Derek Grant, Ryan Miller Help Ducks Stay Afloat
By Josh Brewster, Buffalo Sports Page NHL Expert
MASH was one of America’s favorite television programs. The series has now been revived in Anaheim, site of the NHL’s most substantial infirmary.
Subtract the top two centers off of any club, and at least two, if not three of its top-four defensemen, and any team would struggle. That the Ducks are 6-6-2 speaks volumes of their organizational depth and Randy Carlyle’s coaching, plus a couple of free agent signees familiar to Buffalonians.
Things couldn’t be more in a state of upheaval than they are now for the Ducks.
Ryan Getzlaf suffered a lower-body injury after feeling great in training camp. He missed the first two games of the season, played two, then missed three more as the injury lagged. He played four more contests, then on Sunday, October 29 at Carolina, Getzlaf was hit in the eye with a puck and is now on I.R. His status is officially “indefinite.” That he put away the visor a season back after being hit by a puck squarely between the eyes the season prior surprised some.
Last spring, the 32-year-old looked like an odds-on favorite for Conn Smythe consideration had his Ducks advanced to the Final. The Ducks fell to the Predators partly due to injuries to Rickard Rakell, Patrick Eaves and starting netminder John Gibson, but Getzlaf, with eight goals and eleven assists in 17 postseason contests, reminded the hockey world why he’s one of the finest playmakers in the game.
After playing two games and scoring a goal, Patrick Eaves, who supplanted none other than 2011 Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry as top-line right wing, was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder. (Buffalo fans may remember that malady from the case of 1981 Bills draftee Booker Moore, a running back whose career lasted only four seasons and never achieved its promise).
Eaves vows to return to the NHL but there’s no timetable. He was one of the best acquisitions the Ducks had made over the past decade and is now gone for the foreseeable future, his main concern now being a return to a normal existence.
The season started without number two defensemen Hampus Lindholm and third D-man Sami Vatanen, who only returned to action after missing the first seven and ten games, respectively. Both had shoulder surgery in the offseason.
Before they could return, Cam Fowler turned his knee in an ugly fashion against Montreal and should be on the shelf for another 3-6 weeks. The 25-year-old Fowler is the club’s top blueliner and is, rightly considered deserving of Norris Trophy consideration in his eighth season.
Over the summer, second-line center Ryan Kesler endured hip surgery. Kesler was runner-up to Patrice Bergeron (who else?) in the Selke Award race after a stellar 2016-17 campaign and a playoff run that saw him blanket Connor McDavid as effectively as can be expected. Christmas is an optimistic expectation for his return.
The infirmary list has also included Kevin Bieksa and Nick Ritchie at various points.
Enter Derek Grant and Ryan Miller.
Miller (you remember him) was also a casualty, missing the first nine games of the season, but delivered two lights-out performances in a backup role to John Gibson. Arguably, with a resurgent Miller, the Ducks have the best netminding tandem in the NHL. Miller shut the door on Carolina in a shootout win, then lost a tough one, 2-1, in a shoot out against San Jose Saturday night. Both were on the road, and included great saves in traffic and a number of breakaway stops.
His play has been so impressive, it would not be a surprise to see coach Carlyle go with Miller against the LA Kings in the first incarnation of the “Freeway Faceoff” Tuesday, November 7 in one of, if not the most heated rivalries in the game.
It took 93 NHL games, but former Sabre center Derek Grant finally scored his first NHL goal. Grant has eight points in his last eight contests (3-5-8) and has finally seen his career take a turn for the better.
He sees regular duty at center up and down the depleted lineup. Most often, Grant plays along with Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase, a young wing who’s starting to develop a touch in his second season (5 goals). He’s also seen time with Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell, two of the Ducks’ brighter lights.
“Watching me, I’m not doing anything fancy or anything like that. I’ve been playing with pretty good linemates so that helps a lot. Obviously Kaser (Kase) and Ritcher (Ritchie) are two pretty good players that I’ve played with for a while,” he told the OC Register. “Then (Jakob) Silfverberg, he has the ability to put the puck in the net from anywhere.”
A fourth round pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2008, Grant bounced from Ottawa to Calgary, then two stints in Buffalo sandwiched around one in Nashville. Ducks’ GM Bob Murray took a chance over the summer, Grant had a good camp, just before the infirmary list ballooned.
Right situation, right place, right time
“I’ve had maybe a couple of opportunities in the past but maybe I haven’t taken advantage of those. For me, it’s just trying to focus on what I did to get here and what I’ve been doing so far to be successful.”
When Kesler and Getzlaf return, Grant will likely slot as fourth line pivot, behind Antoine Vermette, the usual third-liner. But if the Ducks are going to have any hope to once again contend for the West title, they’ll thank Grant and Miller for key early-season contributions, and will likely lean on them in key contests in as the season unfolds.