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Anaheim Ducks’ Pending RFAs Under Scrutiny!

“I want [the Anaheim Ducks] to start taking a step and building toward being in a playoff race next season.”

With this rallying cry echoing from the March 2024 Duck Migration event, Ducks’ general manager, Pat Verbeek, faces a daunting task this summer. Following a lackluster season marked by injuries, penalties, and a marginally improved record compared to 2022-2023, Ducks fans are hungry for offseason moves that might lift the team out of its perennial bottom-dweller status.

Verbeek has outlined his priorities for the roster, emphasizing the need for a top-six right shot forward, a top-four right shot defenseman, and increased productivity in the bottom-six. While the focus might primarily be on unrestricted free agents, the Ducks also have a handful of restricted free agents (RFAs) whose futures with the team hang in the balance before mid-July. Let’s delve into the cases for each of the Ducks’ seven significant RFAs who saw considerable ice time this past season.

Benoit-Olivier Groulx

Drafted by the Ducks in the second round of the 2018 draft, forward Benoit-Olivier Groulx made his NHL debut during the 2021-2022 season, albeit sporadically. Despite being a consistent presence in the Ducks’ lineup this season, Groulx’s offensive output left much to be desired. With just 2 points in 45 games, his contribution on the score sheet was minimal. However, defensively, he showcased solid skills, ranking among the team leaders in hits and blocked shots. Despite his defensive prowess, Groulx’s lack of offensive impact might make him expendable as the team seeks greater production from its bottom-six forwards.

Evaluating the Anaheim Ducks Pending RFAs

Max Jones

Selected in the first round of the 2016 draft, Max Jones arrived in Anaheim with high expectations. While injuries hindered his progress, Jones still managed to tally 15 points in 52 games this season, demonstrating glimpses of his physical playing style. However, at 26, Jones should be hitting his prime, raising questions about his long-term viability given his modest offensive output. Nevertheless, his popularity in the locker room and potential for fourth-line duties might earn him a short-term deal if the price is right.

Jackson LaCombe

Defenseman Jackson LaCombe, a second-round draft pick, transitioned from a successful college career to a full NHL season with the Ducks. Despite some ups and downs, LaCombe’s offensive potential and partnership with veteran Radko Gudas offer hope for his future with the team. A bridge deal might be in the cards as the Ducks assess his development over the next few seasons.

Brett Leason

Acquired via waivers from the Washington Capitals, forward Brett Leason showcased improvement this season, doubling his offensive output while excelling defensively, particularly on the penalty kill. His versatility and growth might earn him a spot on the roster, provided he continues to develop and address coaching feedback.

Gustav Lindström

Another waiver claim, defenseman Gustav Lindström, brought stability to the Ducks’ blue line despite limited offensive contributions. With his responsible play and right-hand shot, Lindström could provide valuable depth, especially considering the team’s shortage of right-handed defensemen.

Isac Lundeström

Drafted in the first round in 2018, Isac Lundeström’s defensive prowess and previous offensive success make him a likely candidate for re-signing. Despite a dip in offensive production, his strong defensive game and potential for improvement warrant another contract, especially after his upcoming appearance in the IIHF World Championship.

Urho Vaakaninen

Defenseman Urho Vaakaninen, acquired in a trade with the Boston Bruins, showcased steady play but faces uncertainty due to a surplus of left-handed defensemen in the organization. While he proved serviceable, the team’s depth at his position might lead to his departure unless significant roster changes occur.

As the Ducks’ management navigates the offseason, tough decisions loom regarding their RFAs. While some players have shown promise, others face uncertain futures as the team aims to rebuild and compete for a playoff spot next season.

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