Column: Will the Ducks make the playoffs? Here are five things to watch for this season

Ducks photo illustration.
(Photos by the Associated Press; Photo illustration by Tim Hubbard/Los Angeles Times)

This will be the first full season for general manager Pat Verbeek, who replaced Bob Murray in February. Verbeek traded several veterans at the deadline, shedding big contracts and adding prospects and picks to a rebuilding process that has a few years to go. They probably won’t make the playoffs, but they should be entertaining. They will open the season on Wednesday against Seattle at Honda Center.


Which of their young players will step up?

Ducks forward Max Jones controls the puck in front of San Jose Sharks defenseman Derrick Pouliot.
Ducks forward Max Jones, left, controls the puck in front of San Jose Sharks defenseman Derrick Pouliot during a preseason game on Sept. 27.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Missing the playoffs four straight seasons has one consolation: the chance to draft early, when game-changers are available. The Ducks had the 10th and 22nd picks in 2022, No. 3 in 2021, Nos. 6 and 27 in 2020, Nos. 9 and 29 in 2019 and No. 23 in 2018. Some are poised to make an impact.


Max Jones, drafted 24th in 2016, has been slowed by injuries but is healthy. He brings size and a scoring knack and showed them off during training camp.

Look for forward Mason McTavish, who was drafted third overall in 2021 and was the most valuable player in Canada’s world junior championship run this year, to energize the offense. Defenseman Jamie Drysdale, 20, is a leader in the making. Trevor Zegras (23 goals, 61 points as a rookie last season) is mesmerizing.

Manon Rheaume, who played goalie in an exhibition for the Tampa Bay Lightning 30 years ago, is now a member of the Kings’ player development department.

Oct. 5, 2022


Will they score enough to be competitive?

Ducks forward Troy Terry controls the puck in front of Kings forward Adrian Kempe.
Ducks forward Troy Terry, left, controls the puck in front of Kings forward Adrian Kempe during a preseason game on Saturday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Short answer: Probably not. They ranked 24th in the NHL last season with an average of 2.78 goals per game.


Longtime team captain Ryan Getzlaf retired after last season, and the Ducks will miss his playmaking skills.

Troy Terry (37 goals, 67 points) blossomed last season, but the dropoff was steep after runner-up Zegras’ 61 points. Isac Lundestrom (16 goals, 29 points last season) must pick up the pace. Look for McTavish to shine.


How much will their newcomers contribute?

Anaheim Ducks defenseman John Klingberg controls the puck against the Arizona Coyotes.
Anaheim Ducks defenseman John Klingberg controls the puck against the Arizona Coyotes in a preseason game on Sept. 28.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

They signed offense-minded free agent defenseman John Klingberg to a one-year, $7-million contract, which gives him incentive to produce as a power-play quarterback in order to draw long-term offers for his next contract. The deal also gives the Ducks flexibility to bring him back if he’s successful and wants to stay, or to deal him to a Stanley Cup contender for prospects and/or picks.

Free agent Ryan Strome (five years, $25 million) should be a capable second-line center. Winger Frank Vatrano is on his fourth NHL stop at age 28 and is coming off a so-so season split between Florida and the New York Rangers. Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (acquired from Minnesota for future considerations) should be solid.


The Ducks drafted with the 10th and 22nd picks Russian-born defenseman Pavel Mintyukov and center Nathan Gaucher in Thursday’s NHL draft.

July 7, 2022


Will John Gibson still be a Duck by season’s end?

Ducks goaltender John Gibson makes a glove save during a preseason game against the Kings on Saturday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The veteran goaltender was often abandoned last season to face a barrage of high-quality scoring chances, facing the seventh-most shots overall (1,789 in 56 games). After a win on March 1 he didn’t earn another win until 14 appearances later, on April 17.

He’s young, at 29, but will he still be in his prime when the Ducks become contenders again? There was reason to think he might have been traded last season as part of their rebuild, but Verbeek may consider him more valuable in net than as a chip in a trade.


Will coach Dallas Eakins keep his job?

Ducks coach Dallas Eakins stands behind the bench during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in December.
(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)


Verbeek inherited Eakins, who is 77-100-32 over three seasons and has yet to coach the Ducks in a playoff game. That’s not entirely his fault: Murray made some poor decisions and gave Eakins rosters that had no depth and not enough high-end skill at either end of the ice.

Also, the two pandemic-shortened seasons were a challenge for everyone. But with an uptick in talent comes higher expectations for the Ducks’ performance this season. And Verbeek might simply want to install his own coach and replace Eakins if the Ducks start slowly or hit an extended slump.