Ducks tweaking roster as season opener approaches

IRVINE — With the Ducks’ 2022-23 NHL season set to open Wednesday night against the second-year Seattle Kraken, the organization was busy tweaking the roster ahead of Game 1.

On Monday, the Ducks added Brett Leason, a 6-foot-5 forward, claiming him off waivers from the Washington Capitals. But at the same time, they lost popular defenseman Josh Mahura on waivers to the Florida Panthers. The 23-year-old Leason was chosen in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft, after being passed over in his first year of eligibility. He is a classic late bloomer, who helped the Prince Albert Raiders win a Western Hockey League championship in his final year of juniors, scoring 89 points in 55 regular-season games.

Thus far, however, he’s played more games in the minors (114) than in the NHL (36). But Leason has size, and according to Ducks coach Dallas Eakins, has a chance to blossom, in the right environment, calling him “a bit of an underdog player.”

“The two biggest things for me are his age – he’s 23, still developing. And the trust we have with our scouts and management. Those (players) in the East, we hardly see them at all. But that’s why you have staff like you have.”

The Ducks practiced Monday and of note was the fact that goaltender John Gibson was able to participate as usual. Gibson left Saturday’s final preseason game against the Kings because of an injury, but it was not expected to affect his availability for the opener.

Later on Monday, the Ducks unveiled their 23-player roster. In all, seven players who were in the opening night lineup a year ago are elsewhere including team captain Ryan Getzlaf, who retired. The others: Two top-four defensemen, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson; along with journeyman Greg Pateryn; enforcer Nic Deslauriers, plus Rickard Rakell and Benoit-Olivier Groulx, who remains in the organization but was sent to the AHL squad in San Diego.

“The one thing that has really come up from the guys that are new is how tight the group is,” Eakins said. “As a coach, you’re never sure on that. … So that’s been real music to my ears that everybody that has come in is trying to do their best to lead and take on that role.

“They’ve been super inclusive and it says a lot about the guys that are still here. I think our leadership-by-group approach is going to work very well.”

The newcomers on the blue line include two free agents, John Klingberg and Nathan Beaulieu, along with Dmitry Kulikov, acquired in a trade from the Minnesota Wild. Kulikov will start the season playing alongside rising star Jamie Drysdale, while Cam Fowler and Klingberg do the heavy lifting as the team’s top pair.

The Ducks got off to a strong start a year ago, but under new General Manager Pat Verbeek, aggressively remade the team – first at the 2022 NHL trading deadline, then again, in the summer, once the free-agent period opened. Among the key additions up front: center Ryan Strome and winger Frank Vatrano, both of whom will play top-six roles in the beginning.

Vatrano essentially replaces Rakell, and Strome steps into the center-ice slot previously occupied by Getzlaf. Strome was the priciest overall addition in free agency after Klingberg (one year, $7 million). Strome signed a five-year deal worth $25 million after coming off an excellent 2022-23 season with the New York Rangers, where he’d developed strong chemistry with the high-scoring Artemi Panarin. Strome will likely start the season between Mason McTavish, another one of the Ducks’ brightest prospects, and Troy Terry, who came into his own last year, scoring 37 goals and 67 points in a breakout season.

“It’s never going to be perfect in Game 1 of the season,” Strome said. “I’m playing with two guys with a really good hockey IQ, guys that can really hold on to the puck and make plays. It should work well. I thought the last (preseason) game we had some good plays and chances.“It’s going to be a work in progress, especially with new faces but at the same time I think we’re all pretty satisfied with where we are and just have to keep going.”

Related Articles

Anaheim Ducks |


For Ducks, the John Klingberg era starts now

Anaheim Ducks |


John Gibson’s injury casts shadow over Ducks’ preseason finale

Anaheim Ducks |


Ducks’ Trevor Zegras scheduled to play against Kings in Saturday’s preseason finale

Anaheim Ducks |


Frank Vatrano gives Ducks more flexibility up front

Anaheim Ducks |


Ducks, Kings facing tough decisions in final stretch of preseason

Zegras will center a 1A line that includes Vatrano and the steady veteran, Adam Henrique. It’s effectively a new look both up front and on the blue line, with the new faces expected to make a significant impact for the retooled Ducks.

“We’ve built some optimism through last year’s season,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “But I think we realize that we’re definitely not quite there yet. That’s where I’m excited to see where we go. We have to make sure we start well. It’s not going to be handed to us.”

“We surprised teams with how prepared we were and how well we played in our system, in our game (at the start) last season. I don’t think we’re going to have that luxury this year. We’ve shown we can be a team that can play and win games. The top players:  they’re young guys that are going to be leaned on by other teams a lot more this year.

“How do we respond to that? How do we face that adversity head-on and grow as a team? That’s our next step. I’m certainly excited about it and ready to help out.”