One of the reasons the Anaheim Ducks have great depth at forward is not just the talent and skill on the roster, but also the versatility of several players who have become interchangeable parts for coach Bruce Boudreau.
This was evident during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Boudreau mixed and matched players on three of his four lines during a seven-game series loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Matt Beleskey, Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem moved up and down the lineup, but continued to perform well even when the team's stars were not.
Nick Bonino is also part of that versatile group, and he could play a large role in the 2014 postseason fortunes for the Ducks. Bonino was a relative unknown before the team's series with the Red Wings. At the time, he had 112 games of NHL regular-season experience with 11 goals and 33 points on his resume.
Bonino spent time as the team's No. 2 center in 2012-13 but also missed nearly half the season because of injury. He had a strong series against Detroit, scoring three times and assisting on another in the seven games.
The Ducks added Mathieu Perreault just before the 2013-14 season began, but Bonino has had a breakout offensive campaign with 20 goals and 47 points. Bonino has done it without really ever settling into a specific role or a consistent line.
Ryan Getzlaf spent nearly 40 percent of his even-strength ice time this season on a line with Corey Perry and Dustin Penner, who was traded to the Washington Capitals in early March. The third guy has changed around a lot, but Getzlaf and Perry have remained a constant. By contrast, Bonino hasn't spent more than eight percent of his even-strength ice time as part of any trio.
He's spent time on the second line. He's spent time on the fourth line. He's moved to the wing when needed, and that includes a recent audition with Getzlaf and Perry on the top trio.
If Bonino plays on the wing, that leaves the diminutive Perreault, the elder statesman Saku Koivu and a rookie Rickard Rakell at center behind Getzlaf. That also leaves a potentially dynamic player like Jakob Silfverberg outside the top-12 forwards.
If the Ducks are going to sustain a playoff run, there's no question they're going spend a lot of time playing against teams loaded at the center position. The San Jose Sharks can line up Joe Thronton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski down the middle. The Los Angeles Kings boast Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards or Jeff Carter and Jarrett Stoll.
For the Ducks to reach the conference finals, let alone have a chance to capture the Stanley Cup, someone is going to have to support Getzlaf and help Anaheim not get worked over at the center position. Maybe Koivu can muster an extra level he hasn't reached in a while, or maybe Perreault can surprise; but the better bet is Bonino.
Whether he starts the playoffs there or not, expect Bonino to be a key figure both in the center of the ice and the center of Anaheim's hopes for a deep postseason run.
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