Bench Boss Benny’s First Interview

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 10: Carter Rowney #24, Ryan Getzlaf #15, and Jacob Larsson #32 congratulate Nicolas Deslauriers #20 of the Anaheim Ducks after his goal during the first period of a game against the Ottawa Senators Honda Center on March 10, 2020 in Anaheim, California. Deslauriers scored a hat trick in the first period. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 10: Carter Rowney #24, Ryan Getzlaf #15, and Jacob Larsson #32 congratulate Nicolas Deslauriers #20 of the Anaheim Ducks after his goal during the first period of a game against the Ottawa Senators Honda Center on March 10, 2020 in Anaheim, California. Deslauriers scored a hat trick in the first period. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /
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Anaheim Ducks
Ryan Getzlaf #15 of the Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The Line-Up, Up Front

CD: It sounds like you’re reluctant to bring the younger kids in early, so what does that mean for the team at hand? Are there any ideas you can share with us about what the opening night line-up could look like?

BL: Yeah, I think we want to stick with the younger players we already have in the hand and see if we can get a little more performance out of them in the coming season. There’s a case to be made that maybe the Anaheim Ducks haven’t developed some of their younger players to perhaps the level that they may have flirted with prior to the draft.

We’d like to remedy that going forward and really try to maximize every ounce of talent we can squeeze out of the young blood. We certainly recognize that at 50-years-of-age Ryan Getzlaf shouldn’t be relied upon to be the prime mover on offense in the way that he was in his younger years.

With that said, I do have some idea’s that I’d like to try out in terms of the line-up. Although we’ll trial a few things in the pre-season first and if they look like they have potential we’ll implement them in the regular season.

CD: What type of things are we talking about? If you can share them, of course.

BL: Yeah, I don’t think there are any secrets in sports these days. We’ll play one game and opposition analysts will have us figured out back to front, so there’s no harm in sharing some ideas.

For instance, Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell struggled a little last season alongside Tory Terry. There are maybe a few reasons for that, and while Terry seemed like he showed some defensive chops, he neither facilitated the scoring in a way that helped the other two thrive nor does he play a game that perhaps Ryan (Getzlaf) may be more suited to.

If we think back to years that these players have thrived, in particular, those big goal-scoring years of Rakell’s, they tended to come alongside a big banger who could get to the net face or dig some pucks out from the corners.

To this end, we’d like to maybe trial a younger player like Max (Maxime Comtois), who was drafted as a big of a power forward. We don’t necessarily need him to be a prime offensive threat in his own right, but more someone who can fill a role and potentially allow Rakell to become the focus of the offense.

CD: So you’re thinking that a Rickard Rakell – Ryan Getzlaf – Max Comtois line would wind back the clock? Where does that leave Troy Terry? He is a fan favorite and it could be problematic to leave him out of the team so soon into your tenure.

BL: I think the Getzlaf line needs a big body to give the two skill players some space to work with. We primarily want Getzlaf to facilitate the offense with his elite vision and passing, while Rakell we believe owns a better shot. There has been that school of thought that Getzlaf has a great shot and should use it more, but we think that while it may increase his personal points totals, the team will be worse off for it. Perhaps equally importantly, that line may need a player who can pass the puck in and around dangerous scoring areas around the crease.

Troy, despite his many boons, was simply not performing either of those roles. He may improve in those areas over time but for now, I see him in a different role on the team. With regards to Max (Comtois), I think he’s one option we have for that role. We could also try the other Max (Max Jones) in that position, as he hasn’t yet had much of a run in a scoring role despite being drafted with the hopes of him working towards a top 6 power forwards role.

Both would be playing their off wings in this scenario, however, we could try shifting Rakell across as well. I think that Max Jones may actually work nicely with Rakell given his speed and excellent play through the neutral zone. Although they both typically play the left side, so we’ll have to see if they can adapt to the different side. I don’t think it’s as big a shift as many make it out to be, however, a slow start could see us run out of time to really give it time to percolate.

Jumping back to Troy, I see his defensive abilities working very nicely alongside another strong defensive presence. In a way, I’d like him to work towards becoming part of a shutdown line that can maybe counter punch and make other teams pay. Silf (Jakob Silfverberg) has played that role in the past for the Anaheim Ducks, and I think he’s a really interesting choice to mentor Troy in that role. Like the previous example, both players play off of the same wing typically, however, I think there is a case to be made for shifting Silf to the left side.

Watching many of his successful shootout attempts, he tends to cut in from that side to open up the net-face, yet it’s not really something we’ve seen him do a lot of in general play from the right side. This is where I think some of Troys, perhaps underrated, offensive abilities may come to the fore. Trawling through some of the publically available data shows that Troy is one of the league’s elite players at moving the puck through the neutral zone, transitioning defense into offense. He perhaps struggles from there to create a threatening shot or to thread passes into dangerous areas.

However, what he can do is enter the offensive zone and create a situation where he can pass across the line to a player coming in off of the overlap. If we can get him and Silf on the same page, this could open up space for Silf to get a shot off with relatively little defensive pressure.

There are a few things we would need to do with the pivot in that role to tie the defense up down low, however, at present, the coaching staff and I are thinking that the savvy knowledge of Rico (Adam Henrique) should prove to be enough to create those dangerous situations. A goal scorer in his own right and one who can do it from in close and out wide. He gives this line the versatility offensively to be a handful while being stout in a primarily shut down role.

CD: It sounds as though you’re putting quite a bit of pressure on Terry in that role. Do you think he’s ready for it?

