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Season Review: Andrew Ebbett, Odd Man Out?

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I've been struggling for days to come up with a good visual pun for Andrew Ebbett, and I'm finally caving in and just writing -- there really wasn't any good way to illustrate Inventing the Ebbetts, and while seemingly there should be a way to compare his stature to that of a hobbit, from a punster's perspective it just became too much of a stretch.

In a similar head-scratching way, I'm also stumped when it comes to figuring out whether or not Ebbett fits on next year's Anaheim squad.

Last season, little man Ebbett became quite a useful center for the Ducks, providing some minimum-wage stability for the second line while serving as a regular linemate for Teemu Selanne. Ebbett's speed and lack of size fit right into Teemu's preferences -- as we've seen before with Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald, the Finnish Flash loves fast-darting linemates, though certainly Ebbett comes with less star power than those predecessors. After spending Anaheim's first 33 games in the minors, Ebbett played a pretty valiant regular season on the second line, and though his offense faltered in the postseason, it has to be remembered that all those games were against the top two teams in the west. For the most part, Ebbett was cheaply effective (certainly more effective than the ailing Brendan Morrison, who was supposed to anchor the second line), and I'm quite pleased with how he stepped into the vacant role.

But now, with Anaheim's offseason acquisition of longtime-Teemu-buddy Saku Koivu, it seems that Ebbett's role as 2nd-line center has been usurped -- he's definitely lower on the centerman depth chart than Getzlaf and Koivu. With all the forward talent that Anaheim keeps accumulating this offseason, I keep asking myself the question: can Andrew Ebbett crack Anaheim's top-six forwards next season? Because if the answer to that becomes "no", then there's a tougher follow-up question: can Andrew Ebbett play as a bottom-six forward? He's got speed and courage but no size -- can that package work on a grind or stopper line, especially if Ebbett isn't a reliable penalty-killing option?

2008 - Andrew Ebbett 48 8 24 32 8 24 6 0 0 0 100 8.0

To help think through Ebbett's predicament, check out this list of 14 forwards listed in Anaheim's roster -- I've sorted according to descending cap hit, and included listed position and shooting hand which I've stolen from my XBox's NHL 09 rosters -- not the most reliable source, but I'm sure it's getting its information from somewhere. At any rate, here's largely the list of players who will be competing to be on the opening night forward lines:

Player Pos Shoots
R. Getzlaf C R
C. Perry RW R
J. Lupul RW R
S. Koivu C L
T. Selanne RW R
B. Ryan RW R
T. Marchant C L
E. Artyukhin RW L
P. Nokelainen RW R
G. Parros RW R
E. Christensen C L
R. Carter C L
M. Brown RW R
A. Ebbett C L

Notice anything crazy? Not a single LW to be found anywhere -- that's not to say that players haven't played the position at all (probably most of Bobby Ryan's NHL career has been on the left side, for example), but seemingly Anaheim has zero natural left wings. For sure the Ducks will have to come up with four left-wingers to round out their roster; if Andrew Ebbett can prove useful on that ignored side of the ice, maybe he can forge a way into Anaheim's top six or at least better situate himself to become a staple in the lineup.

Also at issue is the lack of experienced penalty-killing forwards -- out of the 14 names listed to the left, I feel like only Marchant, Brown, Nokelainen, and Carter have demonstrated decent PK ability (I suppose I could be bullied into including Getzlaf here, but it's probably not good for the Ducks' offense if the Bald One becomes a shorthanded staple). Especially for a team with the penalty-happy tendencies of Anaheim, there's going to be a need for more depth players to step up into a PK role, and again, if Ebbett's speed game can prove useful towards that, he'll much more cement himself as an everyday player.

It's also not insignificant that Ebbett is the lowest on this pay-scale totem pole; like last year, he is an unbelievable salary cap bargain. Even if Ebbett doesn't crack the everyday lineup, he's not likely to be moved, I wouldn't think -- he'd still make a hell of a reserve.

* * *

I really don't want to sound like an Ebbett naysayer, nor a guy who's down on his abilities or potential, but I'm worried about his ability to crack Anaheim's lineup full-time next year (though I'm certainly willing to be argued otherwise in the comments). Even so, I think Ebbett does have some opportunity to make some noise from the LW position or as a PK forward -- the Ducks are seemingly thin in both those areas. He'll certainly have competition for those roles and may get beat out -- we'll know a lot more when camp gets going -- but at least Coach Carlyle has plenty of forward options -- nobody's really backing into a role. It may take some tinkering to find the right combinations, but hopefully the resulting lineup provide enough quality play to offset potential question marks on the blueline (something I'll be getting to soon enough) and thus survive the notorious post-Pronger curse. Here's hoping.

Go Ducks.