Going into the 2020-21 season, not many people expected the Anaheim Ducks to be particularly competitive; the team still seemed to be headed towards a rebuild. However, General Manager Bob Murray contradicted these beliefs, stating that he believed his team would be in playoff contention. Part of this falls in line with his major offseason acquisition of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, his solution to shore up the team’s Top 4.
Currently, Anaheim has started out the season rather respectably, with a record of 3-3-2. This includes taking three out of a possible four points from their contests with the Colorado Avalanche. Nevertheless, the team’s play has been far from perfect. Much of their success should be attributed to the ‘Great Wall of Gibby’, also known as John Gibson
Aside from the incredible performance between the pipes, the Anaheim Ducks have not resembled a team that is going to be competitive in the playoffs. However, early on in this strange season, there have been a few pleasant surprises.
After the first two games of the season against the Vegas Golden Knights, fans started to believe the answer to the Ducks scoring issues had been found in young Max Comtois after he scored the team’s only three goals in the first two games. Since then, however, the 22-year-old has not registered a point.
Carter Rowney, Nicolas Deslauriers, and the returning Elite 1 C, Derek Grant, have also been a nice surprise. Arguably (or maybe not) acting as the Anaheim Ducks’ best line early on in the season, they provided much-needed offensive energy on a nightly basis.
Jani Hakanpaa has been a big surprise for the Anaheim Ducks
One of the biggest surprises of the season, however, has been on the blueline. A name that most of us never thought we’d hear more than once or twice this year, Jani Hakanpaa, has really stepped up. He has provided the team with a little bit of hope when they really needed it.
Hakanpaa made the opening night roster after an impressive performance in training camp. His opportunity may have been helped by the injury to Brendan Guhle as well as the loss of Christian Djoos after he was picked up off waivers by the Detroit Red Wings. But, the 28-year-old defenseman has run with the opportunity he was presented with.
Prior to last season, the Anaheim Ducks signed Hakanpaa, giving him a chance after his prior journey’s to the NHL had seemingly failed. Initially drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2010, Hakanpaa stayed in his native Finland until he came over in 2012. He returned home in 2015 after splitting time in the AHL and ECHL. Never making it to the big club, he spent the next four seasons playing for Karpat of SM-Liiga.
After a rough 2018-19 season, the Anaheim Ducks thought Hakanpaa would be a good addition to their system. However, he spent most of his season in the AHL with the San Diego Gulls. Nevertheless, his opportunity came, and he finally got the chance to show off his skills, when injury struck the Ducks blueline and both Josh Manson and Cam Fowler went down.
Hakanpaa was called up in March, where he had a five-game showcase prior to the season postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He scored his first NHL game against his former team, the St. Louis Blues, in the final game of the season. More importantly, he showed that he could stay and compete in the big league.
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Hakanpaa is making the most of a good opportunity
So far this year, Hakanpaa has dressed in all eight games for the Anaheim Ducks. He started the year off on the third pairing with Jacob Larsson but was bumped up in the lineup when Josh Manson succumbed to an injury in the third game of the season against the Minnesota Wild.
His transition to playing alongside Cam Fowler has looked seamless. His defensive responsibility has given Fowler the opportunity to join the rush and help a dire offense generate opportunities. He currently leads the team with a +/- rating of 5 (three points more than anyone else on the team.) He also leads them in blocks.
With Josh Manson out for the foreseeable future, look for the 28-year-old defenseman to continue getting big minutes. While Shattenkirk was brough in to shore up the Top 4 on this unit, it is Hakanpaa who has stood up to the test in Manson’s absence; possibly deepening the unit when everyone is healthy.
So far in his career, he has proven that he can make the best of opportunities when they are presented to him. Expect him to continue taking advantage of these big opportunities. Hakanpaa may not have been what we wanted, but so far, he has proven that he can be what this team needs.
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