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Hockey

Ducks, now with Ryan Kesler, Dany Heatley, look to go even further

Frederik Andersen
Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen played well as a rookie last season and will vie for playing time with John Gibson.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

One game away … or is there far more to it than that?

The Ducks finished last season with the best record in the Western Conference, earning a home game for Game 7 in the conference semifinals against the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Kings. They lost, 6-2.

One win from taking it all? We’ll never know.

Thus, some changes have been made, the Ducks acquiring center Ryan Kesler to anchor the second line, signing center Nate Thompson to replace the retired Saku Koivu, and adding size by bringing aboard forward Dany Heatley and defenseman Clayton Stoner.

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How big an impact will Kesler make?

The 30-year-old former Vancouver star has produced at least 20 goals in each of the past six non-lockout seasons (25 goals, 18 assists last season) and proved, with 41 goals and 32 assists for the Canucks in 2010-11, he can guide a team to a Stanley Cup Final.

The idea of sending a line led by Kesler, a defense-driven agitator who shines in faceoffs and penalty kills, to follow a first line led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Now, the planning needs to become reality.

How will playing time be divided between goalies Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, who both shined as rookies?

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With 20 regular-season and three playoff wins under his belt, Andersen, who turns 25 before opening night, has the more distinguished NHL resume. But Gibson is considered the brighter future star, rated as hockey’s No. 2 prospect last season.

Because of an injury Andersen suffered in a playoff victory over the Kings, Gibson, 21, was made the starter, and won two games, but was blitzed by three first-period goals in Game 7.

Training-camp and preseason performances will help decide early season playing time, but Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said he expects both will fill a major role over the long season.

Will Heatley rebound?

The veteran has two 50-goal seasons under his belt but at 33, with Minnesota, was a healthy scratch last March for the first time in his career. With a $1-million, one-year commitment, the Ducks are effectively taking a low-risk chance on him.

He could be seeing time with Getzlaf and Perry on the first line during camp. The hope is that the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Heatley can resurrect his effectiveness after a sluggish campaign in which he scored just 12 goals in 76 games. If not, he could be replaced by a young, big body.

Is there enough veteran wisdom in the room?

The retirement of Finnish legends Teemu Selanne and Koivu cuts more than 40 years of NHL experience from the roster, meaning the team will have to lean even more on its captain, Getzlaf.

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Perry, coming off a 43-goal, 39-assist season, leads by example more than with words. Veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin has been through many peaks and valleys and could help provide quality counsel.

As the Kings showed last season, a high dose of camaraderie can be the ultimate fuel for a title.

The team-building starts today.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire


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