USATSI_8588391_154158418_lowresThe Anaheim Ducks have a lot to be proud of over the last two seasons, amassing 225 points and coming awfully close to the big one in 2014-2015. They took the Chicago Blackhawks to the limit in the Western Conference Final, eventually losing in seven games.

That accomplishment is somewhat tainted by the fact that the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks missed the playoffs in 2015, which could account for a slightly easier run down the line.

The road ahead for the Ducks looks good, though, and they’re a team in solid position going forward. They’ve built well and are a young team with top-tier talent. There’s no real reason to believe this club couldn’t make a go of it in 2015-2016.

Offence

In terms of the forward group, it’s hard to find a better one-two punch than Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Getzlaf finished the 2014-2015 campaign with 70 points in 77 games. He had 25 goals and ranks fourth in the NHL in points over the last four seasons, right behind Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Claude Giroux.

Perry ranks third in the NHL in goals since 2010-2011, behind Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. He added 33 to the tally in 2014-2015 for a total of 55 points in 67 games. For all the Katy Perry chants sent his way in Winnipeg in the post-season, he just seemed to get better.

Ryan Kesler, meanwhile, was excellent in support. He took the toughest assignments most nights and excelled under pressure, starting regularly in the defensive zone. He also had 20 goals, the seventh time he’s done that in his career, and had a total of 47 points. In the playoffs, he was equally dangerous.

Another forward to keep an eye on is Patrick Maroon, who’s scooting up the depth chart thanks to his gritty play. He is just one of four forwards to record at least 60 points along with 180 penalty minutes over the last two years. In 2014-2015, he put up nine goals and added 25 assists. Maroon was also pesky in the playoffs, managing 11 points in 16 games.

The Ducks lost Matt Beleskey to the Boston Bruins and that stings a little, but they did acquire Carl Hagelin in exchange for Emerson Etem on Day Two of the NHL Entry Draft. That’s not a bad move, all things considered. Hagelin could skate with Kesler on the second line.

Defence

A lot of Ducks fans are high on Cam Fowler and Simon Depres as the top pairing. There’s a good balance here, with Depres playing a physical game and Fowler unafraid of pushing the offensive envelope. Fowler had 34 points in 80 games in 2014-2015, including seven goals. He logs about 21 minutes a game and moves the puck well. Depres can and will hold the line, plus he gained some serious playoff experience.

The acquisition of Kevin Bieksa from the Vancouver Canucks made waves. Bieksa replaces Francois Beauchemin, a Ducks stalwart. Bieksa has a history with Kesler and should do well in his new digs, particularly if Anaheim finds him the right partner. One popular suggestion is Hampus Lindholm, who played with Beauchemin and logged 23 minutes a game in the post-season. Not bad for a 21-year-old.

Sami Vatanen had a strong role to play on the Ducks in 2014-2015 and he’ll be back for more. He proved he can shine while quarterbacking the power play and his numbers make the whole team better. He had 37 points in 67 games. Watch for Vatanen to break out in 2015-2016. Potential partners include Clayton Stoner and maybe even Josh Manson. Prospect Shea Theodore has also be on that list.

Goaltending

Despite the acquisition of Anton Khudobin, the tandem of Frederik Andersen and John Gibson will take the lead. Andersen is the starter and for good reason. 2014-2015 proved that he can handle the job and then some. He was tremendous in the playoffs and won 35 games in the regular season, plus he’s a bargain at a cap hit of just $1.15 million.

Gibson is also bargain at $722,000. He hasn’t put up the stellar numbers of Andersen, but there’s time and the Ducks are in no mood to quit just yet. Khudobin could be seen as an insurance policy of sorts and Anaheim has to hope that the new hire will push Gibson to new heights.

Prospects

The aforementioned Theodore is probably the biggest prospect draw at the moment. Scouts are high on the Aldergrove native and see him as a top-tier offensive defenceman. Theodore has been making waves on the power play and could’ve made the big club in 2014-2015, but an elbow injury complicated matters and he joined the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds instead.

Also on the prospect list is winger Nick Ritchie, who was a surefire standout at the Ducks’ recent summer development camp. The Orangeville-born Ritchie has earned comparisons to Eric Lindros and attended his first training camp with Anaheim last season before he was shuttled back to Peterborough. He’s a solid power forward with great hands.

The Path Ahead

The Ducks are a good-to-great team, without question, and there’s not a lot of movement required here. They’ve already picked up Bieksa and have filled in some holes, although they could still use more depth at forward. The goaltending situation should benefit both netminders, especially if Andersen continues his top-drawer play and Khudobin’s footsteps can be heard by Gibson.

The Ducks are a safe bet for 2015-2016 to make the playoffs and go deep. If the roster holds and injuries don’t become a problem, the impending season should be theirs for the taking.

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