After Daniel Winnik was cast off by the San Jose Sharks, the Ducks signed the center to a two-year, $3.6-million contract, primarily to assist in their penalty-killing efforts.
Winnik, the Ducks’ third-line center, scored a club-record four goals in the first two games of the season, which is more than the Stanley Cup-champion Kings scored in their two games.
“What’s Gretzky’s record again?” Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau cracked after practice Thursday with the team finalizing preparations for Friday’s home opener against the Vancouver Canucks. “I’ve told him, ‘Don’t think of it as a fluke … keep it going.'”
Before last week’s season opener, Boudreau singled out the effectiveness of the third line as a vital element to the team’s hopes of reaching the playoffs.
So far so good. The Ducks signed Winnik as a free agent in July. He was a valued penalty killer who had languished on the free-agent market behind the more premier available players, including Zach Parise and Olli Jaukinen.
“He’s always been a good player, a guy any team can use,” said Andrew Cogliano, Winnik’s third-line mate with Saku Koivu, who also grew up in Toronto. “A big forward, a good penalty killer who can chip in offensively. A lot of teams need that guy, and we’re lucky we have him.”
San Jose moved quickly to effectively boot Winnik, signing Adam Burish to a four-year, $7.4-million deal quickly after the free-agency period began. Winnik sat and stewed until the Ducks finally called. Once he hit the ice, there was no stopping him.
“I have no idea how to explain it, really,” Winnik said. “They’re all around the crease. Coach says, ‘Go to the net and you get rewarded,’ and that’s been the case.
“Two deflections, and two lucky goals, one off the foot,” to decide Monday’s 5-4 Calgary victory,” Winnik said. “That’s a good start. I don’t think anyone expects to have four goals after the first two games of the season.”
Winnik said he has been fueled by the slight during free agency.
“It’s a big motivation,” he said. “I sat for two weeks with not too many offers. … I was hoping it would be done after the first day considering how so many teams wanted me at the trade deadline.
“It’s definitely something in the back of my mind to prove those other 29 teams wrong. It [ticks] you off.”
With the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Winnik and the faster Koivu and Cogliano, the Ducks’ third line has embraced the philosophy of making its best defense a strong offense.
“Any team that wins the Cup, it’s always the third line that makes the difference on top of the stars,” Winnik said.
For opening night, the Ducks will give away Teemu Selanne shirts to all ticket holders and encourage fans to be in their seats by 6:45 p.m. for player introductions. That follows a pregame outdoor lounge party starting at 3:30 p.m. and a players’ red-carpet arrival from 4 to 5 p.m.