark Bell, C (free agent, Kloten, Switzerland); Andrew Cogliano, C (trade, Oilers); Jeff Deslauriers, G (free agent, Oilers); Kurtis Foster, D (trade, Oilers); Andrew Gordon, RW (free agent, Capitals); Jean-Francois Jacques, LW (free agent, Oilers); Bryan Rodney, D (free agent, Hurricanes); Matt Smaby, D (free agent, Lightning)

OUT: Ray Emery, G (tryout, Blackhawks); Andreas Lilja, D (free agent, Flyers); Todd Marchant, C (retired); Jarkko Ruutu, LW (free agent, Jokerit Helsinki, Finland); Andy Sutton, D (trade, Oilers); Brad Winchester, LW (tryout, Sharks)
A gaggle of young forwards are candidates to skate alongside Cogliano, including Brandon McMillan, Dan Sexton and Matt Beleskey, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and might not be ready for the season opener.

McMillan emerged as a two-way forward last season and Carlyle trusted him with significant time in the playoffs. Sexton, a free-agent pickup who made a terrific debut in 2009-10, took a step back and is looking to earn a spot again.

This could be a breakout season for Kyle Palmieri, who the Ducks envision as an agitator type. Nick Bonino continues to develop as a potential second- or third-line center.

Selanne is back for one more season at age 41 after he set the bar high with 31 goals, including 16 on the power play. Linemate Saku Koivu, perhaps the team's most consistent forward the past two seasons, is in the final year of his contract and again will provide leadership through his work ethic.

Jason Blake, also in a contract year, needs to find more production after he had only 6 goals after January.

As far as that top line, it will be interesting to see if Carlyle keeps it together or shifts Ryan to a different line for balance.

Perry must respond to the pressure of being a 50-goal scorer, and Getzlaf should be more visible in his second year as captain after he said he should have consulted former captain Scott Niedermayer at times last season.

The top pairing of Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman turned out to be dynamic last season, with Visnovsky finishing as the NHL's top scorer among defensemen and Lydman among the league leaders in plus/minus.

Cam Fowler, 19, handled his rookie season with remarkable poise and Luca Sbisa, 21, has learned to match physicality with his puck-moving ability.

Francois Beauchemin didn't quite live up to his past in his second stint with the Ducks late last season, but his size and big shot are a welcome return.

Cam Fowler
Defense - ANA
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 30 | PTS: 40
SOG: 123 | +/-: -25
A significant role is expected for Kurtis Foster, who came over from Edmonton and can man the point on the power play in a big upgrade from Andy Sutton.

Lydman, like Beleskey, had offseason shoulder surgery and could miss the start of the season.

Who knows how far the Ducks would have gone with a healthy Hiller?

Hiller more than justified his four-year, $18 million contract when he carried the Ducks on his heavily padded shoulders. He faced nearly 1,500 shots and had a .924 save percentage in 49 games before he went down.

Veteran Dan Ellis stepped in and helped the club to a playoff run, but the feeling is that he's not a No. 1. Let's put it this way: The Ducks' postseason fate is tied to Hiller.

Jeff Deslauriers is another Edmonton acquisition that gives Anaheim an experienced No. 3.

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