Ducks preview: 7 questions for a team in transition

Fun fact that maybe not everybody knows or remembers: This past season, the Ducks were still in the thick of the playoff race at the All-Star break, overachieving with a team that was in transition to a younger core.

Eventually, reality caught up to them, and when new general manager Pat Verbeek reached the trade deadline, his message was clear: The future was more important than the present. Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Rickard Rakell were shipped out to Stanley Cup contenders.

In the offseason, the Ducks filled in the gaps created by those moves with new faces galore on the blue line and up front. With the season opener Wednesday against the visiting Seattle Kraken, here are seven questions that will face the Ducks over the next seven months and determine how far along they are on the road back to the playoffs.

1. Can Trevor Zegras be a point-a-game player?

Zegras took the NHL by storm last season, partly by his force of personality, partly because of the innovation in his game. His play – to set up teammate Sonny Milano – for an alley-oop goal was considered the highlight of the year by many; and earned him a spot on the cover of the EA Sports 23 alongside Sarah Nurse. In the end, Zegras finished second in the Calder Trophy voting for rookie of the year. Zegras’ 61 points in 75 games was second on the team, behind only Troy Terry (37-30-67). With 26 goals in 99 career games, Zegras is four goals shy of becoming the fourth player in Ducks history to score 30 goals prior to his 22nd birthday, which is March 30. The others: Paul Kariya, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

2. Who steps in to fill Getzlaf’s leadership?

Getzlaf announced his retirement toward the end of last season, which allowed him to go on a farewell tour of sorts. It also gave the Ducks time to ponder what to do next in terms of replacing him as captain. Verbeek noted there was no rush to name a captain and they would simply designate a handful of players as assistants. Among the current core group, Cam Fowler – the longest-serving Duck – would be the most logical, likely candidate, though the Ducks could ultimately decide to go in a younger direction.

3. Can Mason McTavish win the Calder?

McTavish is one of the preseason favorites for the award, based on a number of positive factors: He was named best forward and most valuable player of the 2022 World Juniors after scoring 17 points in seven games. Despite Kariya’s massively successful first year, no Duck has ever won the Calder. McTavish had a nine-game taste of NHL action last season before the Ducks returned him to his junior team. His competition will come from, among others, defenseman Owen Power in Buffalo and center Matty Beniers in Seattle. But given the maturity of his game, and how he physically seems able to handle the pace and power of the NHL game, McTavish should be a factor in the race.

4. What version of John Gibson will we see?

Gibson, 29, started his NHL career with three elite seasons, followed by a solid fourth year, and now three seasons in which his save percentage hasn’t varied much (.904; .903; and .904), nor did his GAA (3.00; 2.98; 3.19). Last season, Gibson tied for 30th in wins (18), but had the fourth-highest loss total in the league (26). It’s fair to ask – how much of that is on Gibson and how much is on the team playing in front of him? The Ducks give up too many high-danger chances; the goal for this season will be to protect Gibson a little better.

5. What does the future hold for coach Dallas Eakins?

When Verbeek joined the team as GM in February, the Ducks made some sweeping internal changes. But the one move they didn’t make was behind the bench. Instead, the team picked up the option year on Eakins’ contract, which will give Verbeek a full season to evaluate Eakins’ work and determine if he’ll stick with him in the years ahead.

6. Can John Klingberg challenge for the defensive scoring lead?

It wasn’t that long ago that Klingberg regularly found himself among the leading scorers among NHL defenseman. In 2017, he was tied for second with Brent Burns, one point behind John Carlson. Last year, he slipped back into a tie for 23rd. But since entering the league full time in 2014-15, Klingberg ranks eighth in that span in overall defensive scoring (374 points in 552 games). Klingberg believes he can get back on track in a new environment and showed his willingness to do so by agreeing to just a one-year contract with the Ducks. The hope on both sides is that they can turn it into a long-term relationship rather than just a one-year gig.

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7.  What does the future hold for Jakob Silfverberg, Max Comtois and Max Jones?

All three had seasons undermined either by injury, illness or plain, old underachievement. Not so long ago, each figured prominently in the future plans, prior to the regime change. Silfverberg is trying to bounce back after missing significant time with a blood clot in his leg. Jones had a torn chest muscle, which limited him to just three games last season. And Comtois, who seemed on the verge of becoming a reliable scorer – 33 points in 55 games in the lockout-shortened 2021 season – dropped to 16 points in 52 games last season.

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