[Editor's Note: This week SB Nation Hockey sites will be previewing their respective teams by breaking them down in to parts: forwards, defense, goalies, special teams, and predictions for the season. First up is Daniel with the forwards.(Written before the last two rounds of roster cuts)]
Being asked to preview the forwards for the Anaheim Ducks might seem like a pretty simple task. Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry will be the top line. Jason Blake, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne are probably going to be the second line, and Andrew Cogliano is getting too much money to be considered anything but the anchor of the third line. George Parros is a staple on the 23 man-roster. After that, you have an impressive Brandon McMillan and...and...and...everybody.
It's kind of like being Wilt Chamberlain and having a random person show up claiming to be your kid. Chances are pretty good he's your child, but identifying the mom is going to take some work, because it could be damn near anybody. The Ducks have a similar situation. Smart money is on Matt Beleskey and Dan Sexton making the team, since they are approaching a critical moment in their respective careers. The development of Devante Smith-Pelly, Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem, Patrick Maroon being a natural left wing, and the fact that Andrew Gordon was moved due to lack of roster space and not necessarily success, all open up the discussion to seizing a roster spot in training camp. I'll start by handicapping the players coming to camp, and then moving on to what can be expected of the players who will make the roster.The Ducks have eight guaranteed forwards going into next season, nine if you count McMillan (although there's no proof he's permanently stayed Carlyle's scratch pencil). Still, if you figure McMillan's spot on the 23 man roster is assured, then the Ducks have of 14 forward spots filled. Key holes are the 4th line center, and the wings on the third line. It can be assumed that McMillan, and his mostly definite rosters spot, would be on the third line. Dan Sexton doesn't offer much as a fourth line player, but he might be a good addition to the third line, seeing as he and McMillan did develop a little chemistry last year. More importantly, he's signed for two years and the Ducks have a lot of scoring wingers in the cupboard. They need to figure out if Big Sexy is staying or going. I'm not sure you can get a true sense of his value until you see him on the power play. There will be an offensive ceiling for Dan Sexton as long as he's limited to even strength situations. Still, I think the Ducks need to know what they've got, or at least make sure he gets a good audition for the Eastern Conference teams who can make good use of a 5'10" winger with a ton of speed.
Beleskey is in a similar position as Sexton. The Ducks need to know what they have. He's also in a slightly better position than Sexton. He has definite offensive upside, his shot is deadly and he has a pretty good nose around the net, but he also has the size and energy to be an efficient 4th liner. He has a higher overall utility, simply because he can play on that bottom line. Beleskey definitely makes the 23 man roster, but he's on a short leash.
This leaves the next two wingers who have a good shot at making the roster: Andrew Gordon and Patrick Maroon. Maroon is a malcontent from the Philadelphia organization, apparently considered to be an awful locker room presence by the organization that moved him. He brings a physical game, the ability to score, and he plays the left side! He seems to have a fast track to the the team, considering his AHL experience and the tools to make it as a 4th line guy. Maroon's main problem could be Andrew Gordon, who is older and has a much more impressive AHL resume. Gordon, 26, has had two amazing seasons in the AHL. He might be poised for a break out year. The only problem is that the Ducks don't really have anything invested in these players. Right now, they are shaping up to be AHL depth for Syracuse, not NHL regulars. That's not to say they can't make earn a spot: I just don't think circumstances favor them being fixtures on any one line. The most likely scenario is one of them filling a role as a scratch forward, probably Maroon considering his skills as a power forward
To me, the most interesting guy at camp is Nick Bonino. There seems to be consensus among the Anaheim Calling faithful that Bonino has what it takes to be the fourth line center. I can't disagree with that sentiment, but Bonino has spent most of his collegiate and AHL career being in the top 6. His offensive game hasn't translated to the NHL yet, and I don't know if it's wise to force him into the fourth line center role. Bonino had 42 points in 49 games with the Crunch. Another year as a top AHL center could do wonders for developing his offensive game. He'd be competing with Holland for top ice time, because Holland is seen as the Ducks second line center of the future and therefore doesn't have much hope of cracking the line up with the top three center positions all but filled. Unfortunately for Nick, the Ducks don't have many options for that bottom line center. Mark Bell, is Bonino's best hope of avoiding being banished to the role of bottom 6 center. The Ducks need that bottom 6 presence and Bell could provide a little veteran savvy down there. If Bell can play well enough to center the fourth line, the Ducks should send Bonino back to the AHL. Although, I'm still holding out hope that Murray is looking for a faceoff guy for the bottom 6.
