The opportunity for Anaheim Ducks forward Kyle Palmieri was as obvious as the writing on the lineup card for Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings. He was listed as the left wing on the top line, alongside the team's franchise players, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
Though he had 10:30 of ice time in that game, could it have been a bit of foreshadowing?
There's a big hole on the left side of the Ducks' top line following the trade of Bobby Ryan, who was shipped to the Ottawa Senators in July. Palmieri, selected No. 26 in the 2009 NHL Draft, could be the player coach Bruce Boudreau picks to fill that spot on a full-time basis.
Palmieri, 22, received his largest taste of NHL action last season, playing 42 games, and he responded with 10 goals, including five game-winners. He's split the past three seasons between the Ducks and the American Hockey League, but he looks poised to make the jump to permanent NHL player.
"At the end [of the season], he played very well," Ducks general manager Bob Murray told NHL.com. "It was unfortunate for a lot of players who had put in a couple years in the minors and they had to spend the beginning part of the [2012-13 season] in the minors. People don't understand how hard that is. It's hard to get yourself motivated. Once he got to the [NHL], he was excited and ready to go. He played very well."
Boudreau rewarded Palmieri's solid play with short stints alongside the Ducks' top-line duo during particular games, but starting there in a Stanley Cup Playoff game made a major statement.
"We were always looking for someone to play with those two," Murray said. "Kyle handled it very well. He got a few opportunities to play there. Bruce is very good with the young players, and putting [Palmieri] in a position of playing his off-wing, we like him very much offensively on his off-wing, but we want to be fair to him defensively on the off-wing and we don't know if we've given him enough opportunity to grow used to playing left wing all the time in his own zone. Playoff games are critical; little mistakes inside your own blue line. Bruce moved him in and out of there and Kyle acquitted himself very well."
Short stints on the top line are one thing, but with Ryan's departure in the summer, there's a full-time job available. However, it won't just be handed to Palmieri. Veteran Dustin Penner was signed as a free agent, and Murray said reuniting the Ducks' second line from the 2007 Stanley Cup championship season went into the decision to bring back Penner. Rookie Emerson Etem is coming off a solid season; Jakob Silfverberg, who came from Ottawa as part of the Ryan trade, is coming off a strong first NHL season; and physical forward Matt Beleskey could be an option.
"Kyle will fight for that," Murray said. "I fully expect Emerson Etem to come into camp. He's going to get an opportunity there. And we just signed Dustin Penner, who had great success playing there before. Competition is healthy, and we have lots of it going on."
But Palmieri got a big chance there in the spring and could be the first to get a shot there in the fall.
"He's pushing a lot of positions and a lot of spots," Murray said. "Kyle, I can just sense he wanted it badly and I hope he shows up in the same frame of mind this year."
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