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Vatanen providing Ducks with spark from blue line

by Curtis Zupke

LOS ANGELES -- Anaheim Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen saw his hockey cards come to life when he arrived in Anaheim. There across the dressing room were his Finnish idols, right wing Teemu Selanne and center Saku Koivu. Vatanen collected Selanne's card growing up in Finland.

"Of course it was a special moment for me," Vatanen said. "I saw those guys, who I've been watching all my young life, and try to learn from them. It was fun. They're good guys and I like to hang out with them. It's pretty special."

Selanne, an avid car collector, gave Vatanen a Mercedes-Benz to drive around town. On the ice, he and Koivu helped Vatanen assimilate to the Ducks.

"Every day when I got here, I didn't understand what the coaches were saying," Vatanen said. "I got to ask them and speak my own language."

Vatanen, 22, has fit in quite well with Anaheim in the Western Conference Second Round series against the Los Angeles Kings, which resumes with Game 6 on Wednesday at Staples Center (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSC, TSN, RDS). The Ducks lead the best-of-7 series 3-2.

Vatanen was inserted for Game 3 and has given the Ducks steady minutes on the third pairing with defenseman Bryan Allen. Vatanen has added a dimension to the power play because of his hard shot from the point. Anaheim has gone 4-for-8 on the power play since Vatanen was put in the lineup.

"Sami gives you another guy being able to carry the puck," Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's more apt to shoot the puck than to pass it too. He's got the offensive instinct. He knows when to go, when to shoot. He gives you just a different element, and it's a positive element."

Asked about Vatanen's confidence, Boudreau said, "He's definitely not lacking there."

From the moment Vatanen arrived, he's exuded the attitude he belongs in the NHL. His performance for Finland in the 2014 Sochi Olympics further established it.

"It showed that I can play against everybody here in every league," Vatanen said.

Selanne talks about confidence constantly, so he admires that Vatanen has it at such a young age. He felt responsibility to look after Vatanen after Teppo Numinen did the same for him when he came into the NHL. Selanne, 43, said Vatanen told him he was his idol when he first met him, just like Selanne idolized Jari Kurri.

"Even when you're older, you can still play with the guys that weren't even born when you first started," Selanne said. "It's pretty cool."

Vatanen averaged nearly 20 minutes a game in Games 3, 4 and 5. Anaheim will need to continue to rely on him and fellow young players left wing Devante Smith-Pelly and goalie John Gibson because Boudreau said Tuesday morning that left wing Matt Beleskey and goalie Frederik Andersen won't be available the rest of the series.

Vatanen naturally wants the workload.

"I think it helps a lot when you play all the time," he said. "You don't have big breaks there during the games. It just helps you get going. … I'm not tired. I'm a young guy."

Here are the projected lineups:


Devante Smith-PellyRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Andrew CoglianoSaku KoivuJakob Silfverberg

Patrick MaroonMathieu PerreaultTeemu Selanne

Daniel WinnikNick BoninoKyle Palmieri

Cam FowlerBen Lovejoy

Hampus LindholmFrancois Beauchemin

Bryan AllenSami Vatanen

John Gibson

Jonas Hiller

Scratched: Rickard Rakell, Mark Fistric, Luca Sbisa

Injured: Matt Beleskey (lower body), Frederik Andersen (lower body), Stephane Robidas (leg), Tim Jackman (hand)


Marian GaborikAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Tanner PearsonJeff CarterTyler Toffoli

Trevor Lewis - Jarret StollJustin Williams

Dwight KingMike RichardsJordan Nolan

Jake MuzzinDrew Doughty

Jeff SchultzSlava Voynov

Alec MartinezMatt Greene

Jonathan Quick

Martin Jones

Scratched: Colin Fraser, Nick Shore, Scott Sabourin, Brayden McNabb, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Linden Vey, Jordan Weal, Colin Miller, Andy Andreoff, Andrew Campbell, Derek Forbort

Injured: Willie Mitchell (undisclosed), Robyn Regehr (undisclosed)

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