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POSITION PREVIEW: The Wing That Was Left Out of Team Planning

It’s a weird mix of elite talents and penalty killers, but it’s going to have to make do this season.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Anaheim Ducks at San Jose Sharks John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The left wing slot on the depth chart is perhaps the weakest position for the current Ducks team going into this season. In almost exact opposition to the right wing position, the left wing will be scrambling for current players, despite having a cupboard full of prospects for the future. Conversely, the right side has too many players for this current season, and almost nothing in the cupboard going forward.

This creates a point of interest. Initially, we saw a little of Troy Terry on the left side through the rookie tournament, and it appears this could continue going into the regular season. Surely one of the right wing players (Eaves, Perry, Silfverberg, Kase, Terry) was going to need to switch sides, and it appeared initially that could have been Jakob Silfverberg, due to the talking point of a move from right to left being a possible method of opening up his offensive game. With that said, Ondrej Kase was also swung to the left side occasionally last season, and could potentially be placed there again.

The point of interest being, that in 2 seasons, the right wings of today will be no more, and the left wings of tomorrow (Max Jones, Max Comotois, Isac Lundestrom* & Jack Kopacka) will all be competing with Rickard Rakell, Nick Ritchie, and whoever they move this season from right to left. That also ignores the possibility of NHL ironman and fan favourite Andrew Cogliano sticking around.

Nonetheless, these are the cards that the Ducks have dealt themselves after, one assumes, careful planning. So lets delve into the players that are recognised left wings, and those that are most likely to play NHL hockey this season.

* Lundestrom is listed a C/LW, and it is my impression from watching him last season that his final resting place in the NHL will be as a wing. This, in part, due to weak performances on the faceoff dot. However, he could also challenge Steel’s position as the 2C in the future, thus thinning the left side log jam and forming a strong middle 6 combination up the middle. Time will tell.

1st Line Left Wing - Rickard Rakell

Who else could it be, but, 67 stairway to heaven? That's right folks, this young whipper snapper is still too young to be playing bingo but that shouldn't stop us from having fun. So everyone get out your cards and markers, and let’s rustle us up a winner!

First in best dressed, let’s see how he did on the goals and points front.

Can someone say “Ask for more? (34),” because its a “favourite of mine (69).” That's right, folks, that's a full “coming of age (18)” better than his previous seasons efforts. Not bad for a young fella not long turned 25. In fact I believe you’ll find that he be saying “goodbye teens (19th)”, after walking up those “steps (39th)” in the league rankings of those stats, this past season. Over the past 2 seasons his 67 (coincidence!) goals could be seen as “unlucky for some,” (13) yet was good for 13th overall amongst league rankings. Not bad kid, not bad.

More than that, he was getting down like “Danny La Rue (52nd)” all up and down that cold ice, once on-ice goals for and individual rate points were ranked. It almost makes me just a little ashamed to say it, but if he can take just “39 more (78th)” steps towards respectable scoring chances for numbers, and he might get just enough high danger chances under his belt to “almost retire (64th).”

Sadly, it doesn't appear that any of Rakells numbers fall within Bingo territory, so the game is over. But rest assured, this young fella is in his goal scoring prime, and is taking full advantage. Will we will see back to back to back Dirty Gerties (30)? Stay tuned this season to find out.

2nd Line Left Wing - Andrew Cogliano

I would preface this little section with the assertation that Cogliano is one of my favourite Ducks. He puts in Yeomans work and is a brilliant defensive forward. Unfortunately, Cogs isn't a quality top 6 option. Thus far in his NHL career, the former University of Michigan star has scored in excess of 40 points twice. In fact he’s only scored more than 30 points in 4 of his 7 seasons with the Ducks, and hasn't flirted with 20 goals since the 2013-2014 season. For a team that has traditionally struggled to reach the top half of the league in goal scoring, placing players lacking in scoring potential into relatively high minutes is a big reason why.

There is, of course, no guarantee that Cogliano will line up in the 2LW slot given that the preseason has seen him skate with Rowney and Gibbons and that there have been multiple articles discussing the breaking up of the “shutdown line.” However, 2LW is the position that Cogliano has played the last few seasons. He is also the only recognised LW signed and on the roster, behind Rakell. Given the noise the team has made about playing “fast” since last season’s conclusion, it seems most prudent to utilise a player with genuine speed. If not Cogliano, then who?

