Ducks' new faces finding a home in Anaheim

Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler were teammates for nine seasons in Vancouver. Jeff Vinnick/NHLI/Getty Images

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Kesler didn't have to guess who the culprit was when he walked out into the parking lot and saw his windshield wipers flipped up on his car.

"I didn't even have to ask, I knew it was him," Kesler laughed. "I come out and my windshield wipers are sticking right up. I said, 'Juice is back.'"

"Juice" is not denying his culpability.

"Oh, I'll admit to it," Kevin Bieksa said this week, mischievous smile and all. "Somebody's got to keep Kes honest. He just signed the big deal. He's obviously one of the leaders of the team. And when he double parks somebody and everyone else is squeezing to get out, something's going to happen to his car."

Two old Vancouver Canucks buddies now back together with the Anaheim Ducks, it couldn't be any better.

"I've known Juice for a while, we've been good friends for 11-12 years, to get him back on an everyday basis, it's been good," said Kesler.

"It's great, it makes it a lot easier for me coming here," Bieksa said. "Throughout this whole process, which was a pretty difficult one for me and my family, we were able to lean on him. My wife and Ryan's wife, Andrea, are good friends as well. They were able to talk about where to live, schools, stuff like that."

Bieksa is part of an influx of new faces on the Ducks, joined by the likes of Carl Hagelin, Anton Khudobin, Shawn Horcoff, Chris Stewart, Mike Santorelli and Shane O'Brien.

Gone are Matt Beleskey, Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem, James Wisniewski, Francois Beauchemin, Tomas Fleischmann and Mark Fistric.

It's a lot of change for a team that was one win away from the Stanley Cup finals in the spring. But general manager Bob Murray was disappointed with the way the Western Conference finals ended, his team blowing a 3-2 series lead, and his message with all the offseason moves is that this is a team not content with being close. And the players have fed off the GM's aggressive summer.

"It is very exciting," said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. "I think the message gets sent in the offseason that we're here and we're trying to win, and we're trying to win now. He's trying to do everything he can to make our team better."

Added Kesler: "When you keep the group together, I feel like you get too comfortable and you come into training camp and you think, 'They didn't make a lot of changes, they must be happy.' Obviously they made a bunch of changes. I think they were good, picking up Hagelin, Bieksa, Horcoff, those are guys with experience who have been to the Cup finals. That's going to help us."

Hagelin has wheels and the Ducks made a point of wanting to add a bit more speed to their lineup, something they felt they lacked a bit last season.

"He's going to bring a lot of speed to our game," said Getzlaf. "He plays hard. And he's been in some big games and played in some big situations."

Hagelin looks good as a fit on a line with Kesler and fellow Swede Jakob Silfverberg, the latter pair really finding chemistry last season. It's early in the preseason, but it's hard to ignore that as a second-line possibility given the excellent two-way game and speed that trio would bring.

"If I play with those guys, it would be unbelievable," said Hagelin. "Kesler is a guy that's been a top player in this league for a long time. And Silfverberg really took that extra step last year. I think after Christmas he played his best hockey, including in the playoffs. If I get to play with them, it would be great. But it's early still. We'll see what happens."

Hagelin was at home in Stockholm during the NHL draft in June when the New York Rangers dealt him to Anaheim. He never saw it coming.

"I was stunned," said Hagelin. "It was a bit of shock when you get that call. I was in the shower and when I came out my phone was just filled up with text messages from buddies and a couple of missed phone calls. I knew there was something going on."

The Swedes on the Ducks, Silfverberg, Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell, all reached out quickly, which helped Hagelin deal with the shock.

"It was bittersweet because you like New York, but at the same time you realize you're coming to an unreal team," said Hagelin. "I'm an optimistic guy, I just see this as a great opportunity coming to a team that's this good. If I was going to get traded, this would be the team I would have wanted to come to."

Bieksa essentially replaced Beauchemin as the graybeard on a young but ultratalented Ducks blue line. Thing is, Bieksa nearly ended up somewhere else in California; a trade between Vancouver and the San Jose Sharks came very close but fell apart at the last minute. It was stressful for Bieksa, who controlled his fate via a no-trade clause.

"You quickly realize that it's a business and you're an asset," Bieksa said. "As long as you've been in one place and as much as you've given, at the end of the day you're just as asset. That became pretty evident to me during this whole process. There were a lot of false promises out there. And the best thing you can do is keep an even keel."

When the Sharks trade fell through, Anaheim got a call from Vancouver and that deal eventually got done.

"At the end of the day, I'm in the place that I wanted to be and definitely the best hockey team I could have landed with," said Bieksa. "So I'm happy to be here."

For Stewart, meanwhile, it's a chance to make a statement, to bring his career in a different direction after a few disappointing seasons. He signed a one-year deal worth $1.7 million with the Ducks on July 11 as the market dried up on him. Now he has a chance to make the most of it on a Cup contender and point his career in a better direction.

"Yeah, exactly," said Stewart, who showed up to camp in good shape after a summer of working out. "Obviously, I didn't have a million teams calling me in the offseason. I want to have a solid, consistent season. I've got a chance to win a Stanley Cup here and that's really all I'm worried about. This team has been on the verge here for a couple of years and they're trying to get over the hump. Hopefully, whatever I can bring to the table will help in that."