There were two distinct versions of the Anaheim Ducks last season. The first half of the season saw a team was lacklustre and underachieving under former head coach Randy Carlyle. The second produced a resurgent club under new bench boss Bruce Boudreau.
Sadly, neither version was able to qualify for the playoffs - leaving the Ducks outside the top eight for the second time in three years.
The second half bounce back does provide hope going into this season and with some of the best top line talent in the league they could be right back in the post season picture if everything comes together.
While a lot of things change, one thing that remains constant is the man in the No. 8 jersey as Teemu Selanne will return to Orange County for at least one more season. Couple that return with the improved health of goaltender Jonas Hiller and the Ducks should be tough to play on many nights.
Veteran defencemen Sheldon Souray instantly improves the team on the power play as his puck moving abilities and powerful shot should create space and time for their offence with the man advantage.
Forward Devante Smith-Pelly already has 49 games worth of NHL experience and should find himself not only on the roster this season but in the mix to play on the third line. He broke his foot playing for Canada at the 2012 World Juniors, but eventually returned to the Ducks lineup to finish the season. A punishing power forward, the Scarborough, ON native looks poised to make a major impact for years to come.
Forward Kyle Palmieri also saw time with the NHL club and that will benefit his development going into this season as he should also have a place on the roster. He's had little trouble adjusting to the speed of the NHL game and should be a regular on this team going forward.
The Ducks also saw one of their prospects steal the show at the 2013 World Juniors as 2011 second-rounder John Gibson backstopped the American team to gold, winning tournament MVP in the process.
Jonas Hiller has shown that when at full health, which he should be entering the season, that he can be one of the best goaltenders in the league. The Ducks will need that level of performance from him if they are going to rebound from a disappointing season.
Outside of their top end firepower, the Ducks possess a lot of young and unproven parts. Young players for the most part can tend to be inconsistent players and if the top end talent can't rebound to their expected level, there are going to be many long nights for the Ducks.
A look at where Ducks players went during the lockout:
Matt Beleskey (Coventry, British Elite League), Nick Bonino (Neumarkt/Egna, Italy), Andrew Cogliano (Klagenfurt, Austria), Emerson Etem (Norfolk, AHL), Viktor Fasth (Tingsryd, Swedish League - T2), Cam Fowler (Sodertajle, Swedish Elite), Kyle Palmieri (Norfolk, AHL), Rod Pelley (Norfolk, AHL), Bobby Ryan (Mora, Swedish Elite), Luca Sbisa (HC Lugano, Swiss Elite), Devante Smith-Pelly (Norfolk, AHL), Sami Vatanen (Norfolk, AHL)