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Youth serving both Ducks, Red Wings well

Saturday, 05.04.2013 / 5:00 PM
Corey Masisak  - NHL.com Staff Writer

DETROIT -- This Western Conference Quarterfinals series does not lack for star power.

There are multiple guys on both the Anaheim Ducks and the Detroit Red Wings who will likely have a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame a few years after their careers have ended. That said, both of these rosters feature young players who are experiencing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first or second time.

Not only are these young players learning what the playoffs at the game's highest level are all about, but they are also playing key roles.

"It has been awesome," said Anaheim forward Kyle Palmieri, who scored during the Ducks' furious comeback in Game 2. "We're all guys that are excited to get this opportunity, and you have some guys in here that are 20, 21 years old and me being 22, it is awesome to experience this so early in our careers. Game 1 there was definitely those jitters, but it has been exciting so far and hopefully we can continue to bring some energy."

The Ducks have star players Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, but their offensive depth has been boosted by Palmieri, Nick Bonino and rookie Emerson Etem. Bonino, who has solidified his place as the team's No. 2 center, and Palmieri, who will skate on the top line in Game 3 on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS2), each have a goal and an assist in the series.

Etem and Andrew Cogliano, who is 25 years old but playing in the playoffs for the first time, have been key elements of the team's penalty kill throughout the season and in these first two games.

"For the most part [I've been pleased]," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "There was a couple shifts in both games where I think guys came off the ice because they were afraid to make a mistake and didn't want to be on the ice, which is what playoff experience is all about -- you want to have that feeling of, ‘Put me out there and I'll take care of it.' I'll have a talk with a couple of those guys about that."

Boudreau has never been afraid to play young players in key situations. When he became coach of the Washington Capitals in November 2007, his first big lineup change was moving rookie Nicklas Backstrom to center, eventually on the top line with Alex Ovechkin.

The kids were the best players on the team in Washington, but in Anaheim they are ancillary parts. Boudreau continues to play them in important roles over other, veteran players. One lineup tweak he made before the playoffs was moving young defenseman Cam Fowler to the top pairing, and he has responded with two strong games in this series.

"He kind of sat us down right before the postseason started and said, ‘If you earn it, you're going to get the minutes you deserve,'" Palmieri said. "I think we've been trying to do that, especially guys like me and Emerson, who are just coming up and trying to make a name for ourselves. We came in and we had to earn our minutes in the regular season, and it is great to be doing in the postseason."

Boudreau's counterpart, Mike Babcock, also had no problem going with a youth movement in Detroit this season. The Red Wings began the playoffs with three of their six defensemen -- Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser -- having zero NHL playoff games.

DeKeyser is likely to miss the rest of the postseason with a broken thumb. Instead of turning to veterans Carlo Colaiacovo or Ian While, Babcock is inserting rookie Brian Lashoff into the lineup, and he'll be the fourth member of the team's blue line to make his playoff debut.

"You see [Gustav] Nyquist score the winner the other night, and we've got a lot of guys playing important minutes," Smith said. "DeKeyser was playing a lot of minutes, and I feel myself playing quite a bit, including the penalty kill. Now we have [Lashoff] in there, and it will be pretty cool to have another guy step in and for the coaches to have enough faith in us to put us in for playoff games."

Nyquist is playing on a line with center Joakim Andersson and wing Damien Brunner. All three qualify as NHL rookies, and only Nyquist played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before this season. Brunner leads the team with three points in two games, and Nyquist had the goal in overtime to level the series.

Like the Ducks, the Red Wings have plenty of stars (Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall among them) but the kids have supplied depth and a jolt of energy to help the franchise reach the postseason for a 22nd consecutive season.

"I think it obviously feels a lot different than last year," said Cory Emmerton, who is 25 and in the playoffs for a second time. "There's always going to be some growing pains, some mistakes, but the enthusiasm is really high and we kind of get by on that. It is a lot of fun. There are guys that are around your age, and there's a lot of laughs and good times. Just to go through it together is pretty special. I think it has been a big year for growth for a lot of people.

"Last year I got to play in the playoffs and experience it. I knew coming into this playoffs that it does change -- the intensity and the speed are different. I knew about it and I tried to tell guys about it, but you really need to experience it to really know."

The Red Wings have an established culture of winning, but also of showing patience when developing players. DeKeyser was an anomaly -- someone who went straight from college to playing for Detroit, but part of that was necessity.

So many of the other players on the Red Wings, whether it is the current stars or the new wave of young players, have spent time learning and developing with Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League.

"I think they've done it really well and it is the right way," Smith said. "Coming out of college and not being able to step right in the lineup was definitely frustrating, because as a young kid that was always where you wanted to be. After looking back at it, I paid my dues and it made me better defensively and better at making decisions with the puck. It definitely made be a better pro.

"They've created all these great players. Guys like [Jonathan] Ericsson and Niklas [Kronwall] -- they've all played there and then come here and been great players. Then when you get here you get to learn from the Hall of Famers and the great pros, so it really is a great experience."

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