Ryan Getzlaf skates between Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry, while Saku Koivu is flanked by Teemu Selanne and Jason Blake. Those players have been Anaheim's top six forwards when healthy, and they most likely will continue to be so -- those two specific line combinations consumed nearly 35 percent of the team's time at even strength (according to dobberhockey.com), while no other set of three players played three percent of it as coach Randy Carlyle mixed and matched his remaining forwards.
Carlyle had many players challenging for spots on the bottom two lines during training camp, but the third line he settled on is interesting because it's made up of three players who weren't on the team last season. Center Andrew Cogliano was added in a trade with Edmonton, right wing Andrew Gordon was a free agent and left wing Devante Smith-Pelly was a second-round pick in the 2010 Entry Draft and is expected to make his NHL debut Friday against the Buffalo Sabres in the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere at Hartwall Areena (1 p.m. ET, TSN2).
"They are three guys who are new to our hockey club," Carlyle said. "Two of them are the 1-2 that have had the best camps in Gordon and Smith-Pelly in our ratings. They've done what they needed to do to go out and earn the opportunity."
2011 COMPUWARE NHL PREMIERE
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Cogliano was a first-round pick by the Oilers who had a strong rookie season after two successful seasons at the University of Michigan. However, he never topped the 18 goals or 45 points he posted as a rookie in any of the next three seasons, and with Edmonton's young forward depth, it made him expendable.
The move could help Cogliano return to the level of play he showed as a rookie. Still only 24 years old, he will have a defined role with the Ducks -- No. 3 center behind Getzlaf and Koivu.
"I had a good conversation with (Carlyle) and he wants to create three lines that can generate some offense and play good minutes," Cogliano said. "For me, that is exciting. I'm glad he gave me a spot, and it is better that I'm in one spot and know what I'm doing and can focus on that instead of bouncing around. Who knows what will happen over the course of the season, but for now it looks like I'm pretty set at the center position."
Added Gordon: "(Cogliano) is a great center to play with. He controls the puck so well and uses his speed so well and supports so well that it makes the job for Devante and I very easy. He can play with anybody. For a new line like ours, with a couple guys trying to get our feet wet, he's a great centerman. He's a young guy, but he has some experience and can help coax us along."
Smith-Pelly already has survived longer in this camp than probably was expected when it began. He scored 36 goals for Mississauga in the Ontario Hockey League last season, and added 15 more in 20 postseason games.
He turned 19 in June, but Smith-Pelly is listed at 213 pounds and could be a prototypical power forward in the future for Anaheim.
"This was my goal, to make the trip here to Finland," Smith-Pelly said. "I'm glad I got a chance to accomplish that, but the work's not done yet and I'm looking to contribute to the team here."
Carlyle said Smith-Pelly has earned his place on the opening-night roster, and then the team will have a decision to make. Smith-Pelly can play nine games before Anaheim will have to send him back to Mississauga or the first year of his entry-level contract will vest.
Defenseman Cam Fowler was in the same situation last season; the Ducks kept him and he went on to a fine rookie campaign.
"(Smith-Pelly) has been the same, steady-type player in camp as we expected, and he did that last year, too. He just wasn't here as long," Carlyle said.
Added Smith-Pelly: "I try not to think about it. I'm just going to go out there and play my style of game and hopefully I will impress. If I get a chance to stay the whole year, that would be great."
Gordon has lit up the American Hockey League the past two seasons, but his chances with the Washington Capitals were few and far between. The Ducks signed him to a two-year contract, and it looks like he will start the season on an NHL roster for the first time.
Anaheim's top line might be the best in hockey, and having two Finnish legends on the second unit should give the Ducks one of the best set of top-six forwards, as well. How much the third line can contribute could go a long way to determining if the Ducks can compete with San Jose and Los Angeles for the Pacific Division title.
"I think we are a good trio," Smith-Pelly said. "Those guys are two of the fastest guys on the team for sure, and me, I just try to get in there and create some space for those guys. They've got a lot of skill and I think we complement each other well."
Added Cogliano: "It is good. We have a couple guys who are trying to solidify their spots in the NHL. We have a good young player in Smith-Pelly and a guy in Gordon who has been a great player in the (AHL) and wants to get a spot here. For me, I know they're going to bring a great work ethic every night and they want to do well. It helps me out, I think."