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Anaheim Ducks Season Preview: A Calder contender consolation prize

Maybe the team won’t win the Stanley Cup this year, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t winning anything.

Anaheim Ducks celebrate their win during overtime against the Los Angeles Kings at STAPLES Center on October 9, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images

It wasn’t that long ago that the California NHL teams were at the pinnacle of hockey, with the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks all being perennial playoff contenders, the latter two having three total Stanley Cups to their name, the Kings winning in 2012 and 2014 and the Ducks winning in 2007.

But the thing about the old days is that they’re the old days. Now, all three teams have entered a rebuilding state, and the Ducks are certainly no exception.

They’ve still got a decent bit of their core intact from the last time they made the playoffs, with players such as John Gibson, Hampus Lindholm, Adam Henrique, Jakub Silvferberg and Rickard Rakell all still around, as well as captain Ryan Getzlaf returning to the Ducks on a one-year, $4.5 million contract this summer — but given that the team is in a rebuild, it’s possible that unless they defy expectations and make a playoff push, some of those players may be sold at the trade deadline.

What will really make the Ducks interesting to pay attention to, though, is their young core that they’ve developed over the years. Trevor Zegras, Max Comtois and Isac Lundestrom infuse youth into the Ducks’ top-six forwards. Troy Terry, Max Jones and Benoit-Olivier Groulx should provide complimentary scoring and energy. The first-round selections in 2020 and 2021, Jamie Drysdale and Mason McTavish, are both shoo-ins to play Opening Night.

All in all, depending on how Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins feels about his lines, the team could possibly have nine players under 24 years old in the Opening Night line-up. Talk about a youth movement!

The aforementioned Trevor Zegras will be the guy that will bring eyes to the Ducks this year, and it’s not hard to see why. The 2019 first-round pick won the World Juniors MVP for Team USA last year, scoring seven goals and adding 11 assists throughout the tournament en route to Team USA’s gold medal.

When he made his way to the AHL’s San Diego Gulls, his scoring touch followed, scoring 10 goals and adding 11 assists in 17 games, leading Ducks fans and rival fans of the Gulls alike to ask how the Ducks hadn’t called him up. Around February, Ducks fans’ wish came true, when Zegras was called up and subsequently made his NHL debut against the Arizona Coyotes. While he didn’t enjoy as much scoring as he did in the WJC tournament and the AHL, his point totals were still nothing to sneeze at, scoring 3 goals and 13 assists in 24 games.

Zegras has become the face of the Ducks’ rebuild, and the sky seems to be the limit for him. It’s very reasonable that he reaches the 50-60 point range in his first full NHL season, and it will be surprising if Zegras isn’t leading the race for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie.

With the Ducks’ expectations relatively low this year, there’s a high probability they will more than likely be sellers at the deadline, which leads me to my first bold prediction for the Ducks’ season:

Bold Prediction #1: Hampus Lindholm will be traded at the deadline

Lindholm has been the Ducks’ bonafide number one defenseman since he broke into the league in 2013-14, and although injuries limited his 2020-21 season to only 18 games, his season was still very strong. Lindholm’s contract expires this season, so he could be a target for a contending team looking for an impact defenseman at the trade deadline.

In return, the Ducks could get a very nice package for him, including but certainly not limited to a first-rounder. A Lindholm trade would also pave the way for Jamie Drysdale to take the reins as the Ducks’ top defenseman along the road.

Goaltender John Gibson could also be a possible trade piece at the deadline, but given that Gibson has a ten-team no-trade list, as well as a $6.4 million cap hit until 2026-27, the Ducks wouldn’t have a ton of leverage in any trade talks surrounding the Vezina-caliber netminder.

Bold Prediction #2: Trevor Zegras wins the Calder

Okay, true, it may not really be bold, since he’s a leading candidate to win this year, but the Zegras hype is unmistakably real. Patrick Bacon’s NHLe model gives Zegras a 99 percent chance of becoming an NHLer, and a 57 percent chance of becoming a star — that is, being in the top 18.5 percent of wins above replacement (WAR) per 82 games.

Basically, Zegras has a better chance of becoming a star in the NHL than not.

Projected to be on the first line with Adam Henrique and Rickard Rakell per Eric Stephens of the Athletic, a 50+ point season for Zegras seems like a given, and I like the odds that he completely exceeds that points floor. The path for the Ducks’ emergence from their rebuild starts with Zegras, and the odds are high that he will be the one to lead the Ducks back into contention.

If you want to follow these storylines and more, tune into Ducks games this season on ESPN+.