Of the other famous young players, DSP, Etem, and Palmieri, Palamieri seems to be the best choice for cracking the line up. He had a great AHL season and he's going to eat up a year of his entry level deal no matter where he plays. Etem and DSP won't lose a year if they get sent back down to juniors. Therefore, I think Palmieri is the best choice, at least in terms of holding onto other assets. However, he's still got time to develop and shouldn't be at the top of the organization's list of talents to evaluate. The same with DSP and Etem. I agree that DSP seems a likely choice for cracking the line up due to his skill set, but another year of junior might not be awful. I sincerely wish that Etem and DSP could play in the AHL, but that obviously can't happen. Look for both of them to go back to Juniors unless they absolutely dominate during camp.
To me that leaves this line up of forwards
Scratches: Maroon, Bonino
Not great, but not awful. My inclusion of Bonino is more a nod to the fact that I think the organization will keep him than a reflection of where I think he should be. It's also due to the fact that literally anyone could take that last forward position, at least Bonino makes a little sense. Bonino and Beleskey could work well on that bottom line, but I really think the Ducks need a more permanent solution to that fourth line center position.
As for the rest of the team, if Cogliano can somehow keep McMillan and Sexton going, the Ducks might have a legitimate third line and he might have been worth the second round pick. Look to Getzlaf and Perry to be Getzlaf and Perry. Getzie has been a point per game player for a few seasons now, and Perry has been an effective workhorse for years. He might not repeat his 98 point performance, but I think he will definitely be around 85. Selanne will be lights out on the first PP unit. Koivu will be the steady force we need, and Blake will play with his usual energy.
The only question mark in the top 6 is Bobby Ryan. Not that it's a surprise, but I don't share Robby's optimism. Bobby has increased his point totals by 7 for each of the past two seasons, going from 57 to 64 to 71. I think it's fair to expect the same 7 point jump, if he can avoid the scoring slumps haunting him every season. Bobby has spent two seasons being the third wheel on the top line. That's not going to change this year. I think it's unfair to expect a breakout from Bobby when he won't be getting top PP minutes. If he was on the first unit, it might be more reasonable to assume he'd have some mysteriously phenomenal year. As it stand now, I don't think you can expect a better performance from a guy who's playing time and situations will remain, for the most part, unchanged. What the Ducks really need from Bobby Ryan this year is to make sure he just stays Bobby Ryan, and for him to carry the puck into three defenders a little less. If he can stay above 70 points, it'll be a good year for him and the Ducks.
Overall, the Ducks have the help in the cupboard to survive the rigors of a season. Palmieri and Bonino would offer better alternatives as call ups than being forced to settle for less important roles. Bell provides a veteran option on the 4th line for little risk. If he doesn't work out, we can call up Bonino. It's worth the risk to up Bonino's overall value. The Ducks don't have options for a defensive center, because they didn't go out and get one. Bonino is defensively responsible, but is he a defensive center? It's an important question for camp. Being able to roll four lines is key to success in the league. Only time will tell if they have 4 lines. The questions about defensive forwards will be a problem going forward, but there should be enough scoring from the forward corps to keep the team competitive.
The Ducks will be a competitive team this year, but this group shouldn't be confused for a Cup contender. They still need a solid veteran, NHL presence in the bottom 6 who can help this team win key faceoffs. If Murray can find one, this group of forwards will be frustrating to play against.