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Ducks Summer Signings Leave Door (Mostly) Open For Young Talent

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Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray hasn’t taken any big swings in free agency, leaving the door open for some of his younger upstarts to crack the lineup come fall.

St Louis Blues v New Jersey Devils Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

To no one’s surprise, the Anaheim Ducks remained perimeter players after the opening bell of the free agent market. General manager Bob Murray managed to reap in: Luke Schenn, Brian Gibbons, Carter Rowney, Anton Rodin, Jared Coreau, and Ben Street.

Quite clearly, Murray shied away from adding any big names to his existing roster. Whether it was that the price was too high — even though Anaheim had the means to nab a big piece — or that he did not wish to disturb his team’s ecosystem, the Ducks’ G.M has ensured that his 2018-19 squad will look much like the one that couldn’t win a game against the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs.

The relative silence was to be expected. Most of Anaheim’s roster was already locked in going into free agency, so a move higher on the Richter scale would have required some shuffling. One might have expected more after Murray lamented about a need for change both at season’s end and at the Entry Draft.

Even without a major shake-up, Murray did manage to chip away at his “to-change” list. Gibbons and Rowney are speedier depth forwards, and should give Anaheim’s fourth line a different look. Keep in mind, however, that the since-departed Jason Chimera and Chris Kelly were brought in at the trade deadline with the same logic. Maybe Gibbons and Rowney can actually deliver on that this time around.

Although Gibbons showed flashes of offense in New Jersey last year, don’t hold your breath for that to return. The Devils were badly out-shot with him on the ice, and his production seemed to be more of a shooting percentage bender than anything else. Rinse and repeat for Rowney, although scratch any mention of production. The 29-year old has 5 goals in 71 National Hockey League contests. Objective measures aside, their quicker legs will cost the Ducks a forgettable $1 million and $1.13 million in annual average value, respectively.

Schenn picks up the slack in the intrigue department. The Ducks’ defense corps has been a tightly-knit group in recent years, almost exclusively composed of blueliners developed within the organization. The former Leaf does have a connection to the club through head coach Randy Carlyle’s tenure in Toronto, perhaps explaining his addition. Even so, Schenn represents an outsider by Anaheim blueline standards.

The 28-year old might be an outsider in terms of ability as well. Schenn’s teams have been grossly out-chanced at five-on-five with him on the ice in all but one of his ten NHL seasons. That’s not exactly encouraging. The Ducks needed to add a veteran body with Francois Beauchemin and Kevin Bieksa’s departures, however, and his negligible $800K cap hit abates some of that concern. Rodin, Street, and Coreau seem to be American League additions at a maximum, but the hope might also be that they can step up in a pinch. If the 2017-18 season taught the Ducks anything, it’s that a fourth line of Mike Liambas, Kalle Kossila, and Korbinian Holzer has to be avoided at all costs in the face of injury.

On its face, there really isn’t much more that can be said about Anaheim’s off-season activity. Read between the lines, and things get at least slightly more interesting.

Murray needed to add bodies for depth. At the same time, he didn’t shut the door on a young prospect (or two...or three) cracking the lineup come fall. The likes of Troy Terry, Sam Steel, Maxime Comtois, Kiefer Sherwood, and Jacob Larsson all seem poised to force Anaheim’s brass into making some tough decisions at training camp. Granted, it was in a meager development camp scrimmage, but the line of Sherwood-Steel-Comtois looked electrifying at times. Terry shot the puck seemingly every chance he had. Larsson, meanwhile, looked like a pro on the breakout.

Should any of those names — or perhaps an unexpected one — light it up at main camp, there isn’t a veteran presence that truly blocks them from seeing at least some NHL time. The Ducks have been adamant about not pigeon-holing their promising youngsters into a fourth line role, but is 82 games of Gibbons and Rowney really worth that compromise? Schenn’s presence on the right side of the third pairing also won’t inhibit Larsson from nabbing the left side slot. Marcus Pettersson will have something to say about that, but Larsson, a former first-rounder, will be given every opportunity to make the jump to the big leagues.

Anaheim still has $10.8 million in cap space, which should be more than enough to bring back notable restricted free agents Brandon Montour, Nick Ritchie, and Ondrej Kase. The roster is effectively full, so barring something drastic from Murray, their summer shopping appears to be at an end. The Ducks have left the door open for their young guns to make the jump, while moving forward with their “we will be faster” agenda. What that actually looks like in a Pacific Division that is more wide open than ever remains much to be seen.