BL: To be honest, I think the pressure will fall off him. He’s a mature young man and releasing him from the necessity of scoring (on the top line) may actually help him relax and open up his scoring just a little. However, I think his skill set is more beneficial to that defensive role with a counter punch and he could easily be a 10-year player for us, potentially even commanding a Selke nomination in the role.

CD: So that more or less takes care of the top two lines, but with the presumably second line reverting back to the Kesler era shutdown line, what are your thoughts regarding the bottom six grouping?

BL: Ah, yeah, right out in front I hadn’t really thought of the Henrique line being a top 6 line. They might have the talent for it, but I’m hoping to roll all four lines with relatively even minutes. We saw with Tampa Bay last season, that their fourth line only skated ~2 minutes less a night than their perceived top line. I don’t necessarily think we have the depth right now to do it in the same manner that they did, but we’re hoping that starting that process will facilitate growth in the younger players and we can maybe get somewhere close to that parity in at least the top 9.

In saying that, penciling it into my notebook, I’d put together a “second” (intern’s note: BL makes air quotes with his hands) line centered around Sam Steel. Looking across his offensive stats, his first few years weren’t necessarily notably different to players like Kasperi Kapanen who took off in his fourth and fifth years in the league.

Looking back at last season, early on Sammy missed quite a few softball goals that he would usually have gobbled up. A couple of those going in and suddenly his point per game totals for his first three years sit above Kapanen’s and maybe we see him in a different light. So we think if he’s maybe given a few more offensive zone starts and that maybe if we shelter him a little bit, we can get some good production out of him.

We’ve also got a player in Sonny Milano who has a lot to prove this season after maybe leaving a position in Columbus where he had a lot of pressure on him to perform in a prime scoring role. I think he’s another player who has some reasonable offensive tools but maybe needs a little more sheltering than his former team helped him with. It seems (that after I went) trawling through some of his micro stats, that he was a player who really excelled against weaker competition but didn’t hold up so well against the league’s elite players.

Depending on the game situation and who we might be facing, it could be that we let his freewheeling style go on the offensive as opposed to giving the more defensively steady Henrique line more minutes. We’re looking to balance minutes over the season, not necessarily over each individual game, although it will likely work out to be relatively close on most normal occasions.

The other player on that line is likely to be, at least in the short term Max (Jones). He’s a player that we like for his defensive skill, as he was one of the stronger defensive players for us last season, but perhaps most importantly on this line, is he can really skate. Sammy is no slouch, but Sonny is blazing fast and we really want to use this line to push a strong forecheck and get into the offensive zone keeping the defensive zone coverage on the hop.

We’re hopeful that Max will be able to find some of his offensive game, but much like Maxy Comtois being tipped for the top-line, we’re really just hoping he’ll play that front of net abrasive presence. Like Comtois, his speed fits that of the other players on his line, so we may be able to get that jam at the same speed as the skill. Given both Max and Sonny both seem to excel at offensive zone entries, they really give us an avenue to attack in waves. Sammy we’re hoping can be the link between them both.

CD: A line of Max Jones – Sam Steel – Sonny Milano is a pretty young and quick line. Writing it out like that, makes it seem like a pretty simple decision to try. Was it a case of you really wanting to put these players together, or did it just come together?

BL: In a lot of ways they were players we saw being able to contribute all in a similar manner. One of our other options for the left-wing spot was Danton Heinen, who had a bit of success in the league previously, and who seemingly performed alongside Sonny last season.

Ultimately, we decided we wanted to put together a line that was quick in a way that the other lines weren’t, to give us a few more options to run plays depending on which team we might be playing and what the game situation is. Perhaps some games that run and gun style won’t work, but in others, it very well might. It isn’t something we’re married to, but we think it was worth a shot looking in.

CD: Does that then mean you’ve shifted Danton Heinen into a more traditional fourth line role?

BL: Not necessarily. At this stage – and keep in mind we’re still prior to the pre-season – we saw the fourth line become a little more effective after the trade deadline. Big David Backes came in and provide a strong foundation and veteran presence on that fourth line. We think we want to see him continue to anchor that line from the pivot.

From there, it really depends on where we want to go. Bob (Murray) went out and brought Derek Grant back into the team after he was one of the team’s top 10 scorers last year. That in itself is a reasonable excuse to play someone, and Dezza (Grant) added to that by having perhaps his strongest year on the penalty kill.

Do we maybe see him having a similarly good season this year? Do we want to pursue Dan Heinen’s scoring and defensive chops? They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive, but maybe on occasions, we want to play Big Nic (Nicolas Deslauriers). I have some ideas around his cannon of a shot on one of the power-play units, but he’ll need to bring the rest of his game along to at the very least be competitive against the other two.

It’s a situation where we could see a rotation policy depending on who we play. A team that’s likely to give us a lot of power-play opportunities, then maybe we try for a combination of Deslauriers and the hotter hand between Dezza (Grant) and Dan (Heinen). Perhaps against a highly skilled team that draws a lot of calls, like maybe your Colorado’s, we would sit Deslauriers and play the stronger defensive players. Either way, we expect Dan will be able to score and hopefully even bring his former Boston teammate along for the ride.

We’re going into the season with a mind of flexibility, but also trying to keep some stability within the lines. You won’t see us changing the lines every minute of the game trying to get some lucky scoring. It’ll be a methodical approach allowing players to get comfortable with their linemates for at least a reasonable period of time. Sometimes things just don’t work, and that’s something we’ll be attempting to iron out in the pre-season, but most often players just need time to get used to their counterparts.