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Anaheim Ducks 2023-24 Season Preview: It Can’t Get Any Worse, Can It?

Oct 5, 2023; Anaheim, California, USA; Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson (36) defends the goal against the Arizona Coyotes during the third period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After the miserable, no good, very bad 2022-23 NHL season, fans of the Anaheim Ducks will be hoping for some kind sign that it wasn’t all in vain. And with early reports out of Ducks camp that Leo Carlsson is expected to stay with the team for the full year ahead, they may just get it. But the second overall pick isn’t the only point of emphasis or interest in Southern California right now. Here is a look at what sort of year the Ducks have ahead of them.

Key Additions:

Alex Killorn (F), Radko Gudas (D), Robert Hagg, (D), Ilya Lyubushkin (D), Alex Stalock (G), Greg Cronin (HC)

After one of the worst seasons by any team in the history of the NHL, the Ducks front office had plenty of work to do to start Anaheim down the road to recovery. Among his most pressing needs was adding experience, size, and toughness, not that you would be able to tell that by looking at the names brought in. Pat Verbeek will be hoping that a handful of capable veterans can help create some space and give some extra time to the young core, both on and off the ice.

Oh, and they also hired a new head coach. That feels relevant here too.

Key Subtractions:

Maxim Comtois (F), Derek Grant (F), Jayson Megna (F), Kevin Shattenkirk (D), Simon Benoit (D), Nathan Beaulieu (D), Anthony Stolarz (G), Dallas Eakins (HC)

The only especially notable name in the players above is Maxim Comtois. After what many had hoped was a breakout 2020-21 season, the former second round pick seemed to settle in as a middling bottom six role player and the Ducks apparently settled on parting ways. Shattenkirk was never the most effective player in Orange County but by all accounts his importance to the team was largely more off-ice related than his actual play was. Most importantly though, is the inevitable departure of head coach Dallas Eakins after four years as Anaheim’s bench boss. A tenure that most Ducks fans will be eager to forget.

Strengths: Potential

The Ducks have the opportunity here to enter the season with a lineup full of unknowns for the first time in a very long while. For years Anaheim has been a team that seemed to value consistency at the top of the roster over everything else. As we enter Verbeek’s second full season as a general manager, there is an awful lot we don’t know about this team. And that fact should have Anaheim fans pretty damn excited. Jamie Drysdale returns after he missed almost the entire season last year, Mason McTavish flashed legitimate top-six potential (highlighted of course by his devastating one-timer), and Lukáš Dostál managed to look like a quality young goaltender despite averaging over 35 shots faced a game. Add in the likes of the Duck’s last two lottery picks with Pavel Mintyukov and Leo Carlsson and you can start to see why Ducks fans are willing to return to the scene of lst year’s crime and give it another go.

Weaknesses: Experience

Boy howdy did Alex Killorn pick a hell of a time to break his finger, eh? One of two crucial free agent additions General Manager Pat Verbeek made this summer specifically to add a strong veteran presence to a largely unproven and underwhelming roster being out for four-to-six weeks really underscores the roster’s deficit here. As it stands now, the number of players on the opening roster who have yet to appear in 100 NHL games (8) is larger than the number of players who have seen at least 500 games (6). For what it’s worth, that eight players includes three defensemen and the backup goalie as well. So the team can’t exactly hide them. For all of the promise and excitement around this Anaheim team, there are still some significant question marks around what these talented youngsters ultimately end up being in the NHL. That is, assuming they all stick around.

One Big Question: How much of a difference can one coach make?

To say that last year’s colossal failure of a season was entirely the fault of previous head coach Dallas Eakins would be disingenuous at best. The forward group lacked experience and offensive punch, while the defense core had the defensive integrity of a wet paper bag. John Gibson, Anthony Stolarz, and Lukáš Dostál weren’t anything to write home about, but there is only so much one can do facing roughly a million high danger chances a night. All of that is to say, the roster wasn’t exactly set up to be an unparalleled success. And still…

At the end of the day the coach’s job is to take the roster he is given and shape it into a single, cohesive unit capable of being competitive on a night-to-night basis. That just never happened last year for longer than a few shifts. Special teams units often looked unprepared and disjointed. Players spent whole shifts at even strength looking like they’d never even met their linemates before, let alone played hockey together, so it’s no wonder they had among the worst offensive numbers in the entire league. Defensively they were a total nightmare – incapable of closing out on shooters, clearing rebounds, or simply boxing out opposing skaters. The age of Eakins is over, the time of Greg Cronin has come.

