SAN JOSE — Trying to replace Ryan Kesler in his usual second-line center spot has been an impossible feat for the Ducks to achieve.
As expected. There isn’t another player on the roster to consistently win faceoffs, score goals and be a constant annoyance to the opposition’s top forwards. But the extended absence of an indispensable player has allowed Chris Wagner to go on a bit of an exploration mission.
How far can Wagner go with his game? For now, it seems he can go beyond being a hard-hitting source of energy.
Not only is Wagner back playing center but he’s doing so on the Ducks’ important shutdown line with Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg. And it isn’t a case where he is just a placeholder.
An example of Wagner being able to tap into his skills came Sunday against Florida when he found himself with a rare odd-man break with Rickard Rakell on the power play and gave the scoring winger a soft pass to whip past Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo.
“I was saying (Sunday night), I probably wouldn’t have tried to make that pass to Ricky last night if it was 5-on-5 or something like that,” Wagner said. “I think I’m trying to make a couple more plays with the puck for sure, knowing that I’ll (still) probably be back out there if I make a mistake or something like that.
“If you touch the puck more in the game, you’re bound to be more comfortable with it. Which helps for sure and that makes your confidence go up.”
Wagner’s two goals and seven assists for nine points have already set a personal scoring high. His ice time is reflective of his new role, with more than 20 minutes logged on four occasions and an average that sits around 16.
It is a far cry from the days where he had to throw his body around to stay off the waiver wire and with the Ducks, much less keep a fourth-line roster spot.
“You don’t want to stray from that by any means,” Wagner said. “But like everybody here, they probably were skill guys at some point in…