Dan Sexton's NHL career is off to an eye-popping start. With goals in his last three games, the half-pint forward is serving crow to his naysayers, including your blogger (who short sold Sexton's ability to perform in a physical, defensive system but should have short sold Murray's desire to maintain a defensive system in the first place).
Big Sexy is doing something truly special for the Ducks, but eventually Teemu Selanne will come back. At that point, Sexton may have to play on a line with more physical responsibility, an assignment that usually defeats Anaheim's small forwards (Shannon, Ebbett) and even some regular-sized ones (Christensen). Daniel, is Dan Sexton playing well enough to stay in the lineup, maybe even the Top 6, when Teemu Selanne comes back from injury?
Dan Sexton needs to stay here when Selanne gets back. I'm not going to bore people with an analysis of his talents. Yes, he's fast. Yes, he's great in the corners and great at finding the puck. And Big Sexy's ability to shoot from anywhere to generate instant offense is very Lupul-esque.
He needs to stay here because his enthusiasm right now reminds me of Bobby Ryan's last year, when Ryan was desperate to stay in the NHL. Big Sexy is excited to be here. He's seizing every opportunity with two hands, and he's absorbing hockey wisdom like a sponge (and from Saku Koivu, no less). His energy is starting to flow through the team. Sometimes, veteran teams fall into a lull, and a spark from a rookie who has a 'no surrender' attitude can get everyone's mind right.
Since Sexton's arrival, the Ducks are 2-0-3. Not a great record, but having watched the games, I think Anaheim has started to show more urgency and started to deliver close to 60-minute efforts. I don't think that has everything to do with Sexton, but I think that, just as Ryan did last year, he brings a new source of scoring and excitement to the team.
I know the practicality of keeping him is rough. Personally, I think the most viable option is to put Selanne on the top line, and keep Sexton, Koivu, and Bobby Ryan together. Lupul is responsible enough to play on a third line with Marchant and Nokelainen, and that line's offensive plan can just be to get Lupul the puck. While breaking up Koivu and Selanne might seem like disrespecting Koivu's original purpose in coming here, I think Koivu is more interested in winning. And if Ryan, Sexton and Koivu keep playing like this, they shouldn't be broken up. It's also important to keep Ryan on a scoring line, just so that he doesn't develop more negative feelings that might have him walking at the end of the year. Lupul, on the other hand, is happy to be here and locked up contractually. He'll suffer on a third line if it means he can play in the Top 6 next year, when Selanne will likely retire.
I definitely agree that the key to keeping Sexton in the NHL is to NOT put him in the Bottom 6, but it's also hard to put Lupul there when he played so well after coming back from his back injury. He, too, was a source of enthusiasm for this team in recent games. Then again, with Loops suffering from a new nagging ailment every few games, a demotion might do him some good. We might get a longer stint out of him if he wasn't part of the overworked top line, and he's definitely gritty enough to play on a checking line, more so than Sexton, Selanne or even Ryan.
If Dan Sexton stays with the Ducks this season, he stays because he can create offense. Not just the shoot-first, look-into-pass-options-later offense that made a young Joffrey Lupul so good, but the sort of playmaking offense that can really frustrate the opposition. I've been clamoring for longer attack sequences this year, and Sexton and Koivu have been able to create that. Teams were wary of our heavyweight line last season, but now we have a welterweight line. They're making plays in the middle of the ice with a dangerous Bobby Ryan coming off the boards. Teams are in the ring with Manny Pacquiao when it's Sexton-Koivu-Ryan; they just don't know where the punches are coming from out there. And I can't imagine Carlyle will give up the option of sending Pacquiao over the boards when Ali comes back to the bench.
Of course, the coach has downplayed Sexton's success, noting that he sees it as the success of a line. And Carlyle has traditionally asked his rookies to earn their spot in the Top 6, regardless of size or playmaking ability, so why would Big Sexy be any different? But I think Sexton stays in the Top 6 because I see his quick NHL start as a sea change in the Ducks organization. Anaheim is finally playing a system where David McNab's undersized stars can shine. It would be a step backwards to put his playmaking ability on the backburner just because 'that's the way we've always done it.'