It’s been a rough few years for the Anaheim Ducks.
The team hasn’t reached the postseason since 2018, and in the latter part of those five years, they’ve been especially terrible. In fact, it’s been a while since the Ducks have even had a true core to their team.
Post-2004 lockout, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry emerged as faces of the organization for nearly 15 years, with a cast of other key players around them. It was a group that saw huge success, reaching the playoffs in 11 of 13 years between 2006 to 2018, and capturing a Stanley Cup early on in that timeframe.
However, since the time the Getzlaf/Perry era came to a close, Anaheim hasn’t really had a group of players to lead the team into a new era of success.
We saw the likes of Rickard Rakell, Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson do what they could to keep the team competitive over much of the last five years. However, the reality was a lot of the players being tasked to carry the load were complementary pieces who should be surrounding stars, more than they were capable of truly leading a team.
But after selling off a lot of those former players and building through the draft, the Ducks have made way for a new core to take over.
Over the last couple years, Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras were really the only forwards on the roster you could look at and identify that they would undoubtedly be part of the Ducks’ roster long-term.
Then came Mason McTavish emerging as an NHL regular last year, managing 43 points in 80 games during his rookie season. While used down the lineup throughout a lot of the year, McTavish earned his role in the top-six later on, before taking a huge step this season to now lead the Ducks in points early in the year.
Now with Leo Carlsson, the Ducks have another potential franchise center. Already taking on a huge role and fitting in well in his rookie season, Carlsson rounds out what could be the team’s own Core Four up front for the foreseeable future.
Between Terry, Zegras, McTavish and Carlsson, we could see the group as fixtures in the team’s top-six for the better part of the next decade.
Then on the blue line, the team has already integrated three young defensemen who could be part of the defense group long-term.
While Jamie Drysdale has had some injury trouble, there’s no denying the potential upside once healthy. A high-end skater, Drysdale has the opportunity to be a very effective all-around defenseman. While we have yet to see whether he’s going to be a top-pairing or top-four blue liner, he remains pretty much a lock to be a big part of the team’s future.
Then perhaps the biggest surprise of this season has been Pavel Mintyukov quickly establishing his himself through just 12 games so far. It’s pretty wild to see just how important the 19-year-old has already become to the team’s defense group, considering it seemed unlikely he’d even earn a role with the team to start the year.
Jackson LaCombe seemed more likely to make the team this season, but it’s been impressive how well he’s been able to transition to the NHL as well. If the Ducks didn’t have so much other young talent making an impact already, LaCombe’s emergence as a reliable defenseman at just 22 years old would be a bigger story.
The team has also done a pretty good job surrounding the newer talent with veterans. In addition to the four top forwards, both Alex Killorn and Ryan Strome are under contract until 2027, providing additional stability to the top-nine of the team’s forward group. Then on the blue line, the likes of Mintyukov, LaCombe and any other prospects who make the jump will be surrounded by veterans in Cam Fowler and Radko Gudas, who are each locked into deals until 2026.
In goal, we’re also seeing the changing of the guard. John Gibson has been the team’s starter for nearly a decade, establishing himself as one of the NHL’s best goalies early in that stretch. While Gibson has also faced a little more inconsistency over previous years, he hasn’t had much help, and you could argue that Anaheim would have been even worse off without him.
However, Lukas Dostal has made the jump to the NHL as well, and as expected, he looks great. Posting a .920 save percentage early on and already essentially splitting the workload with Gibson at 23 years old, Dostal is pretty clearly being positioned as the Ducks’ next long-term starter.
The Ducks have done a great job building a young core to take over, which isn’t necessarily what we’ve seen over the last few years. For a while, the veterans who remained with the Ducks were looked at as the central pieces but now, it seems like the shift has been that the veterans are starting to become the complementary pieces, surrounding this new core. The new wave of talent has brought the Ducks new life, as the likes of Zegras, Carlsson, McTavish, Terry, Mintyukov, Drysdale, LaCombe, Dostal and others emerge to carry this team into their new era.
Undoubtedly, there will be bumps along the way with such a young group. While Anaheim is off to a great start this season, there’s no telling whether the playoffs this season are even truly likely. But there’s a very different feel to this team, being competitive in a way that the Ducks haven’t been in a long time.
After a stretch of time where the franchise seemed a little bit lost as an organization, Anaheim now has direction and is finally on an upward trend. There’s a long way to go, but with the new wave of talent now firmly holding spots in the lineup – and emerging as the team’s most valuable players – the organization is finally set for a new era of success.