Anaheim Ducks: The Bottom-Six
Today’s topic is the forward corps, specifically the bottom-six forward corp. The bottom-six is probably the least sexy subject of any team but rest assured, an effective bottom-six is required to be successful. Just ask the Los Angeles Kings and to a lesser extent, the New York Rangers. The Rangers don’t even get a whiff of the Cup without the depth they possessed this past playoff run (3rd line: Pouliot – Brassard – Zuccarello, 4th line: Brian Boyle – Dominic Moore – Derek Dorsett). At times, New York’s bottom-six flat out dominated en route to the finals. So ya, depth is pretty important.
With that in mind, let’s shift our focus to the Anaheim Ducks. With the departures of Bonino, Koivu, and Perreault, there are openings in Anaheim’s bottom-six group. So, who slots in behind Getzlaf and Kesler? Anaheim has made some moves since our last blog on Ducks forwards so let’s recap what some potential lines may look like. The biggest acquisition was the signing of Dany Heatley. Indications are Heatley will be given every opportunity to succeed in Anaheim in a top-six role, at least initially. To start off, he’ll likely line up with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Additionally, in the last blog on the forward group, we surmised that Ryan Kesler centers the Ducks’ shutdown line with Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg. That being said, here’s how the Ducks top-six looks:
Heatley – Getzlaf – Perry
Cogliano – Kesler – Silfverberg
Finally, how about that bottom-six? Nate Thompson was acquired from Tampa Bay to strengthen the Ducks two-way game down the middle. He is responsible, grinds it out, and can be counted on to take key face-offs.. but is he a third-line center? Thompson got mostly fourth line minutes in Tampa Bay and had favorable matchups. Another option the Ducks have for their 3C is Rickard Rakell. Rakell gained valuable minutes and experience at the end of last year and in the playoffs but is he ready for regular minutes, mentally and physically? The role of a third line center is a crucial one. The Kings have Kopitar, Carter, and Stoll. The Sharks have Thornton, Couture, and Pavelski. The Blues have Stastny, Backes, and Berglund/Ott. Are Rakell and Thompson up to the challenge? Even with the addition of Ryan Kesler, the Ducks center depth doesn’t quite stack up when you look at the elite team’s in the West and their top 3 centers. However, it does have the potential to. For that to happen, it is imperative for Rakell and/or Thompson to surpass expectations.
My gut feeling tells me Rakell will be given the opportunity to center the 3rd line when the season opens in October. His line mates are another question, however. He spent time in the NHL last season playing with Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly. Intuition tells me that Patrick Maroon and Kyle Palmieri have the inside track on the former two forwards to comprise the third line. In spite of that, I feel those two forward pairs can alternate between being on the 3rd or 4th line any given night, especially with Bruce Boudreau’s penchant for line juggling. At any rate, on opening night, I’m guessing Anaheim’s third line looks like this on opening night:
Maroon – Rakell – Palmieri
From there on, it’s kind of a logjam of forwards vying for spots on the 4th and final line on the depth chart. As I mentioned earlier, you could see Etem and Smith-Pelly there in which case it looks like this:
Etem – Thompson – Smith-Pelly
This would be probably be more of an offensive-minded 4th line with the exception of Thompson. If Boudreau decides to go with a little bit more sandpaper expect to see Tim Jackman and Matt Beleskey on the wings. It seems Beleskey got pushed out of his spot on the top line with the addition of Heatley. Rest assured, should Heatley faulter, look for Beleskey to rejoin the twins up front. So, the rough and tumble possible 4th line is as follows:
Beleskey – Thompson – Jackman
One thing is for sure, Bruce Boudreau certainly has a lot of pieces to tinker with before opening night. Any number of things could happen before the season beings in October (injuries, trades, signings, etc.) that could completely throw all of this speculation out of the window. But hey, that’s half the fun of the off-season right?
– Ryan Cruz, @RyVCA