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Forwards Preview: Old reliables Getzlaf, Perry must lead the way

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Continued ascension of Rakell, Silfverberg and Ritchie will also be crucial

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are a year older.

That's been the elephant in the room as each season comes and goes for the Anaheim Ducks. If there is any credence to be given to a "Stanley Cup window," it begins and ends with how productive the two 32-year-olds are.

Getzlaf is the least of the Ducks' worries. He finished with 73 points in 72 games last season in what was arguably his best year since finishing as the runner-up for the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2013-14. Getzlaf took his game to another level in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, powering the Ducks to the Western Conference Finals with 19 points in 17 games.

Perry is another story. Only two seasons removed from a 34-goal effort in 2015-16, Perry has been in a funk ever since the start of the 2016 postseason. His 19 goals in 2016-17 was the lowest total for a non-lockout season since 2006-07.

There is some reason for optimism with Perry in 2017-18 — his shooting percentage last season (8.8 percent) was well below his career average (13.2 percent), and he tallied eight goals in his final 19 regular season games. While 40-goal seasons are almost certainly a thing of the past, there's no reason Perry can't score 25-plus times with the right line.

The Ducks will open the regular season — and likely the first couple months — without center Ryan Kesler, who is recovering from offseason hip surgery. Kesler's exact return date is unknown, but general manager Bob Murray is hopeful the 33-year-old can be back by Christmas.

The absence of Kesler means a return to the middle for Rickard Rakell. Rakell posted a career-high 33 goals in 2016-17 but played almost entire on Getzlaf's wing. If training camp is any indication, Rakell will slot right into Kesler's spot between Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano.

Expect Randy Carlyle to use the Cogliano-Rakell-Silfverberg line much differently than the Cogliano-Kesler-Silfverberg unit. Kesler started 66.6% of his shifts on the defensive side of the redline last season. Rakell is the Ducks' worse centerman in the faceoff circle — even with two strong two-way players, don't expect that line to start in their own zone too much.

That could be a major benefit to Silfverberg, who has increased his goal totals in each of his four seasons with the Ducks. If that line sticks, Rakell instantly becomes the most offensively-gifted center that Silfverberg has played with during his time in Anaheim.

The Ducks could receive a major boost if Nick Ritchie progresses into the top end power forward they envisioned when he was selected in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Last year was Ritchie’s first true full season with the Ducks and he finished with a solid 14 goals in 77 games. He’s still very prone to mistakes — Ritchie is no stranger to taking an infuriatingly stupid penalty — but there is hope that the 21-year-old (who turns 22 in early December) can mature and eliminate pointless infractions.

It will be interesting to see where the Ducks slot Ritchie in the lineup. The trio of Ritchie, Antoine Vermette and Ondrej Kase posted a 54.07 Corsi (via corsica.hockey) in 275 minutes at 5-on-5 during the regular season and could be an effective third line if Carlyle chooses to load up the top unit with Getzlaf, Perry and Patrick Eaves.

Causes for Concern

NHL: Preseason-San Jose Sharks at Anaheim Ducks Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

One of the Ducks' biggest issues in 2016-17 was lack of forward depth. Carlyle is very different from Bruce Boudreau when it comes to rolling four lines — he doesn't do it. And who could blame him? The Ducks were missing Nate Thompson for most of the season and he's now in Ottawa.

Instead, former Chicago Blackhawk Dennis Rasmussen will be patrolling the fourth line likely alongside Logan Shaw and Chris Wagner. Rasmussen finished with a meager eight points (four goals, four assists) in 68 games last season, but he averaged nearly 12 minutes a game and wasn't a total disaster in possession numbers (48.4 corsi percentage; h/t hockey-reference).

How Carlyle uses his fourth line early in the season could have repercussions come April. Kesler averaged a career-high 21:18 time on ice last season while Getzlaf's average time on ice (21:04) was his highest in three years. While Kesler — who struggled mightily in the offensive end in the second half last season — should have adequate rest as he works back to full health, the Ducks cannot afford to drive Getzlaf into the ground.

Don't be surprised if the fourth line is an area Murray tries to address at the trade deadline. Lack of depth reared its ugly head in the third round against Nashville — Nic Kerdiles and Jared Boll were completely ineffective with Rakell and Eaves out of the lineup. Murray would be wise to make sure the Ducks' hands aren't tied when postseason injuries inevitably happen.

While the Ducks won’t challenge for scoring the most goals in the league, their 2017-18 forward unit should be a productive one even without Kesler in the lineup and could surprise if players like Silfverberg, Rakell and Ritchie continue their ascent.

But ultimately, it will take another ho-hum season from Getzlaf and a bounce back from Perry for Anaheim to get where it needs to go: a round deeper in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.