After finishing with the second best regular season record in the National Hockey League but losing in the second round of the playoffs to the Los Angeles Kings the Anaheim Ducks realized they needed to upgrade the center position in the offseason. In the second round series loss versus the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Kings the Ducks were overmatched at the center spot on the second through fourth lines. Looking to upgrade the position the Ducks struck aggressively the day before the NHL draft by trading for former Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler. Kesler, who had requested a trade earlier in the 2014 season, was one of the top trade targets in this year’s NHL offseason. The Ducks dealt forward Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa and the 24th and 85th overall pick in the NHL entry draft. In return the Ducks received Kesler and Vancouver’s 2015 third round pick.
The Ducks gave up some talented players and draft picks but returned an elite player in Kesler. He’s one of the better two-way players in the NHL and a former winner of the Selke Trophy, given annually to the top defensive forward in hockey. In addition to winning the Selke in 2011 Kesler has finished in the top five in the Selke voting on three other occasions. The 29-year-old Kesler, a native of Livonia, Michigan should be the perfect second-line center to provide goal scoring and grit behind the Getzlaf/Perry line. He’s scored more than 25 goals four times in his NHL career, including a 41 goals season in 2010-2011. Overall Kesler has notched 182 goals in his nine-season career.
In dealing Sbisa the Ducks gave up on a once-promising prospect and former first round draft pick who’s battled injuries the last few seasons. In order to get a player the caliber of Kesler they had to relinquish some talent, including dealing Bonino to a division rival. Bonino had the best year of his professional career this past season, scoring 22 goals and registering 49 points.
The trade is cap friendly for Anaheim since Kesler still has two years left on his contract with a salary cap hit of $5 million per season. If Anaheim can get the production out of Kesler that he had in Vancouver he’s well worth the price. The Ducks badly needed a second center like Kesler to make a deep playoff run and contend with a talented Western Conference that includes the defending champion Kings, a talented Chicago Blackhawks team and a big and physical St. Louis Blues club. With Kesler in the fold they should be favorites to contend for the Pacific Division and top record in the Western Conference once again.
In addition to trading for Kesler the Ducks also had the tenth pick in the NHL draft, selecting forward Nick Ritchie of the Peterborough Petes. Ritchie is an imposing winger, with size ready-built for the NHL. Ritchie has a reputation as a tough and skilled forward, someone who can potentially be a power forward in the future. In 61 games with the Petes this season Ritchie scored 39 goals for a total of 74 points. The big forward likely won’t arrive in Anaheim for a couple of seasons, but should give the Ducks a big goal-scorer when he does.
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