Aside from being an underwhelming offensive producer, Cogliano has many positive attributes to bring to the Ducks. Notably, Cogliano is possibly the most underrated offensively orientated defensive forward in the NHL.

Firstly, Cogliano isn't a defensive penalty killer. He plays in an aggressive manner, which sometimes results in dangerous scoring opportunities for his team.

Last season the Ducks sat second in the league for short handed markers (10 short-handed goals); 7 of which occurred with Cogliano on the ice. He, for the second consecutive season, ranked in the top 20 (19th overall) for scoring per minute on the penalty kill, and 5th overall for on-ice goals for per minute.

You may recognise some of the names above him in that top 20 list: Connor McDavid, Evander Kane, Mark Schiefle, Jack Eichel, Brad Marchand. The list goes on. This merely shows the relationship with his 4th overall corsi for ranking, and subsequent 6th overall scoring chances for ranking.

Defensively, he’s solid, but far less impressive. 52nd in the league for takeaways (per minute), and ranked between 126th and 145th for the corsi-based stats. Even goals against has him ranked in the late 40’s. Solid, but nothing to write home about.

Unfortunately for Cogliano and the Ducks, these results don't necessarily carry over to even strength play. Offensively, his low points totals (raw) are well outside the range for a 2nd line winger, so is his scoring per minute (ranked 183rd). This appears to be loosely related to his corsi rankings: corsi for = 210th, scoring chances for = 196th, and high danger chances = 187th. All up total on-ice goals for ranked him 235th in the league. Given what we see, with him often streaking down the wing, then pulling up and circling back to pass to someone, this appears to hold water.

Defensively, at even strength, he leaves a little to be desired. His 1.18 takeaways per 60 minutes of play ranks him 344th in the league, corsi against ranks him 343rd, scoring chances against ranked him 393rd, and high danger chances ranked him 394th. In the end, only John Gibson in net appears to salvage the situation. These numbers aren't, of course, everything, but I don't believe it’s unusual to see shooters getting in alone and thowing some rubber on Gibson. Thus, the numbers appear to more or less match the eye test, although the rankings are unfortunate.

All in all, Cogliano appears to be a solid addition to the line up, but an inadequate top 6 option. Should he be moved into the bottom 6 and played as a penalty kill specialist, I think the Ducks would do really well there. But assuming he sticks in the 2LW slot, I suspect another season of below average scoring from the Duck (at a team level) will be in the cards.

This is where it starts to get murky. Patrick Eaves and Jakob Silfverberg are listed as right wing players, and despite being able to play the left, they appear to be most likely to slot into the right. Eaves seems likely to be partnered with Getzlaf on the top line again in an attempt to rekindle the 27 games (including the postseason) of chemistry they had back in the 2016-2017 season.

There has been very little indication that Silf will switch sides going forward, despite playing the left on a line with Adam Henrique and Ondrej Kase in preseason matchups. Indeed, his standing with the team is somewhat murky given his contract situation, so whether he remains a Duck at all is uncertain. That is to say, this is his last season under contract, and many fans would like him traded because they don't like nice things (looking at you Jake).

Further adding to the uncertainty on the left side is that the 3rd line holdover, Nick Ritchie, is not presently under contract and thus not eligible to play. While it is expected that he will eventually join the team, current reports suggest player and team are not particularly close to making a deal.

While Eaves and Silfverberg will be covered in great deal in the Right Wing position preview still to come, those who are interested can read more about Ritchie here.

3rd Line Left Wing - ???

At a hunch, I’m going to assume that Ritchie will be back early in the new season. It doesn't make sense for the player or for the franchise to leave a former top 10 pick sitting on the bench and away from the team. The most recent news we have is that he’s been training with Guelph, and while the team says they've been in contact with him, it’s almost assuredly not helping him find chemistry and cohesion in the locker room. Should he come back early, I believe this will be his roster spot.

Ritchie taking his spot back, of course comes with the proviso that whoever they swing from the right side to the left hasn't taken this position and run with it. It seems unlikely that a player will adapt that quickly and dominate, but it is certainly plausible. Should this be the case, Ritchie then will be forced into a battle for the 4th LW position. The 4th line position will likely be a placeholder for a penalty killing forward, a position that Ritchie is ill equipped to handle.

