Each day heading into their season openers Friday in Europe, ESPNLosAngeles plans to take a closer look at the Ducks and Kings. What are their strengths, their weaknesses? Which rookie will shine, and which is destined to be returned to the American Hockey League for more seasoning? We put the Ducks back under the microscope today and attempt to answer a few key questions regarding their least experienced players.
The rookie who will have the biggest impact? Though he’s not a prototypical fourth-line center, Maxime Macenauer knew coming into training camp where to find his best shot at making the team. He lasted until the final cuts a year ago, and the 22-year-old from Laval, Canada, used that knowledge to better his chances this time around. He passed every test. In the first four exhibition games that he appeared this fall, the Ducks went 3-1 and Macenauer was a plus-three with an assist. Just as important, the 2008 third-round draft pick went 31-19 on faceoffs, a valuable asset on any line. There’s no guarantee how long Macenauer will stick around with the Ducks this time, but he has definitely displayed the required skills to make his mark this season and for many to come.
The player who will reach double digits in assists for first time in his career? In his first extended stay in the NHL last season, defenseman Luca Sbisa had two goals and nine assists in 68 games. The Italian-born 21-year-old also appeared in all six playoff games against the Nashville Predators. Sbisa combines a physical style of play with solid puck-moving skills and has shown he can produce offense in the past, totaling six goals and 27 assists in 62 games with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL in 2007-08. At the end of that season he was drafted 19thoverall by the Philadelphia Flyers, who a year later included him in a package for Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger. In March, the Ducks showed their commitment to Sbisa, signing him to a four-year, $8.7 million deal. Look for Sbisa to reward the Ducks with solid play on both ends of the ice.
The first player most likely to be called up from the AHL? One of the more surprising early departures for the Syracuse Crunch was right wing Dan Sexton, who signed a two-year contract over the summer (a two-way deal this season and one way for 2012-13). Sexton, 24, has considerable more NHL experience than the remaining young forwards on the roster, playing in 88 career games with the Ducks over the last two seasons and producing 13 goals and 19 assists. But players like Macenauer, Andrew Gordon and Devante Smith-Pelly earned a longer look from management, mainly because they already had a pretty good idea what Sexton brings to the table, an extra gear of speed to the front line. Sexton's downside is his lack of size, making him vulnerable to more physical forwards. If and when the young forwards on the Ducks begin to falter under the pressure and expectations of the NHL, you can be sure Sexton will be on the first plane back to Anaheim.
The first player likely to be demoted to the AHL? Gordon has been an overachiever ever since he was drafted in the seventh round by Washington in 2004. The 25-year-old right wing got his first taste of the NHL in December 2008, playing in one game for the Capitals before he was returned to the AHL. He doubled that total the following season and appeared in nine more games last winter, scoring his lone NHL goal in a 5-1 victory against the New Jersey Devils. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle likes Gordon’s lunch-box mentality, but he’d likely be the first choice to return to Syracuse should the Ducks struggle out of the gate. Sexton, also a right wing, would seem to be the logical replacement.