More so than almost any team in the league, the Anaheim Ducks look to have uncertainty at the bottom of their roster. So far the 2018 offseason has been for the most part spent re-signing their own players, inking John Gibson and Adam Henrique to long-term extensions while reaching a two-year bridge deal with Brandon Montour. In free agency, the Ducks failed to secure any of the top names and now find themselves in a position where training camp could have a huge impact on who starts the season in Anaheim.
Up front, the Ducks have just ten forwards currently signed to one-way deals, not including Ben Street or Anton Rodin who have limited NHL experience and didn’t play in the league at all last season. Neither veteran minor league player should really be in contention for a roster spot with the Ducks, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be competition. Even once Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie are signed and given their spots, the team has a group of other forwards competing for the last few roles.
Brian Gibbons and Carter Rowney were both signed early in free agency and given $1MM+ salaries to provide some depth at the bottom of the lineup. Neither player has really proven himself at the NHL level though, with Gibbons playing 59 of his 125 career games last season for the New Jersey Devils and Rowney suiting up just 44 times last season for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The idea of handing either of them a full-time role without competition seems foolish, though since Rowney was brought in on a three-year deal he will obviously have the upper hand.
Behind them are several players on two-way or entry-level contracts, like Troy Terry, Kalle Kossila, Kiefer Sherwood and Kevin Roy. The latter three all spent time in the minor leagues with the San Diego Gulls last season, while Terry played just three games for the Ducks after signing out of the University of Denver. Given the uncertainty around Ryan Kesler’s health and the limited upside of both Gibbons and Rowney, you could see Anaheim decide to give a real chance to one of these players in 2018-19. That is, if they can hold off the competition.
One of the questions most often asked in our PHR Live Chats is whether or not Sam Steel and Max Jones are ready for the NHL. The pair of first-round picks from 2016 are now both 20 years old and will be beginning their professional careers, but there’s no guarantee that either will see the NHL just yet. Jones in fact was listed pretty far down in Corey Pronman’s recent prospect rankings for The Athletic (subscription required), including him in the “Have A Chance” section. There will be a huge battle between all of the listed forwards (and probably several others) for playing time in Anaheim this season.
On defense it’s also not clear who will shake out at the end of camp. The team signed Andrej Sustr and Luke Schenn this summer to improve their depth on the right side, but both likely can’t play with Josh Manson and Montour already locked into positions there. Marcus Pettersson, Jacob Larsson, Josh Mahura, Jaycob Megna, Andy Welinski and Korbinian Holzer are also all still in the organization and could challenge for the 6-7-8 spots, with no clear choice on who would play where. The departure of Kevin Bieksa and Francois Beauchemin certainly opens up some playing time, but the team will likely wait for someone to step up and prove they deserve regular minutes before handing them out.
All of this just makes for an interesting next few months for the Ducks, who are trying to get back to Stanley Cup contention with much the same team as the last few seasons. With Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry now entering their mid-thirties, more responsibility will have to be heaped upon the next wave of talent if the team is to stay respectable. Battles like the ones that will take place in training camp will determine whether this Ducks team is just a very good one, or a real contender for the Stanley Cup.