If this comes to pass, I expect Ritchie will be dealt at some point prior to Christmas, as he would then be surplus to needs.

4th Line Left Wing - Brian Gibbons

Given that the Ducks identity is that of a low-scoring yet strong defensive team, it seems likely that the fourth line role will be a more traditional energy type line, and something of a placeholder for penalty killers.

This offseason just passed, Ducks GM Bob Murray went out and signed some veteran forwards for the team. One of those forwards was ex-NJ Devil, and ex-Pittsburgh Penguin penalty killer Brian Gibbons. While only a 1 year deal, it seem unlikely that Murray would have signed a veteran (in the biological age terminology, not games-played terminology) to sit on the bench. Thus it seem most likely, given his most recent history and that he’s on a short term “show-me” contract, that he will slot in to the team.

While not a traditional LW (he’s listed as a C in most places, including his page), Gibbons does have the ability to swing to the left side. The Ducks team page appears to be the only page on which he’s a listed LW. Given the dearth of left wingers on the team, and the surplus of right wingers, this is a plausible landing spot for him. Particularly so, in the light of his less than stellar faceoff percentages. That is to say, he wont be the solution at centre on a team that is infatuated with faceoff wins.

Gibbons, for better or worse, is somewhat of a know commodity. He has some skating speed and is a former Stanley Cup Champion (with the 2013-2014 Pittsburgh Penguins). He showed a little scoring pedigree last season with the Devils, which given his scoring rates with the Penguins, appears to be somewhat sustainable (career totals of 125 games, 17 goals, 31 assists). However it should also be noted that this mostly came in a hot streak prior to his injury.

After that we has often a healthy scratch and completely ineffective. This presents a unique case in that he isn't likely to be a solidifying presence in the bottom 6. Turning 31 this season, he is also a little long in the tooth.

An argument can be made for aging (he turned 25 in May) prospect Kevin Roy in this 4th line role. Roy has only played in 25 NHL games, all of which came with the Ducks last season. In that time he scored 6 goals and added 1 helper. He too has good (although not elite) speed, and can play the pivot if required. Roy does however have a stronger scoring pedigree than Gibbons, scoring at nearly 1 more point per every 2 games played at that level. This gives rise to the argument of what do you want from a bottom 6, and can a team have too much skill?

Initially, in response, it should be noted that Gibbons was the second most used forward on the Devils, 8th-overall-ranked, penalty kill last season. He led that unit in shot blocking by more than double the next forward. Despite giving up the most scoring chances (raw), this was moved to a much more manageable 8th overall when accounted for on a per minute basis. If the Ducks were to double down on their current identity as a defensive team, then it appears that Gibbons is a good bet to take this LW position, and jump onto the penalty kill. Given the kill last season was very much about watching John Gibson saving shots, acquiring a cheap player who can reduce the amount of work Gibson needs to do could pay dividends in the long term.

That he has foot speed allows the Ducks to ice two units that can counter attack on the opposition (the other being the one with Cogliano). While the Ducks have seemingly resisted streaming their preseasons games, the games that have been shown have featured an aggressive shorthanded style. Gibbons may have a big part to play in that.

And if nothing else, he did throw this down on Justin Schultz....

On the left side: one really good goal scorer, two penalty killing non-scorers, and potentially either Nick Ritchie waiting to break out, or one of the former chosen ones being turned from the right side.

There could be the idea that one of the youngsters will take a spot out of camp, but I suspect that this will be unlikely this season. Given their ages, development curves, or injury status, it seems most likely that those who can be sent to junior leagues, will be, and those who can be sent to the AHL, will be. Lundestrom, by all accounts has an agreement to go back to Sweden, and it seems mostly likely that the Ducks will honour that agreement.

Today, the left side is the weakest position for the Ducks, although their best “young” player in Rakell has made that side his own in recent years. There is a huge opportunity for one of the younger players, or a veteran to switch sides, to steal a position and make it their own.

Currently, the 3rd line spot is open, and it seems entirely plausible that Cogliano could also be shifted down a line or two. With Eaves and Perry expected to be penciled in to line up on the right, expect to see at least one of Silfverberg, Terry, or Kase swing to the left side. Should that happen, there is a good chance they make that spot their own, and in 12 months we’re all talking about how we need to trade Cogliano (and Ritchie if he’s still around) to fit in another prospect on that side.