The Boston native comes to Anaheim by way of the Colorado Avalanche’s AHL affiliate. The only coach the Eagles had ever known, Cronin missed the playoffs only once in five seasons during his time behind the bench there. An accomplished coach who was fundamental to the foundation of the United States National Team Development Program, Cronin will bring his 40 plus years of experience to his first ever NHL head coaching job. His hiring was Pat Verbeek’s first real big time decision while on the job and it will be interesting to see how the veteran coach performs as the year goes along. No one seems to be deluding themselves into pretending like the playoffs are on the table, but both Verbeek and the Samuelis will undoubtedly be expecting better results over the totality of the year.

Star Players: Trevor Zegras (F), Troy Terry (F)

The Ducks’ dynamic duo is signed to contracts and ready to prove they’re more than just a couple of highlight producers. Much to the chagrin of other fanbases, Zegras has quickly emerged as one of the league’s most marketable stars, combining on-ice skill and creativity with a quiet arrogance off of it. He’s been on the cover of EA’s NHL game, as well as gotten the league to shoe-horn him into the all-star skills competition despite not earning a spot in the game, and now he needs to show that he can carry the load of being a team’s top offensive play driver.

After bursting onto the national scene with a 37 goal season in 2020-21, Troy Terry saw a not insignificant regression last year scoring 23 goals in 70 games. He’s a talented playmaker who can attack defenses as a passer or a shooter, and he plays a strong two-way game to boot. If he can become a consistent offensive producer, hopefully hitting 30 goals more times than not over the next few years, then Anaheim is going to have a special player they can rely on in all situations. At this point, it’s just on him to go out there and be that guy on a nightly basis. Whether he can or not remains to be seen, but he certainly has all the tools needed to do so.

Under the Radar Player: Jackson LaCombe, Defenseman

There is a lot of focus on the Anaheim blueline prospects that have yet to skate their solo lap, and justifiably so. But don’t let Jackson LaCombe’s largely unheralded status trick you into overlooking him. Taken with the 39th overall pick of the 2019 draft, the smooth skating rearguard has finally reached the NHL after a four year stint with the University of Minnesota that saw him make steady improvements to his production. Scoring 99 points in 140 games over the span of his career with the Golden Gophers (a career which culminated in a 9 goal, 35 point senior season that saw him play 37 games) earned him a late season call up to the NHL which lasted for two games. He looks all but certain to claim a spot in the lineup to start the season and if the Ducks are going to have any hopes of winning some games this year, LaCombe’s ability to generate offense from the blue line will almost certainly need to be a major factor.

Key Rookie: Leo Carlsson, Center

You could make a very strong case here for Pavel Mintyukov given Anaheim’s long standing need for a truly elite offensive defenseman, but ultimately I think this is one of those situations where the easy and obvious pick is the correct one. The Swedish born center will turn 19 at the end of December, by that time Pat Verbeek and crew will be hoping to have seen substantial flashes of the dominant, two-way forward they can build the franchise around for the next 20 years. Now in full transparency, I must admit i have no idea what that kind of rookie season looks like, but I’m certainly hoping that by the time October rolls around next year I will have a new found perspective on the question.

Heralded for his enviable combination of elite hockey sense and a prototypical build, Carlsson comes into Anaheim with every opportunity to stake his claim on the first line center position for the next 10-15 years. Despite concerns about his skating, Leo is able to leverage his smarts and know where the play is going, often before the puck even knows where it’s headed. He’s got an under appreciated shot, strong playmaking ability, and a defensive game that should hopefully allow him to keep his head above water even as the scoring ebbs and flows. Oh, and he’s worked on his skating too.

Well, there you have it folks, the 2023-24 Anaheim Ducks. Hope everyone has the season they deserve.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments or concerns? Let us know. You can find us all season long over at as well as on t̶w̶i̶t̶t̶e̶r̶ X at @/anacalling_fhf or on BlueSky at @/