ANAHEIM, Calif. – When Kyle Palmieri
was beginning his offseason routine on the East Coast this summer, he received a phone call from Anaheim Ducks equipment manager Doug "Sluggo" Shearer.
Shearer asked Palmieri if he wanted to change from the jersey No. 51 he had worn since he arrived in Anaheim. Palmieri chose his old No. 21 and didn't think much of it until he was asked about it later.
"People make a bigger deal out of it than it is," Palmieri joked.
Palmieri referred to those who see the symbolism, because Anaheim typically gives a young player a lower number when it feels that player is established - Bobby Ryan started out wearing No. 54 with the Ducks.
The next step is now for Palmieri and Anaheim's other young forwards to build off the offensive balance it achieved last season, especially after the trade of 30-goal scorer Ryan to the Ottawa Senators.
Anaheim used to be a top-heavy offensive club with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and Ryan, who accounted for 57 percent of its goals in 2010-11 and 51 percent in 2011-12. Last season that number dipped to 39 percent as players like Palmieri, Emerson Etem and Nick Bonino began to bloom.
"That's the key," Andrew Cogliano said. "You take the load off guys like Getzlaf and Perry. You get some deep scoring, and it changes the dynamic of the team. I think we have a good balance of speed, and obviously big bodies. I think we need to push the pace but also have guys that are big and go to the net."
Palmieri, Etem and Bonino all had a breakthrough in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with three goals each. Palmieri has an NHL-level shot and projects as a 20-goal scorer. Etem is a scary-fast wing who can kill penalties and turn harmless looking plays into breakaways. Bonino's season was hindered by injury but he asserted himself late and showed he has the capability to fill the second-line center spot.
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau, who was known for video-game like offense with the Washington Capitals, has a lot of clay to mold, although it's been hard to tell in camp as the Ducks have been hit with injuries.
"When you have four lines that can score, you're usually a pretty good team, in my history, anyway," Boudreau said. "We want to get to that point again. We haven't scored very much in preseason, and we certainly would like to have a couple more opportunities to score goals."
A lot will depend on Jakob Silfverberg, the major piece from the Ryan trade who looked sharp in the early portion of camp before a lower-body injury kept him off the ice. The 22-year-old is expected to play left wing on the second line with Bonino and Teemu Selanne.
Boudreau is quite unfamiliar with Silfverberg but the early glimpses have him thinking positively.
"I think we've got a good idea that he's a very responsible player," Boudreau said. "He's got a tremendous shot. He's going to be a real useful guy at all ends of the ice."
Palmieri will likely start out with Getzlaf and Perry on the top line. The Ducks can boast intimidating speed on the third line with Etem and Cogliano on the wings beside center Koivu. Dustin Penner, who was demoted from the top line less than a week into camp, is an X-factor but can still be plugged into any line. Peter Holland, Patrick Maroon, Rickard Rakell, Matt Beleskey and Devante Smith-Pelly are also in the mix.
After being moved around two seasons ago, Cogliano found an identity on a line with Koivu and Daniel Winnik. He finished with 13 goals even though he didn't play on the power play.
"Whenever you're moving positions and playing different positions every game, it's really tough to find a balance and find what you're supposed to do out there," Cogliano said. "But I felt last year Bruce gave me a role and gave me a chance to find a specific thing to do every night. I was just able to focus on playing the right way. When I did that, the offense came."
Anaheim needs it come in a big way as it enters the season banged up. Etem has a lower-body injury in addition to Silfverberg. Defensemen Sheldon Souray, Francois Beauchemin and Luca Sbisa are all recovering from injury or surgery.
Former 50-goal scorer Perry looks for a bounce-back year himself and knows how valuable balance is to Anaheim in the post-Ryan era.
"Losing Bobby – somebody has to fill that void," Perry said. "There's 30 goals that, not just one person, but collectively we have to do. There's a lot of talent in this room that can do it. We have no doubt that somebody in here is going to be able to step up and fill that void."