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Despite starting the season 1-4-0, the Anaheim Ducks now find themselves above .500 following a perfect four-game Eastern Conference road trip.
Following their two straight overtime wins against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins, the Ducks took down the Philadelphia Flyers in a high-scoring outing, before a late goal from Mason McTavish lifted Anaheim past the Pittsburgh Penguins to cap off the trip.
Helping to lead the Ducks' surge has been the wave of young talent.
An emerging story has been Mason McTavish’s excellent start to the season, beginning his sophomore year with five goals and 11 points in just nine games. Whether that’s sustainable production or not for the season remains to be seen, but McTavish has pretty clearly taken a huge step already.
That said, it’s the whole line that’s been performing. Frank Vatrano already has nine goals in nine games (including two hat tricks), and Ryan Strome has 11 points as well. Especially with the top line starting slow, the production from McTavish and the rest of the second line has been crucial to the team’s offense.
On the blue line, Pavel Mintyukov continues to establish himself as one of the team’s most valuable players. His six points in nine games leads the defense group, and Mintyukov could be a dark horse in the Calder Trophy race by season’s end. Jackson LaCombe also continues to solidify himself as a key part of the defense group.
In net, Lukas Dostal has posted a .921 save percentage through five games, on route to being named NHL Rookie of the Month. That’s not to discredit John Gibson’s play either, but with so many other high-end young players, it can’t be lost in the mix just how smoothly Lukas Dostal has transitioned to the NHL. Gibson has been the team’s starter for the better part of the last decade, and hopefully he's back from injury soon, but Dostal represents the team’s future in goal and looks set to carry the team if needed.
Looking around at the rest of the Pacific Division (and even Western Conference as a whole), the Ducks have a real opportunity.
As of now, half of the Conference is below .500, and while we can expect teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild to bounce back, the reality is there are probably only going to be 10-12 teams really competing for the eight playoff spots. The San Jose Sharks are already out of it and the Chicago Blackhawks aren't ready to compete yet, then the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators all look to be treading water. Meanwhile, the Seatte Kraken are starting slow, and the Arizona Coyotes, while improved, are in a similar spot to the Ducks.
Of course it’s extremely early, but after sweeping a four-game road trip, it’s hard to make the argument that the Ducks won’t be able to hang around in just about any game this season. Again, Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry still have yet to really get going, and the Ducks are also without multiple players due to injury.
Almost out of nowhere, and largely thanks to the contributions from their young talent, the Ducks could be legitimately ready to push towards the playoffs. Whether or not they get there remains to be seen, but it seems safe to say the Ducks are finally on the upward trend of their rebuild.
They’ll be back in action tonight, as they kickstart a five-game homestand against the Arizona Coyotes.