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NHL Season Preview 2016: Three Questions Facing the Anaheim Ducks

Anaheim enters the 2016-2017 season very different from the squad that lost Game 7 to Nashville last spring.

NHL: Preseason-Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

1) Which young players in the Ducks system will break through this season and play significant time with the big club?

With the departure of notable depth players like David Perron, Jamie McGinn, Brandon Pirri, and more, there is a lot of room on the Ducks roster for young Ducks to make the jump to the NHL. Budget signings of Mayson Raymond, Jared Boll, and Antoine Vermette have left Anaheim’s bottom 6 forwards looking much weaker than the depth they boasted at the end of last year.

Nick Ritchie and Joseph Cramarossa look to be the most likely candidates to stay with Anaheim this year. Ritchie seems to have really taken his offseason training seriously this year as he came into camp much leaner and meaner. His offensive talent could even land him playing top 6 minutes if he plays his cards right. Cramarossa is one of the oldest Ducks prospects at the ripe old age of 23. While he hasn’t been lighting it up offensively in the AHL, Joseph has really impressed so far this preseason. His big frame could be a great asset to a checking line.

Defensively, while Anaheim will return the same players to the blueline this year, I’m looking at Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour to possibly play significant time with the Ducks this year. With the signing of Hampus Lindholm still pending, it looks like Anaheim will need to move a contract to make some cap space. I most likely see Fowler, Stoner, or Depres being moved which would open up a 3rd pairing spot. Theodore looked mature beyond his years in limited time with Anaheim last year while Montour was the leading scorer for the Gulls last season. Look for one of these young blueliners to step up this season.

2) Will Bob Murray’s faith in John Gibson pay off?

The most notable move that Anaheim made this offseason was sending #1A goaltender Frederik Andersen to Toronto. A little later Anaheim received likely backup Jonathan Bernier from the Leafs. This means that Bob Murray is going all-in on USA golden boy John Gibson. For parts of the last 3 season, Gibby has come in during the regular season and greatly impressed everyone around the Ducks. He was touted as the goalie of the future for Anaheim since he was drafted in 2011, and now is the time for him to prove it. Gibson’s stellar play last season, after being called up to fill in for an injured Frederik Andersen, seems to be all Murray needed to see to be willing to ship out a goalie who had won 75% of the decisions in his career.

While Gibson has struggled with a few minor injuries over the past few years, I believe he is up to the task of being the true #1 in Anaheim. John played fantastic last season and seems to have really come into his own at the NHL level. With Jonathan Bernier behind him, who is shaping up to be a great backup for the Ducks, Gibson looks ready to succeed and take on a 50-60 game workload. Keep an eye out for the former Jennings Trophy winner this year, he will impress you.

3) Will Anaheim have another slow start as they did last season?

Coming out of a stellar preseason, the 2015-2016 Anaheim Ducks looked ready to light up the league at the start of last season. However, the great preseason play didn’t translate to the regular season. Anaheim started the season 1-7-2 in their first 10 games and were only 12-15-6 by Christmas break. While Anaheim was able to salvage their season in the second half, another slow start would not bode well for this Ducks team. The Ducks success early in the season will largely hinge on the play of their big guns. If Perry, Getzlaf, and Kesler can start on the right foot, the rest of the team should follow suit. If they start slow, look for another poor showing from Anaheim early in the season. If I was putting money on it, I would say Anaheim will be at .500 in their first 10 games but will quickly ramp up as they get settled into the season.