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Ducks get major minutes from their D-men

by John Kreiser
What could be better than having a stud like Chris Pronger on the blue line? How about having players like Scott Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin to go along with him?

That's the scenario that greets Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle every time his team steps on the ice. The Ducks' big three on defense were a major factor in Anaheim's 2007 Stanley Cup triumph, and they're a big reason the Ducks are primed for another big season in 2008-09.

Pronger is a true workhorse. The Ducks' captain was on the ice for an average of 26 minutes a game, the most of any player in the Pacific Division and sixth in the League. The Ducks worked Pronger in all situations -- he saw 4:57 per game on the power play and 4:12 of shorthanded ice time, making him one of the few players in the top 20 in both categories. Surprisingly, Pronger's ice time was more than a minute per game less than 2006-07, when he was fourth in the League at 27:05 per game.

The Ducks relied heavily on all their defensemen, not just Pronger. Niedermayer, despite not playing until Dec. 16 and not more than 24 minutes until his 10th game back, averaged 23:54 per game. Beauchemin played 25:31, and Mathieu Schneider played 22:17.

That's a lot of ice time for a group of top defensemen. The Ducks weren't the only Pacific Division team, however, that got its best blueliners on the ice as much as possible:

Sergei Zubov, Dallas Stars -- The veteran defender averaged 25:41 per game, including 5:02 on the power play, but missed the last 33 games of the regular season and the first 7 games of the playoffs with a foot injury.

When Zubov returned, he showed his value by averaging more than 26 minutes per game, and scoring 6 points in 11 games.

Jack Johnson, Los Angeles Kings -- Johnson was third among all rookies at 21:41 of ice time per game, including 2:29 per game killing penalties.

That was a lot of responsibility to throw on a player who turned 21 midway through last season. He got most of those minutes playing alongside Rob Blake, who has since departed for San Jose. This season, Kings fans will get to see just how good a teacher Blake was, and how good a student Johnson was.

Ed Jovanovski, Phoenix Coyotes -- Jovanovski played 22:32 per game last season, including 4:26 on the power play, and turned in a career-high 51 points.

Those numbers could go up with the departure of defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton, as they were dealt to Florida for center Olli Jokinen.

Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks -- Boyle missed 45 games last season with a wrist injury, but when he was on the ice, he devoured minutes -- his average of 27:24 was just 4 seconds per game less than League-leader Jay Bouwmeester of Florida. Playing that much was nothing unusual for Boyle, who averaged 27:03 per game in 2006-07.

Expect Boyle to continue to see lots of ice time this season. In 37 games last season, he had 25 points, including 12 assists and 14 points on the power play.
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