This past campaign can really be highlighted as the year of the debut for the Anaheim Ducks, as several players that have been in their pipeline for the past few seasons earned their first taste of NHL action. 2010 fifth round (144th overall) selection Chris Wagner joined the likes of Stefan Noesen (recap), Max Friberg (recap), and Josh Manson (recap to come) in making his first appearance in the big league after two full seasons in the AHL.
It's only appropriate as this was his finest year with the Norfolk Admirals, one where he showed a similar scoring touch to the one he displayed in a monster sophomore year at Colgate University that earned him his first professional contract. As a freshman with the Raiders he put up a modest nine goals and 10 assists in 41 games, then the following year finished with a second best 17 goals and lead the squad with 34 assists while also earning a team-high 61 penalty minutes in 39 contests. Wagner's first two years with the Admirals saw him score 22 goals and 27 assists with 133 PIM over 146 regular season games, with a two goal and three assist showing in 10 playoff games in the 2013-14 season where he also sported an "A".
In his third season with Norfolk Wagner would tie Friberg for the team goal scoring lead with 15 in his 48 games played, a goals per game rate of .313 that was better than every Admiral who appeared in more than 10 games save Emerson Etem who put up .591. Wagner also finished second to Etem in shooting percentage in the same sample, scoring on 12.7% of his shots in a big jump from his previous two seasons percentages of 8.8% and 6.3%. He got off to a hot start as the AHL Player of the Week for the first week of the season, with a hat trick on opening night against the Hershey Bears where he became the second Admiral in AHL history to score a pair of shorthanded goals in a game. His seven points in the first four games in the month of October were equalled in January when he put up three goals and four assists in 13 games, and Wagner earned a spot in the AHL All Star Game where he scored once and dished three assists.
Wagner made his NHL debut as part of the Ducks home opener on October 17 against the Wild, seeing just nine shifts as a wing in a brief 4:10 of ice time that saw him take a third period hooking minor. His penchant for physical play earned him a pair of games against the Kings, throwing three hits in a team low 7:08 TOI at STAPLES Center on November 15, then a tied for squad second best five as he centered a fourth line with Patrick Maroon and Tim Jackman on February 27. Wagner's first extended run with the team came near the end of the season, as he played in six of the final seven games including a seeing a season-high 19 shifts and 12:43 TOI against the Oilers on April 3. In seven of his nine regular season appearances he won 50% or better on the faceoff dot, and due to Nate Thompson's injury he played in the first two games of the playoffs against the Jets where he drew a call against in game one.
At 24 years old Wagner represents an interesting choice for the Ducks going forward on whether they believe he can be an every day lower six center in the NHL. Anaheim re-signed him this past offseason to a one year, two-way deal worth $ .6 mil. (according to NHLNumbers) which seems to suggest they see value in him at the AHL level, but with Shawn Horcoff inking a one year pro deal they'd rather him spend the majority of the season in San Diego. One has to wonder depending on how both Wagner and the Ducks 15-16 seasons go where the two sides will end up next year.
It says something that of the other Ducks to make their debut this season that Wagner saw so many games, partly due to circumstance but also thanks to the energetic game he plays. For the year he saw 1.3% more of his shifts begin in the defensive zone relative to team average and Anaheim took 48.4% of the shot attempts with him on ice. In a vacuum these numbers aren't great, but if one wants to look at most ambitious potential a glance at the second LA game where 51.5% of his relative zone starts were defensive yet the Ducks turned play controlling 55.6% of the shot attempts and his start against the Bruins where 6.2% relative defensive zone starts lead to 66.7% Ducks shot attempts are good games to look at. Wagner will be looked at to provide those kinds of performances this season on his call ups, while keeping at a similar scoring pace with the Gulls that he demonstrated last season in Norfolk.