10 things to know about Ducks: Youngsters looking to be stars

Ahead of the Ducks’ season opener on Wednesday night against the Winnipeg Jets, here are 10 things to know about their 2021-22 campaign.

1. Last year … the Ducks struggled mightily, finishing a distant last in the West Division with a 17-30-9 record and franchise-worst .384 points percentage. It was also the club’s third straight season missing the playoffs, matching a franchise-long drought that hadn’t last happened since 2000-2002.

2. Player to watch … Max Comtois, the 22-year-old forward who led the team in scoring last year with 16 goals and 33 points (he was also one of only four players who had a positive plus/minus rating). While such veterans as Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique and Rickard Rakell will help anchor the forward lines too, it’s youngsters such as Comtois, Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry and Max Jones, plus defenseman Jamie Drysdale, who will likely dictate the direction of the club’s future.

3. In the net … John Gibson, who has established himself as one of the better netminders in the NHL despite the inconsistent roster playing in front of him. Gibson had a career-worst .903 save percentage and second-career-worst 2.98 goals-against-average last season, but he also posted three shutouts (his most since 2017-18) despite facing the eight-most shots per game in the league among goalies with at least 25 starts.

4. Behind the bench … Dallas Eakins, whose name has been splashed across hot-seat watch lists entering the season. After a successful stint coaching the club’s minor-league affiliate, Eakins’ first two seasons with the Ducks have fallen well short of expectations. He holds the worst winning percentage in franchise history among coaches with more than one season in charge.

5. Biggest addition … Good question. A year after making a couple free-agent splashes in hopes it could spark a “big step forward,” as general manager Bob Murray said at the time, the Ducks settled for only a series of small moves this summer, largely standing pat amid a rebuild taking longer than originally expected.

They did sign a few depth players, hire a couple new assistant coaches and poached new vice president of hockey operations Jeff Solomon from the Kings. They also re-signed Getzlaf, bringing back the captain for his 17th season. But that was about it, with the team instead content to keep giving bigger roles to young players already in the system.

6. Biggest departure … Ryan Miller, the veteran goaltender who retired after last season after spending the final four seasons of his career with the Ducks. Other than that, most of the roster returns. Of their top 15 scorers from last year, only Danton Heinen (signed by Pittsburgh) isn’t back this year.

Ducks center Trevor Zegras skates to the puck against the Arizona Coyotes in a preseason game on Oct. 2.

(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

7. Breakout star … Take your pick. The Ducks roster will feature plenty of young faces, headlined by the 20-year-old Zegras (a former ninth overall pick who had 13 points in 24 games last year) and 19-year-old Drysdale (a former sixth overall pick who also played 24 games a year ago).

8. Key strength … Expiring contracts. For the handful of things the Ducks do well on the ice (they were middle-of-the-pack in the league in some advanced possession-based metrics, and have veteran pieces who should help the development of younger stars), their most intriguing assets might be the players on expiring deals — including Rakell, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and maybe even Getzlaf — who, if the Ducks are sellers at the trade deadline, could be moved for future pieces.

9. Area of concern … Scoring. The Ducks have other weaknesses, of course, but their inability to generate offense has underlined all of their other problems in recent years. Their 2.39 goals-per-game last season was the worst in the league, the second time in the last three years they’ve been last in scoring. Their power-play also finished at the bottom of the rankings, regressing for a third straight year with an 8.9% success rate.

With all the young talent now populating the forward lines, in particular, the hope is they’ll finally have more weapons to rely on across the roster. But so far, that’s all it remains — a hope. And the longer it takes for those results to show up, the more troubling their future outlook in the rebuild seemingly becomes.

10. Expectations … are low, obviously. Only the Buffalo Sabres had a worse record than the Ducks in the NHL last year, and almost the same group of players will be back in Anaheim this year. The focus will be on the future, trying to identify which young players to build around and how much longer the rebuild might take. But the present seems grim, with the team widely expected to miss the playoffs for a franchise-worst fourth consecutive year.

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