Each day heading into their season openers Oct. 7 in Europe, ESPNLosAngeles will take a closer look at the Ducks and Kings. Where are their strengths, their weaknesses? Which star player will continue to shine, and which might struggle to maintain their previous levels? We put the Ducks back under the microscope today and attempt to answer a few key questions regarding their forwards.
The forward with the most to prove this season? Still just 24 years of age, it would seem Andrew Cogliano has plenty of upside left in his career. A first-round draft pick of the Oilers six years ago, Cogliano never lived up to expectations in Edmonton, but then again it must be difficult to get excited when you’re the underdog every game. Cogliano was awarded a fresh start when he was traded to the Ducks over the summer for a second-round pick in 2013, then quickly signed to a three-year deal. Now it’s up to him to show if the change to a winning environment will be enough to kick start his career. One of the speediest skaters on the Ducks, Cogliano has been etched in as the team's third-line center. He won’t have the pressure to produce points on a nightly basis, but should still have enough talent around him to chip away at opposing defenses. If he doesn't produce at a higher level this season, he'll be out of excuses.
The forward with the least to prove? When you win a Stanley Cup title in your second season in the league and the Hart Memorial Trophy as the best player in the NHL in your sixth, what else is there to prove? The scary part is, Corey Perry is just entering the prime of his career. The 26-year old right wing scored a league-high 50 goals last season after not totaling more than 32 in his first five seasons in the NHL. About the only question left is, can he become the second player in the 21st century to score to 60?
The forward in best position for a breakout season? A year ago at this time, Brandon McMillan wasn’t too high on the depth chart for the Ducks. In fact, he wasn’t even on the opening-day roster. After a lukewarm training camp that left coach Randy Carlyle unimpressed, the 21-year-old natural center was returned to Syracuse of the AHL, but his stay didn’t last long due to injuries to Teemu Selanne and Matt Beleskey. He was recalled on Nov. 20 and wasn't seen in an AHL rink again. He scored 11 goals in his stay with the Ducks, including two short-handers, and produced 10 assists in 60 games. With the ability to play all three forward positions, occupy a checking line role or a top six spot, and provide some much-needed secondary scoring, McMillan has what it takes to stick around awhile. Now he just needs to trade in that No. 64 jersey and get a lower number like the rest of the top forwards on the team.
The forward most likely to take a step back in production? Though he hasn’t diminished in popularity, Saku Koivu is coming off his least productive year since 2001-02, when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. With his 37th birthday approaching next month, it’s safe to say Koivu’s best playing days are behind him. Will he be productive enough to maintain his second-line role alongside Selanne, a fellow Fin, or will he be phased out for one of the younger centers, such as Cogliano or Maxime Macenauer? Either way, Koivu is in the final year of a two-year deal, and it’s highly possible this could be his final tour of duty in Anaheim.
Previously: Act I