Ducks Need to Upgrade Their Center Depth Yet Again


Oct 31, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Nate Thompson (44) with the puck in overtime against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center. Anaheim beat Dallas 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

At the conclusion of last season, GM Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks were determined to improve their depth at the center position. Though they gave up Nick Bonino in the acquisition of Ryan Kesler, Ducks fans looked forward to the deadly combination of Getzlaf, Kesler, and Mathieu Perreault down the middle of the ice.

Perreault, who scored 43 points (18g-25a) in a sheltered role with the club in 2013-14 was a restricted free agent at the conclusion of the season. However, the Ducks failed to make a qualifying offer before July 1st, making Perreault an unrestricted free agent.

While they did extend an offer in lieu of the qualifying offer, Perreault exercised his newly granted UFA status to cash in, signing a 3-year, $9 million contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

To fill the absences of Perreault and soon-to-be-retired Saku Koivu, the Ducks were counting on newly acquired center Nate Thompson and one of two rookie centers—Rickard Rakell and William Karlsson.

Thompson has been a bit of a mixed bag in his time in Anaheim. Billed as a defensive specialist, Thompson has largely filled the role previously occupied by Saku Koivu. Thompson takes primarily defensive zone starts against easier competition.

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Unfortunately, last season was difficult for Koivu. The 37-year old vet was in the waning moments of his career, and still suffering the effects of a concussion sustained early on in the season against Columbus.

As bad as Koivu was last season, somehow Nate Thompson has been worse—despite being healthy, and in the prime of his career.

Last season, Koivu compiled a CF% of 47.1%, and finished the year +3. Just over a quarter of the way through the season, Thompson is -5, and the Ducks have only controlled play for 46.1% of shots while he is on the ice. Both players had similar deployments, being utilized by their coaches in defensive zone situations against weaker competition.

Thompson has also been unable to replace Koivu’s offensive production. Koivu put up 29 points (11g-18a) in 65 games with Anaheim last season (.44 points/game). This season, Thompson has just 5 points (1g-4a) through 29 games (.17 points/game).

Additionally, the Ducks entered this season counting on the emergence of one of two rookie centers: Rickard Rakell and William Karlsson. One of these two players were counted on to fill the role left by Mathieu Perreault—providing offensive firepower against weaker competition.

Through the first quarter of the season, neither player has shown the ability to consistently produce.

Aside from scoring two goals in just his second NHL game, William Karlsson was largely invisible through the beginning of this season. In the 14 games that followed, Karlsson only added an assist to his season point totals before being sent down to AHL-Norfolk.

Rakell hasn’t fared much better. In 18 NHL contests this season, he’s registered zero goals and four assists, before being sent down and forcing Bruce Boudreau to ice winger Devante Smith-Pelly as a center (an experiment which by all indications is dead-on-arrival).

Neither player has come close to replacing the points contributed last season by Mathieu Perreault, who thrived in his role in Anaheim. More than anything else, this is the reason why Anaheim has had trouble scoring this season.

If this club wants to experience success beyond the regular season, they need to improve their depth down the middle.

Despite the anticipated success of Getzlaf (on pace for 82 points this season), Perry (on pace for 62 points this season), and Kesler (on pace for 62 points this season), and the emergence of Sami Vatanen (on pace for 72 points this season) and Matt Beleskey (on pace for 51 points this season), the Ducks average only 2.75 goals/game.

Last season, the Ducks averaged 3.2 goals per game—the highest of any team in the league. This year, they rank 14th in goals scored/game.

While the team gained a true second-line center in Ryan Kesler this offseason, they lost the important depth contributions of Mathieu Perreault and Saku Koivu, and have been unable to replace them.

Bob Murray has shown this season that he is willing to make moves hastily to help restock his injured team (see: Bourque-Allen, Brewer, Robak-Blacker), but he hasn’t made the right ones to truly help improve the Ducks.

Part of that may be due to the fact that despite the Ducks’ decreased quality of play at the position, the team has remained fairly successful. The Ducks still sit atop the mighty Pacific Division, despite navigating through a sea of injuries.

However, if last season taught us anything, it’s that the regular season is of secondary importance to winning in the playoffs. If this club wants to experience success beyond the regular season, they need to improve their depth down the middle.

If Rakell, Karlsson, and Thompson cannot elevate their play, Murray should look to acquire at least one more center who can help take the Ducks to the next level.