NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
One man's injury is another man's opportunity.
For Anaheim Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen, a rash of injuries to the team's defensemen has given him an opportunity to earn a full-time NHL roster spot.
Sheldon Souray is out until December or even January following surgery for a torn ligament in his wrist. Francois Beauchemin, while skating, is only four months removed from reconstructive knee surgery and is questionable to start the season, and Luca Sbisa is hoping to recover from a sprained ankle in time for the season opener Oct. 2 at the Colorado Avalanche.
That leaves multiple openings, and Vatanen could slide into one of them. The 2009 fourth-round pick (No. 106) made a nice initial impression last season, playing three games in February, then returning for five more at the end of the regular season, during which time he scored two goals. He also had nine goals and 45 points in 62 games with the Ducks' American Hockey League team, the Norfolk Admirals, in his first season of North American hockey.
"He played really good for us at the end of last year, and we like him a lot," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Producing offense never has been a problem for the 22-year-old, who had 14 goals and 42 points in 2011-12 playing with JYP in SM-liiga, Finland's top professional league. The next step is for Vatanen to become more reliable in the defensive end.
He was a plus-3 in limited NHL ice time last season, and is a plus-1 (with one goal) in four preseason games.
"He just has to gain experience and know when to do it [jump into the attack] and know when to not do it," Boudreau told the Orange County Register. "I don't think he's risky as far as play in his own zone. He's smart. He makes the good play.
"Where he's risky is stepping up in the neutral zone or stepping up at the blue line. That's where he gets to be risky. So we would like to take that out of the equation."
The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder has dealt with his own bumps and bruises during training camp, but remains hopeful that he'll be in Colorado when the season starts.
"My plan is to play [in the NHL]," Vatanen told the Orange County Register. "Not in Norfolk or anything like that. There's so many good guys here, so you've got to push it to the limits and do what you got to do.
"I do my best and we will see what happens. No pressure or anything. Just enjoy the time that you’re here."
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
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