For the second offseason in a row, the Anaheim Ducks made notable additions to their roster in free agency.
Last year, the John Klingberg signing was the big splash, but the additions of Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano and Dmitry Kulikov also provided a bit of hope that the team would take a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, and Klingberg proved to be a complete disaster, as one of many underperformers in a truly terrible season.
This year though, the team added forward Alex Killorn on a four-year deal, along with defenseman Radko Gudas on a three-year deal. While each deal was a bit of an overpayment, both players do make for necessary additions to the lineup.
Then a few weeks ago, the Ducks also brought in defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin via trade from the Buffalo Sabres.
So with the team adding for the second summer in a row, the hope is they could see the improvements that we hoped for last year. Bringing in Killorn, Gudas and Lyubushkin, the Ducks have managed to address some needs.
Killorn was a key part of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cup wins, and is a very complete player. He’s unlikely to repeat the 64 points he put up last offseason with less talent around him, but will fill a top-six role, and could be good for around 50 points. The bigger thing is that he’s reliable night-to-night, and will step in as one of the best defensive forwards on the team right away.
He also gives the Ducks a more solidified top-six group overall, which could include Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish up the middle, and Troy Terry, Ryan Strome and Adam Henrique on the wings.
Gudas is fresh off a run to the Stanley Cup finals, and is pretty much exactly what the Ducks needed on their blue line. While John Klingberg filled a need on paper, as a top-four defenseman on the right side, obviously, the games of Klingberg and Gudas couldn't be more different.
The Ducks really lacked reliable defensemen last season, who could just be consistently counted on in their own end. Not only that, but Gudas is excellent in battles, and will bring an intensity and physicality to the blue line that was sorely lacking.
Even Lyubushkin is a very good fit for the third pairing. Like Gudas, I worry he could end up taking on too large of a role, but if he can be used as a third-pairing, shutdown defender, he’ll be a good add.
All of Killorn, Gudas and Lyubushkin feel like candidates to address issues the Ducks faced last year. Each could help to improve on the Ducks’ inconsistent efforts, along with adding a better defensive impact.
At the same time, three players aren’t likely to take the team from a league-worst finish to a playoff spot. I think the Ducks do get quite a bit more competitive with those additions, but the real x-factors next season are likely the team’s young talent.
Trevor Zegras and a returning Jamie Drysdale are still just in their early-20s, and neither has really hit their ceiling yet. Either one of them taking a big step will be a game-changer.
Mason McTavish is another candidate. He earned a larger role as the season went on, and was making an immediate impact as a rookie and already consistently driving play. Playing with better talent in his sophomore year and with more experience under his belt, reaching 50-60 points next season in a permanent top-six role is realistic. Even Isac Lundestrom could elevate his role up the middle as well if he can continue to develop.
Then of course, we don’t know the plan for Leo Carlsson. He could be anywhere from not in the NHL this season, to an impact player with the Ducks.
Then on the blue line, the team will also almost certainly introduce prospects into their lineup. The frontrunners to take a role would be Olen Zellweger, Jackson LaCombe, or even Pavel Mintyukov. Any of them making an impact with the Ducks would go a long way to improving the blue line.
So while the offseason additions legitimately could make the team quite a bit more competitive on a nightly basis, there’s a ceiling to how much they can help. The bigger difference-maker for the Ducks will likely still be based on the performance of their young talent.
Of course, there are some other questions around the team as well. John Gibson remains with the Ducks, despite reports that he wanted out of Anaheim, while both Zegras and Drysdale remain unsigned. The team also added Zack Kassan on a professional tryout, so there’s the possibility he could earn a spot out of training camp.
Between the Vegas Golden Knights, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings, however, there’s not much of a hope the Ducks will end up near the top of the Pacific Division. The playoffs overall seem like a stretch, even through a wildcard spot, and I’d realistically predict them to end up anywhere between about 9th place and 14th place in the Western Conference. They should be better than the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks, but those remain the only teams the Ducks are clearly better than on paper.
So while the additions of Killorn, Gudas and even Lyubushkin will undoubtedly help, it's the young talent on the roster who arguably have the capacity to make the biggest difference.