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Gretzky excited about young players

by Brian Compton /
A few thoughts while we wait anxiously for a holiday loaded with NHL action:

No Kid-ding – The Phoenix Coyotes certainly have a tough road ahead of them to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they’re definitely not short on young talent.
Rookies Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker both scored their first NHL goals Sunday night, leading the Coyotes to their second straight win, a 4-2 victory against the Ducks in Anaheim.
After their latest win, coach Wayne Gretzky credited his older players for helping develop the newcomers. Phoenix captain Shane Doan – who plays a huge role in that department – scored twice Sunday.
“They’re a special group," Gretzky said. "The veteran players around them have brought them along nicely. They play hard and they want to get better and it’s fun to be around them.”
It’s certainly a credit to the Coyotes’ scouting staff, as it appears they have hit the jackpot in the last two years. Turris was selected with the third pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, while Boedker went No. 8 this year. While they’re both under 20 years of age, Gretzky is impressed by the way both players have carried themselves thus far.
“These kids are pretty unique and they are pretty good,” Gretzky said. “I think although they’re kids, they’re pretty mature. They really have their eyes wide-open and are having a lot of fun.”
It certainly helps when there's a player such as Doan to show them the ropes. The younger players definitely have responded to their captain’s leadership.
“The leadership, it’s huge for us. It’s just feeding off them,” Boedker said.

Good Backup Plan – Last season, the San Jose Sharks went into basically every game with Evgeni Nabokov between the pipes.
But even Nabokov needs a break every now and then. Sunday night, backup Brian Boucher put forth the type of performance that sent a calmness throughout the organization.
Boucher stopped all 21 shots he faced as Lukas Kaspar’s second-period goal – his first in the NHL – held up in San Jose’s 1-0 win at Los Angeles. While Nabokov certainly remains the Sharks’ No. 1 netminder, it’s comforting for new coach Todd McLellan that he can rely on Boucher when called upon.
“I’m really, really happy for Boucher,” McLellan said. “He probably didn't have the preseason that he’d like, he’d probably admit that. Coming in behind (Nabokov), you never know when you’re going to get your starts. Boosh stepped up and he was probably our best player tonight, and you need that when you’re playing ugly. We’re real proud of him.”
O’Sullivan Returns – After generating just 13 shots on goal in their season opener, the Kings received a jolt to their offense Sunday with the return of forward Patrick O’Sullivan.
The 23-year-old made his season debut against the Sharks on the same day he signed a new three-year contract. O’Sullivan scored 22 goals for the Kings last season.
“It felt like I hadn’t played a game in four or five months, but felt better as the game went on,” said O’Sullivan, who missed the entire preseason while the new deal was being negotiated. “I’m glad to get that first game out of the way and live past the fact that I missed training camp. There’s definitely some positives and I have a lot to improve upon, but it’s definitely something I can develop.”
Dustin The Wind – Finally, Edmonton Oilers forward Dustin Penner is playing in the same place for the second straight season.

And in his first game of the 2008-09 season, Penner scored twice to help the Oilers earn a 3-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche at Rexall Place. Penner’s second tally of the night broke a 2-2 tie – with 5.4 seconds remaining.

Penner is hoping this stability will be just what he needs as he attempts to justify the big five-year, deal he signed with the Oilers as a restricted free agent during the summer of 2006. Penner began his professional career with Cincinnati in the American Hockey League in 2004, then split the 2005-06 season between Anaheim and AHL Portland.

With last season’s soap opera out of the way, Penner can concentrate on what he’s paid to do – help the Oilers win hockey games. He did just that Sunday.

“There’s probably not as much hype, and the media attention isn’t what it was because of the way I was acquired,” Penner said, referring to the deal that sparked bad blood between Anaheim’s Brian Burke and Edmonton’s Kevin Lowe to the point where everyone was expecting a new episode of Celebrity Deathmatch. “But I feel comfortable to be back here. This is my first year with a team that’s consecutive. I’ve always been in a different city with a different team. It’s nice to feel that comfort level.”

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