The Anaheim Ducks on paper have a team that the average hockey fan would not be too excited to watch. With an aging Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, an injured Corey Perry, a multitude of additional injuries plaguing the team, and a list of depth players or rookies still looking to make a name for themselves, the 2018-19 season didn’t look too promising to start out with. However, with a general manager dedicated to creating a competitive team out of thin air, success is always a possibility in Anaheim.
Whether it’s through the entry draft, free agency, or trades, Ducks general manager Bob Murray has a knack for finding players. Players that on paper don’t seem like much but on the ice, in their new Ducks sweater, create plays and score goals. Murray has a keen ability unlike any other general manager in the league to find forgotten players and over time he has used their unnoticed talents to create depth and reap the rewards.
Through the draft, Murray and his scouting team have found a couple of players who have made a very notable impact this season. One being a seventh-round gem found not in the NHL and not by the Ducks. Drafted in the seventh round by the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL in 2012, Kiefer Sherwood played in the USHL for three years before moving on to the college hockey experience at Miami (Ohio) University.
After three years at Miami University from 2015-2018, Sherwood joined the Anaheim Ducks training camp in 2018 after being noticed by Murray and his scouting staff. Going undrafted into an NHL training camp, Sherwood most definitely had a chip on his shoulder and was looking to be noticed.
Making the Ducks roster, he has certainly proven himself as an NHL caliber player and should remain a staple in the Ducks organization. Through 35 games played, Sherwood has accumulated nine points with four goals. To even play one game in the NHL after being an undrafted player is incredibly rare but to actually contribute regularly and establish one’s self as an NHL regular is unheard of for an undrafted player.
Speaking of gems, Ondrej Kase certainly fits that description. Drafted in the final round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Kase was just five picks away from not being drafted that year and would have had to make alternate plans to play in the minor leagues for another season.
Making his debut in 2016, Ondrej Kase had made himself a regular in the AHL with the Ducks affiliate the San Diego Gulls. Murray decided at that time that Kase was ready to come up to the NHL and took the chance on the young 21-year-old Czech.
With a strong rookie season for Kase that saw him accumulate 15 points in 53 games, it would only get better from there on. The next season Kase established himself as not only a solid player but a player that opposing teams had to focus on if they wanted to keep the puck out of their net.
Kase recorded 38 points in 66 games which averages out to about a half a point per game. In those 38 points he tallied 20 goals and 18 assists. Kase showed his versatility as well as he was also a plus 18 and saw himself bounce all over the lineup as the Ducks had injury issues for most of the season.
The 2018 campaign was certainly Kase’s big breakout season and he has carried on where he left off this season. Through 18 games he has nearly scored a point per game. Scoring nine goals so far including his first career hat trick in a 6-3 comeback win against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 12, Kase looks to be a scoring threat for years to come. To think that he was skipped over 204 times in the 2014 NHL Draft is incredible.
Off of waivers, the Bob Murray found a great addition in Pontus Aberg. Having trouble fitting into the mold in Nashville with the Predators and then not working out for the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers put Aberg on waivers and Murray pulled the trigger on acquiring the young 25-year-old winger.
All that needs to be said about Aberg is that in 68 games with both the Predators and Oilers, Aberg had 18 points including a measly five goals. Since being picked up by the Ducks off of waivers from the Oilers, Aberg has scored 11 goals and tallied eight assists for a total of 19 points in just 30 games. In less than half of the number of games he has played in his career, Aberg has scored more points in his short amount of time with the Ducks than his entire career prior.
Even prior to this season, Murray found a great center in Derek Grant last season who helped with the lack of depth at the center position when the Ducks were battling some injuries to their key players. Grant had never scored an NHL goal in four seasons with five different teams. However, on the Ducks, he shined scoring 12 goals and tallying 12 assists for a total of 24 points in 66 games. Another excellent find by Bob Murray.
Through trades, Murray certainly has not been known as a man ready to make the blockbuster move. Often trading depth players, Murray has received some good players who were considered to be less than ideal for a team looking to improve. But again, it’s not so much about how good a player is on paper but how well they perform on the ice. Call it luck or some kind of skill, Murray is good at finding players that are on the brink of a performance outbreak.
This season Bob Murray traded a depth defenseman, Marcus Pettersson, to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a depth winger in Daniel Sprong. In three seasons with the Penguins, Sprong only managed to tally nine points in 42 games with four of those points being goals. Since joining Anaheim on Dec. 4, Sprong has scored four points in a short eight games. With three goals scored including an overtime game-winner against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 15.
Those stats aren’t anything to write home about but they certainly are not bad. And in addition to that, they are a big improvement from what he was getting done in Pittsburgh. With Sprong, stats only tell half of the story. He has also given the Ducks a lot of depth in the bottom six and has created a ton of scoring chances as well as getting points. The Ducks had the depth on defense so they used that to acquire Sprong who has so far shown that he is a talented player in the offensive zone.
Bob Murray has made just two notable moves in recent history that have provided the Ducks with a huge spark. One being the signing of Ryan Kesler in the summer of 2014 and the other being the one for one trade that included sending defenseman Sami Vatanen to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for center Adam Henrique in November of 2017. Beyond this, Murray has always been relatively quiet.
Bob Murray is a quieter GM who usually shies away from spending big dollars or making the big trades but what he lacks in theatrics he makes up for in finding players that no team wants and putting them on a team that will allow them to grow and produce. This trend of “dumpster diving” for players who shouldn’t even be in the dumpster seems to be a growing habit for Murray and his front office team and it’s paying off.
Murray has created depth out of nothing because he has to. With injuries being a constant factor for the Ducks since the beginning of the 2017 offseason, Bob Murray has been somewhat forced to find alternative personnel to build a team. As of now it has been nothing but a success story for those involved and I don’t expect it to stop anytime soon.