Without fail, Ducks coach Dallas Eakins has referred to Troy Terry as their best player this season.
But Terry is officially out now – week to week with an upper-body injury – which obliged Eakins to shuffle the lineup deck for the foreseeable future. His absence from the top line meant that Ryan Strome was promoted to play with Trevor Zegras and Adam Henrique, starting with Tuesday’s game at Chicago.
The reshuffling gives players like Frank Vatrano and Max Jones a chance for more premium minutes.
The Ducks made a significant commitment to Strome in the offseason when they signed him to a five-year, $25-million contract. His numbers thus far – 10 goals and 25 points in 53 games – have fallen short of what he produced last season in New York with the Rangers.
On the other hand, Strome spent most of last season playing 5 on 5 minutes with Artemi Panarin in New York, and there simply aren’t the same sort of opportunities on the rebuilding Ducks. But unlike pending unrestricted free agent John Klingberg, who could be with the Ducks for less than a season, Strome is going to be a fixture with the Ducks’ organization with four more years left on the contract.
This stretch could provide a real-time reality check for what Strome can potentially do. To be a good player, sometimes you need to play with other good players.
In terms of replacing Terry, there is a short answer and a longer one.
“You can’t,” Eakins said. “I do believe in ‘next man up.’ Everybody moves up a bit and takes on a little bit bigger responsibility. But I think it’s hard for any team to replace their best player. Troy’s not only a threat offensively, he’s super responsible.
“And he’s a leader in our dressing room. There’s no replacing guys like that. You can only hope that guys will take on a little bit more responsibility and try to plug the hole the best they can.”
Zegras, the team leader in goals (19) and points (44), acknowledged the difficulty in going forward without Terry.
“You take a guy like that out of the lineup and it definitely hurts,” he said. “That’s what this league is all about. Guys stepping up when guys come out of the lineup. We’re all hoping he gets better sooner than later because we all love him and we all miss him. I definitely miss playing with him out there, for sure.”
It looks like there are seven teams in the mix for the race to the bottom: Columbus, Chicago, Anaheim, Chicago, San Jose, Montreal and Vancouver.
Of those seven teams, the Ducks have the best overall record in the past 10 games (5-3-2), while Chicago is next at 5-4-1, as of Saturday. Currently, the Blue Jackets are last overall with 34 points, six behind the Ducks and three behind the Blackhawks.
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The Ducks recalled goaltender Lukas Dostal from AHL San Diego and sent goaltender Olle Eriksson Ek back to the Gulls on Saturday.
On Friday night, Dostal made 35 saves in San Diego’s 2-1 overtime victory against the Coachella Valley Firebirds at Pechanga Arena.
With the Ducks, Dostal is 2-3-1 this season and has a 3.53 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
Ducks at Vegas
When: Noon Sunday
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
TV: Bally Sports SoCal