Ducks coach Dallas Eakins eager to get back on the ice – Press Enterprise

Ducks coach Dallas Eakins was on the phone, hunkered down with his family in Vancouver, British Columbia, and sounding grateful for an afternoon interruption during what’s been a repetitive daily routine in the time of the coronavirus pandemic.

“You know that movie ‘Groundhog Day?’” Eakins asked to start a wide-ranging conversation that covered topics that included the pandemic, the Ducks’ off-season moves and his plans for an improved power play. “I’ve seen that movie, but I never thought I would be living through it.”

The Ducks last played a game March 11, a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues at Honda Center. The NHL paused its season the following day before resuming it Aug. 1, without the Ducks and six other teams at the bottom of the standings. The league awarded the Stanley Cup on Sept. 28.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said he hopes to start the 2020-21 season Jan. 1, but as of Friday, much remained to be resolved before the league could return to the ice amid a surge of cases in North America. Temporary divisional realignment and short-term stays in hub cities could be in play.

At this point, the only thing for certain is nothing is for certain.

“We’re ready to go,” Eakins said. “Everything is done as far as systems and tweaks to the systems. Really, there is no work to do. I’ve just got to get down there. It’ll make a big difference to get down there. I’ve been here since July. It’s kind of hard to wrap your head around it.”

Eakins said he stayed in touch with general manager Bob Murray, the assistant coaches and the players throughout the summer and into the fall. He had little input on the Ducks’ draft plans last month, but applauded Murray’s selections of defenseman Jamie Drysdale and forward Jacob Perreault.

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The Ducks’ two first-round draft picks are expected to be joined by last year’s first-round selections, forwards Trevor Zegras and Brayden Tracey, when training begins on a still-to-be-determined date next month at Great Park Ice in Irvine.

The Ducks, Kings, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks are expected to be granted an extra week or more of training camp. They were not included in the NHL’s Return to Play plan in August because of their poor records.

Eakins intends to put the time to good use.

He’s eager to see what the first-round picks can do, as well as how Kevin Shattenkirk fits into the program after the veteran defenseman signed a three-year, $11.7-million contract Oct. 9, after winning the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning only days earlier.

“He thinks the game really well,” Eakins said of Shattenkirk, 31, who had a bounce-back season with Tampa Bay after two subpar ones with the New York Rangers. “He fits in well. He moves the puck well. He doesn’t get overly excited. And he helps our power play.”

Murray also signed forward Derek Grant, after trading him to the Philadelphia Flyers before the deadline Feb. 24. Grant scored 14 of his career-high 15 goals while with the Ducks last season, teaming with Carter Rowney and Nicolas Deslauriers to form a reliable fourth line.

“He’s like a Swiss Army Knife,” Eakins said of Grant, 30.

Eakins also said he wants to see more from defenseman Christian Djoos and forwards Danton Heinen and Sonny Milano, who were acquired before the trade deadline and played only a handful of games with the Ducks before the league’s coronavirus shutdown.

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“We think those guys can really help us get better,” Eakins said.

Expectations will be heightened for the Ducks’ many inexperienced players, including Max Jones, Sam Steel and Troy Terry after they failed to make significant strides despite being given significant roles in 2019-20. Eakins promised ice time will not simply be given away, as it had been.

“The reality is, last year doesn’t matter much,” he said. “That group has been given much. You’ve got to earn it now. Just because you’ve played 30 games or 50 games last year doesn’t mean it’s happening again this year. We’ve got new guys coming in. We’ve got Zegras and maybe some others.

“We’ll see when camps starts.”

Eakins also said he expects more from himself in 2020-21.

The Ducks’ 29-33-9 record in 71 games last season wasn’t better than their 35-37-10 mark in 82 games in 2018-19, and it wasn’t difficult to figure out what held them back in Eakins’ first season with the NHL team after four successful years with their AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls.

The Ducks’ 30th-ranked power play did more harm than good at key moments last season, clicking at a 14.7% success rate that topped only the Senators’ 14.2% in the 31-team league. Adam Henrique led the Ducks with five power-play goals. No one else had more than four.