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Ducks' depth key to their success this season

by Corey Masisak

LOS ANGELES -- Three seasons ago, the Anaheim Ducks were one of the most top-heavy teams in the NHL.

The Ducks had Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu up front, but the depth beyond that group was a mess for much of the 2011-12 season. There were 10 forwards who played at least 25 games and scored between zero and seven goals.

Getzlaf also had his worst season, finishing with 11 goals. Andrew Cogliano was fourth on the Ducks  with 13. The defense behind Francois Beauchemin was young, suspect, or both.

That was the season Randy Carlyle was fired and Bruce Boudreau was hired. Since then, the Ducks have evolved into one of the deepest teams in the League, and that's a big reason they finished with the most points in the Western Conference in 2013-14.

The Ducks' depth has been put to the test in this Western Conference Second Round series against the Los Angeles Kings, and it could be tested further in Game 4 on Saturday at Staples Center (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

"I think it speaks to the organization. I think it speaks to how they've scouted and not only found players in the League, but how they've drafted," Cogliano said. "If you look at our team, you see Getzlaf and Perry, but then you look down the lineup, and it's a lot of people that most don't really know. It's younger guys or guys that have come from other teams like myself.

"I think it speaks to Bruce and how he plays his system. He plays four lines. He puts emphasis on every single line. Nick Bonino has been our fourth-line center for most of the year and he has almost 50 points. I think it speaks to a few things and how they've done their business and created this team. The coaching staff has also made it a really strong mix of lines."

The Ducks pushed three new players into the series in Game 3. Defenseman Sami Vatanen was recalled, and Boudreau said afterward he was the best player on the ice in his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut. Forward Kyle Palmieri also made his debut in the series, and goaltender Frederik Andersen got the nod instead of Jonas Hiller, who started the first two games.

Los Angeles still leads the best-of-7 series 2-1, and Anaheim could have three new players in the lineup again Saturday. Andersen and forwards Matt Beleskey and Mathieu Perreault each has a lower-body injury and is day-to-day.

Veteran wing Daniel Winnik and rookie center Rickard Rakell were the extra forwards for Game 3, and each could play for the first time in this series. Cogliano mentioned rookie forward Emerson Etem, who was sent to Norfolk of the American Hockey League when Vatanen was recalled, but the Ducks have not made a roster move up front.

One roster move they did make was to recall top prospect John Gibson, who adds another wrinkle to the Anaheim goaltending situation. If Andersen cannot play, Gibson would likely be, at least, Hiller's backup.

Gibson, 20, might be the best goaltending prospect in the world. He has won a gold medal at the World Junior Championship and helped the United States win bronze last year at the World Championship, taking the starting job from Ben Bishop during the tournament.

Gibson played three games for the Ducks near the end of the season, beating the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks allowing a total of four goals in the process.

Boudreau has a history of making bold moves in net. Beyond starting Andersen, also a rookie, ahead of Hiller in seven of Anaheim's nine playoff games this season, he turned to rookie Semyon Varlamov with the Washington Capitals for Game 2 in the first round in 2009 and went back to Varlamov despite Jose Theodore being the starter in the 2010 playoffs.

"He's always an option, if he's called up," Boudreau said of Gibson.

As Cogliano said, it has been a combination of general manager Bob Murray and his staff finding players, in the NHL Draft and off other rosters, and Boudreau's willingness to play everyone that has contributed to Anaheim's success. Carlyle has a reputation for not trusting young players, but Cogliano, Beleskey and Palmieri have flourished playing for Boudreau.

Murray traded for Bonino, Perreault and Jakob Silfverberg and signed Winnik and defenseman Ben Lovejoy. The Ducks have drafted very well, with Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Vatanen helping to revamp the defense and Etem and Rakell pushing for a full-time opportunity up front.

There is more young talent coming. Shea Theodore could further bolster the defense. Stefan Noesen and a top-10 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft were part of the haul along with Silfverberg from the Ottawa Senators in the trade for Ryan.

Then there is Gibson, who is the most anticipated goaltending prospect since Carey Price arrived in Montreal.

"Throughout this season and last, we've just had that depth in scoring," Getzlaf said. "For us to be the leading scoring team in the League is unheard of compared to the years before. It was always a big drop-off after our top four guys or so. This year has been a great testament to that. It's what has propelled us throughout the year."

The Ducks had the most points in the Western Conference but had some flaws, particularly with possessing the puck, and some of Anaheim's numbers in certain metrics would likely be unsustainable in the future.

That might not matter in the coming years. The Ducks will continue to infuse more youth and talent into the lineup, and as these players improve, so can the analytics profile.

Boudreau said the 2013-14 Ducks didn't have as many off nights during the season as other NHL teams because of their depth. It's also a big deal during a long playoff run, and it might become even more important Saturday and for the rest of this series against the Kings.

"It's been pretty incredible," Perry said. "There's a lot of young guys on this team and played different roles. For the first four or five years, [Getzlaf] and I were still the young ones on the team. Now it's completely the opposite. It's for the better. When you have young legs in the lineup, they don't know any better than to just go out and work as hard as they can."

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