Three rookie forwards have played a large role in the Anaheim Ducks
' resurgence in the Western Conference playoff race.
, Dan Sexton
and Troy Bodie
have contributed heavily to the team's first, second and third lines, respectively.
The trio joined the team within a month of each other, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. After stumbling out of the gate with a 7-11-3 record, GM Bob Murray
is most appreciative of the gifts brought by his holiday-season call-ups.
"In the salary-cap era," Murray told NHL.com, "we have to have younger players coming along all the time."
Between personnel misfires and injuries, the Ducks faltered. Veterans Erik Christensen
and Kyle Calder
failed to provide the secondary scoring the club needed. Christensen was claimed off waivers by the Rangers. Calder was demoted to AHL Toronto.
Making matters worse, Joffrey Lupul
endured a leg injury in November and then left the lineup for good due to back surgery Dec. 9. Teemu Selanne
missed 25 games due to knuckle and jaw fractures, and center Ryan Carter
missed 22 games with a fractured right foot.
Sexton, whose NHL debut came Dec. 4, caught fire in his third game, scoring two goals and recording an eye-popping nine shots. That he was filling the injured Selanne's skates was not lost on the undrafted 22-year-old from Apple Valley, Minn.
"To be honest," Sexton said, "when I got thrown into my first game, I was kind of in shock. You picture yourself, in your first NHL game, just playing a couple of minutes. For me to be talked to about power play, playing with guys like (Saku) Koivu and Bobby Ryan
, it was really nerve racking for me. I came from (ECHL Bakersfield) no more than two weeks before that."
The Ducks went 15-10-3 during Sexton's 28-game stint, and he had 9 goals and 18 points. He was sent to AHL Manitoba just before the Olympic break, but was recalled Feb. 25.
"We were forced to send (Sexton) down because of roster spots and that's as simple as you can put it," said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle
. "Now he's got an opportunity to come back and possibly stay with us."
Sexton said he was more of an assist man in high school. But playing on the third and fourth lines in junior hockey taught him to be a bit more selfish with the puck -- to great effect.
"Ever since then, I've always had some of the highest shot totals on the team I've been on," said Sexton. "It's resulted in more success and confidence. If you look at the stat sheet and I have a lot of shots, it usually means that I've had a good game."
Carlyle would like to see Sexton develop a harder shot, with more velocity, but gives him high marks for his accuracy and quick release.
The 21-year-old Beleskey spent most of his first 18 games playing in a variety of roster spots. With injuries and losses mounting, he found himself pressed into action on the left wing with stars Ryan Getzlaf
and Corey Perry
"I was a little nervous when I went from playing 10 to 20 minutes," Beleskey told NHL.com. "It's a big jump."
Beleskey, a fourth-round pick in 2006, responded quickly to his top-line assignment, scoring four goals during a team-high five-game winning streak, including two game-winners. In 40 games, he has 6 goals and 10 points.
Beleskey also has played this season with San Antonio and Toronto of the AHL (the Ducks don't have their own AHL club), Bakersfield of the ECHL. He's happy that he, Sexton and Bodie have been afforded such opportunities.
"They've shown confidence in all three of us; they think we're a big part of (the team)."
No part of the Ducks' lineup has undergone more of a transformation than the third line, usually called on for shut-down duty. Since the departures of Sammy Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer
and Travis Moen
, the Ducks needed a tough customer who could score.
Enter Troy Bodie
The 6-foot-4, 214-pound right wing joined the team Dec. 29, and the Ducks are 15-9-0 since his arrival. He's played on a line with Kyle Chipchura
and Todd Marchant
, who said Bodie has filled Moen's rugged skates nicely.
"We would never have expected, at the beginning of the year, to have those players playing the roles that they're playing on our team now. It's a tribute to those players as individuals. They've worked hard. We've been forced to use some of them, they've seized the opportunity, and they've gained our trust." -- Randy Carlyle
"Bodie is playing along the same lines (as Moen)," said Marchant. "He works hard every night, he's a big body, he can skate."
"Our line has been good at getting pucks in and just grinding it out, just (keeping it) simple," Bodie says. "Just try to get pucks there and just smash at them and tip them, that sort of thing."
That type of play yielded his first NHL goal, at home against Calgary on Jan. 17, which bounced off the goalie, then his skate. The following game, he provided the game winner against Buffalo, and in 24 games, he has 4 goals and 5 points.
To many Ducks fans, Bodie defines "Duck hockey," the hard-charging style that earned the club a Stanley Cup in 2007.
"Our team's been known as being a really hard-nosed team," said Bodie. "Even our top-line guys, Bobby (Ryan) and Getzlaf and Perry, play a hard-hitting game. That's our identity, from them all the way down to our third- and fourth-line guys. We all can drop the mitts and get that going, too. I know lots of people like to see that."
That the Ducks will return from the Olympic break having gone 20-12-1 in their last 33 games is due in no small part to the contributions of Beleskey, Bodie and Sexton.
Carlyle said it's a matter of trust.
"We would never have expected, at the beginning of the year, to have those players playing the roles that they're playing on our team now," he said. "It's a tribute to those players as individuals. They've worked hard. We've been forced to use some of them, they've seized the opportunity, and they've gained our trust."