The Anaheim Ducks open their preseason game with the Arizona Coyotes at the Tucson Convention Center on Sunday afternoon. With 64 players invited to training camp, the storyline is rich, and there are still many decisions to be made in sorting out the starting lineup and building team chemistry and identity.
The buzz surrounding the team this year is a step forward, as fans are feeling the tide change after an unpleasant 2021-22 season. Here are five storylines for the Ducks ahead of their preseason debut.
Who represents Sam Carrick?
when anaheim Their preseason roster was announced on September 9. On the 21st, they revealed that Sam Carrick’s hip surgery in May was a success. The 30-year-old center spent the better part of 10 seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL) as captain of the San Diego Seagulls before landing a bottom-six role and a career. A career-high 19 points (11G, 8A) played 64 games with the Ducks last season.
Carrick signed a two-year extension during the offseason, making it very likely that he will return to the lineup after qualifying in November. But who will take his place until then? Chase De Leo, who also signed a two-year deal in July, could be in the fourth row. You’d expect strong competition from De Leo, as this could be his last chance to make the NHL lineup.
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Likewise, the Ducks will expect Max Jones to bounce back after almost a year without any competitive games. Jones returns to the lineup after missing almost the entire season last season with a torn pectoral muscle — and it will be up to him to prove he can live up to the hype surrounding the former first-round pick. Carrick’s injury gives Jones a better chance of staying in the bottom six on the Opening Day roster.
Gibson is preparing for the new season
You have to wonder if John Gibson is a fan of Tom Cruise and the new “Top Gun” movie:
The Ducks goalie showed off his new helmet on social media this week, and one can’t help but feel like it’s a fitting style considering he can take the Ducks to new heights this year.
Alas, to win at the NHL level, “it takes more than just fancy flying.” Sweet new barrels, though.
Bringing Mason McTavish into the ring
One of the biggest questions bothering me this week is where the Ducks will insert Mason McTavish into the lineup. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft is a guaranteed lock on the Opening Day roster, but his fit is still up for debate.
He’s the type of player who immediately makes the players around him better. With hard work and a killer release, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if McTavish was involved in the Calder Trophy conversation this season.
The Ducks brought in Ryan Strom this offseason, giving them the ability to move their rookie center up and down the lineup as they see fit. McTavish has a wealth of skills at his disposal and he will likely try it out in different positions and pair it with a wide variety of wingers to see who he fits best with.
If head coach Dallas Eakins is to anchor the third line at the start of the season, it will be a huge vote of confidence from him. Still, speculation has circulated in the league that he may find himself a second-line wing with Strom in the middle. The initial chemistry will determine how everything gets out.
In an article by Eric Stephens last week sports, McTavish has an interesting take on the lineup he thinks he fits in. “But the decision was left to Verbeck and Anaheim head coach Dallas Eakins. The Ducks developed him into a center last season, but he signed veteran Ryan Strom to add to that. Zegrath, and have Isaac Lundstrom as their third-line pivot. McTavish has the potential to make the team a left-wing player like last fall. For that potential scenario that plays out, McTavish Just simply, ‘I don’t care'” (from “Stephens: Anaheim Ducks’ Mason McTavish, ready for NHL breakout after ‘magic’ game”, Athletics NHL9/19/22).
Is the Brayden Tracey NHL ready?
Another player who could be on the radar this preseason is the 2019 first-round pick (29).th Overall) Ducks left winger Brayden Tracey.
The 21-year-old scored two goals in three games as part of the 2022 rookie draft, which starts Sept. 18 in San Jose. 16-19 weekend. In an interview over the summer, Tracy’s message to Ducks fans was “get ready.” In an ominous but hopeful sign, the best is yet to come for the former Moose Jaw warrior.
As an 18-year-old, the Calgary, Alberta native was at the top of the Western Hockey League, scoring 81 points (36G, 45A) in 66 games with the Warriors in 2018-19. He hasn’t been playing in one place since his suspension and could benefit from a little consistency. That said, another season in the AHL could be good for him.
Tracy will likely get long-term attention this preseason, as the Ducks appear to be most vulnerable on the left side of the ice. If he has a good camp, he has a chance to get into the back six of this open spot.
There’s one big question hanging over the top of every Ducks fan’s head. Who will emerge and take over the vacant captain? The team may not have any sense of urgency to put a “C” on the chest of one of their players, but one must wonder if Trevor Zegrass will take on the role sometime this year. Verbeek has been adamant that he will not negotiate with his pending restricted free agency until the end of the season to avoid distractions.
However, Zegras is already the face of the NHL video game franchise, as he graced the cover of the EA Sports NHL 2023 Championship alongside women’s hockey star Sarah Nurse. His jersey sales have skyrocketed since he amazes the 2022 All-Star Game with his creative skills and super shootout performance.
The Ducks could make Zeglass the face of their team this year to capitalize on all the hype surrounding the young player. It will also be reassuring to fans to know that the future of this franchise will take shape in an orderly manner.
Keep these storylines and more in mind ahead of Anaheim’s season opener against the Seattle Krakens on October 10. 12.
Freelance sports reporter. Hockey writer Anaheim Ducks contributor.