The Anaheim Ducks finished dead last in the NHL in 2022-23. It was a rather unfortunate turn of events, especially since the team has one of the most promising cores in the league. Many had hoped to see the Ducks take a step forward, even if they remained outside of the playoffs. In the end, it just didn't happen.
The Ducks head into the 2023-24 season with a new perspective, at least behind the bench. Greg Conin takes charge after spending time as the head coach of the AHL's Colorado Eagles. He will be tasked with leading the core of Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, and Leo Carlsson and turning this team into a Stanley Cup contender once again.
The Ducks opened their preseason campaign on Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings. Unfortunately, Anaheim could not outlast their California-state rivals, falling 5-4 in overtime. Looking ahead to the regular season, the Ducks begin on October 14 against the Vegas Golden Knights in Las Vegas.
Ahead of this upcoming season, let's take a look at a few storylines and roster bubble candidates for this team. Here is a complete 2023-24 season preview and roster projection for the Anaheim Ducks.
Trevor Zegras breakout season?
Trevor Zegras is an incredibly popular player, and it's easy to see why. He has incredible skill, which he's displayed time and time again on the ice. And unlike other NHL players, he has an actual personality. All of this creates quite the buzz around one's name.
That said, his game hasn't taken much of a step. He scored 61 points in 2021-22 when he first received a regular role in the league. This past season, however, he improved that total by just four points. To his credit, there's consistency here, as he scored 23 goals in both seasons.
Zegras may catch headlines, but whether he's truly the guy in Anaheim is up for debate. Leo Carlsson has legitimately elite upside. And Mason McTavish is not too far behind that. Both players could easily wind up overtaking Zegras as the top forwards with the Ducks. It's not a make-or-break season, but Zegras has to prove that he is good for more than a sporadic highlight reel play in 2023-24.
Leo Carlsson's first year
Speaking of Leo Carlsson, he is certainly one to watch this preseason. As mentioned, Carlsson has the potential to become a legitimately elite top-line center in the NHL. And he'll face immense pressure after hearing his name called as the second overall pick back in June.
What the Ducks do with Carlsson is certainly interesting in its own right. He has a realistic chance to make the roster, and if he does, that creates quite the debate. Carlsson would then almost certainly face comparisons to Columbus Blue Jackets forward Adam Fantilli this season. Fantilli was the consensus best player behind Connor Bedard during the draft, but the Ducks passed over him.
This upcoming season won't serve as the be-all-end-all of the Carlsson vs. Fantilli debate. However, it's a debate that will rage. Of course, Anaheim will simply focus on his individual performances. And it'll be worth following how the 18-year-old adapts to the North American style of hockey in 2023-24.
Will John Gibson pass the torch?
The Ducks hold one of the best trade candidates among goalies in John Gibson. Gibson has a solid track record, but has seen his stats decline as the team's overall quality has declined. Reports emerged that he emphatically requested a trade this summer. A report that sparked a Twitter spat between Gibson's agents and an NHL insider.
The likelihood of a Gibson trade prior to the 2023-24 season is rather low at this point. That gives Gibson the chance to improve his value and potentially find a trade to a contender. That said, it could also be a season in which he passes the torch to the future. Lukas Dostal has shown some promise and could be ready for an NHL role this season.
Regardless of what happens, the Ducks are clearly in a state of transition in goal. Gibson's time in Anaheim is coming to an end sooner rather than later. It remains to be seen what he does exactly with his last games in a Ducks sweater.
Roster bubble candidates
It is worth noting that Dostal, while promising, is still on the roster bubble. The Ducks signed veteran puck-stopper Alex Stalock this summer. He is entrenched as the backup for now, especially since Dostal can go to the minors without passing through waivers. The 23-year-old could usurp Stalock's position with an undeniable preseason performance, though.
Defenseman Colton White is also on the roster bubble as of now. The 26-year-old has to contend with some veteran options the Ducks have brought in. Anaheim added Robert Hagg, Ilya Lyubushkin, and Radko Gudas this summer. These three players create quite an uphill battle for White this preseason.
Final roster projection
Forwards: Adam Henrique, Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry, Alex Killorn, Mason McTavish, Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano, Leo Carlsson, Jakob Silfverberg, Max Jones, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Brett Leason
Defensemen: Cam Fowler, Jamie Drysdale, Jackson Lacombe, Radko Gudas, Robert Hagg, Ilya Lyubushkin
Goalies: John Gibson, Alex Stalock