Anaheim Ducks Fan Mailbag: 11/03/2014 – 11/09/2014

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Nov 5, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy (center) attempts to handle the puck defend by Anaheim Ducks left wing Patrick Maroon (left) and defenseman Hampus Lindholm (right) during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

3. With how strong the second line of Matt Beleskey, Ryan Kesler, and Jakob Silfverberg has looked, that knocks out a need the Ducks have needed. Who gets the spot on left-wing with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry?

– Paul

Jason: Oh man. If that line of Beleskey, Kesler, and Silfverberg continue that level of play, then the Ducks are going to be a major handful to deal with. That’s a line that can win puck battles and match-up against opposing teams’ top forwards because of Kesler and Silfverberg’s incredible two-way prowess. That means more offensive-oriented shifts for Getzlaf and Perry, but they need to find that third player that they haven’t had since Bobby Ryan was traded to the Ottawa Senators (and even before then, as Boudreau removed Ryan from the top-line and used him on the second line to distribute scoring, including a fairly long experiment as the team’s second line center during the lockout season).

With Beleskey and Silfverberg playing well with Kesler, that removes two options for Getzlaf and Perry. At this point, the field looks like it consists of three or four players, which are Patrick Maroon, Smith-Pelly, Dany Heatley, and possibly Kyle Palmieri (if the position is not settled by the time Palmieri returns).

Heatley was signed in the offseason to a one-year, $1 million deal as a bounce-back candidate and veteran who could complete the Getzlaf and Perry line. However, he suffered a groin injury in the preseason and hasn’t had any particularly inspiring games since returning from the Injured Reserve. He’s only played in four of a possible seven games since his return, and his ice time has decreased with each game: he barely played ten minutes on Sunday against Vancouver, even though he played on the top-line with Getzlaf and Smith-Pelly after Maroon and Kevin Bieksa fought right off the opening faceoff. Heatley is a shooter first, yet he only has six shots on goal and has been largely invisible on the ice. He’s mostly just been on the perimeter to start the season, as winning puck battles and going to the dirty areas has never really been a part of his game. Despite the early disappointment, Heatley has been a respected goal-scorer in this league for a while, and there is still a chance that he can produce on the top-line.

Maroon began the season on the top line because of the injury to Heatley, and he has had an impact. Maroon isn’t the lethal sniping threat that Heatley has been in his career: he’s a net-front presence who loves engaging in physical play and getting in the dirty areas. Like Getzlaf and Perry, he’s a heavy forechecker, but Maroon has a tendency to emerge from the corners with the puck thanks to his big frame and good strength. He’s a willing one-touch passer with underrated ice vision and hands. His ability to get pucks on the forecheck and give the rubber to Getzlaf and Perry has made him a terrific early candidate to stay with Getzlaf and Perry, as the Ducks become a better team when Getzlaf and Perry have the puck more often. Maroon does not have to be a 20 goal scorer with Getzlaf and Perry, but he can become a solid 35-40 assist player that makes his linemates better while chipping in about 15 goals. Maroon has four points on the season, all assists, but he also missed eight games with an MCL injury suffered against the Buffalo Sabres.

When Maroon got injured, Boudreau scrambled to find a top line option for the Ducks. Smith-Pelly got his chance after spending the playoffs with Getzlaf and Perry, where he led the team with five goals. Like Maroon, Smith-Pelly is a gritty player: he leads the Ducks in hits and engages on the forecheck as well. He is more of a shooter than Maroon is and has three goals on the season. He’s not quite as proficient as Maroon is at winning puck battles, but he offers more speed and better offensive instincts. Smith-Pelly is the kind of player who could end up being that 20-goal scorer on the wing with Getzlaf and Perry: he isn’t the deadly offensive presence that Perry is, but Smith-Pelly has a solid shot and is willing to get into the crease and pounce on rebounds.

Lastly, there is Palmieri, who has skated with Getzlaf and Perry before. Palmieri offers more speed than any of the four players, but he’s not as physical as Maroon or Smith-Pelly in the corners. However, Palmieri is always willing to shoot the puck, as one of his most noticeable characteristics is his aggressiveness in the offensive third. Palmieri doesn’t shy away from the physical aspect of the game, but he isn’t as effective in the corners as Maroon or Smith-Pelly, as he’s a smaller player at 5’11 and 195 pounds. Still, his speed and shot are great assets for the team, and he can create rebound opportunities for Getzlaf and Perry.

If I had to pick, I’d say that it’s currently between Maroon and Smith-Pelly for the top line spot, but I really like Maroon on there. His ability to win pucks is something he does better than almost anybody on this team, and the ability to control the puck in the offensive third is huge. Shooting and offensive prowess is important, but the Ducks already have that in Getzlaf and Perry. A complete line should add more elements, and Maroon is no slouch as a passer. He’s a physical player who can crash the net and convert rebound opportunities, but he can let Getzlaf control the puck more often, which is usually good news for Anaheim.

The Ducks have needed to fill the four spots on their top-six outside of Getzlaf and Perry for a while. With the Kesler deal and emergence of Beleskey and Silfverberg, three of those spots may be filled now. If someone on the team can fill in that top line spot, the Ducks become a much better team for it. And the players that don’t can be used effectively in depth scoring roles, another area that is important for good teams to have.