ANAHEIM -- They’re a combination of rookies, rejects and players trying to reinvent their games.
Ducks forwards Devante Smith-Pelly, Andrew Gordon and Andrew Cogliano have come together to start this season, bringing a mixed bag of skill, playing experience and personal endeavors.
They might not possess the name recognition built by teammates Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf or Teemu Selanne, but they have the understanding of what it will take to stick with the team, and they’re willing to try anything to hold on to their dream of playing in the NHL.
The trio has been matched together on the third line, an energy role as it’s known in the league, but they’ve also been handed vital penalty-killing duties.
They even combined to score the only goal in a 2-1 shootout victory Saturday night against the New York Rangers in Stockholm.
Gordon started the scoring play by carrying the puck into the offensive zone, then sending a brisk pass over to Smith-Pelly to his right. The puck caromed off his stick and went into the corner, where Smith-Pelly laid a check on a Rangers defender while Gordon scooped in the loose puck and sent a perfect centering pass to Cogliano charging down the slot. Cogliano did the rest, putting it past goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist for a 1-0 lead midway through the opening period.
“That’s just the type of goal that our line has to try and create,” Smith-Pelly said Monday afternoon.
Smith-Pelly turned 19 in June. Gordon is 25 but still considered a rookie. Cogliano is 24 but has the most NHL experience of the trio, having played in 328 games heading into this season. A former first-round draft pick of the Oilers, Cogliano never lived up to expectations in Edmonton and was traded to the Ducks over the summer for a second-round pick in 2013.
Coming into Saturday’s game, Gordon had one goal and an assist in 13 games in the NHL. Washington didn’t sign him after last season and he was picked up by the Ducks on a two-year deal. Signing a multi-year contract was the first victory for Gordon, making the opening-day roster was the second.
“When you don’t make the opening-night roster, you’re a replacement player,” he said. “Someone gets hurt, you come up, you play great, but when that person comes back it’s still his job. He has to play his way out of it. I wanted to come in this year and try to play my way into that job, and let them know I can cover the role here.”
That began with a solid preseason in which Gordon scored a team-high three goals.
“You get a couple bounces, as I did in the preseason, and suddenly you’re tough to let go,” he said.
Smith-Pelly might be tougher to keep around, but he’s making that decision more difficult by the day. Since he’s too young to be sent to the AHL, Smith-Pelly would need to be released to his junior team in Mississauga, Canada, before he appears in his 10th NHL game.
Once he’s returned to his junior team he can’t be recalled by the Ducks until his season is over in late spring. If he stays with Anaheim beyond a ninth game, the Ducks would be on the hook for the first full year of his NHL contract, regardless if he stays the entire season.
Smith-Pelly brings a physical, hard-nosed style of play, a perfect fit for the third line.
“That’s what I’ve got to be able to do to stay on this team,” he said. “Go in there, get deep, just use my body if I want to be on this team beyond the nine-game mark.”
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle has already handed the third line some valuable minutes on the penalty kill.
“We’re trying to have more energy and create more balance through our lineup so that we don’t have to rely as much on our top-six grouping,” Carlyle said. “In order for some of these younger players to get minutes and earn minutes, we felt that penalty killing was their strengths.”
Gordon, Smith-Pelly and Cogliano are happy to get the opportunity to play such important minutes on special teams, but they realize nothing gets the attention of management more than producing goals.
“When you hit the score sheet, when your line contributes, especially in a game like [Saturday’s], it feels good, it sort of solidifies our job,” Gordon said. “It’s sort of the great equalizer, as I like to say. You go and work hard and do some good things, but when you score that’s when you know you’re helping the team.”
The next stop for the third line is the home opener Friday against the San Jose Sharks. Smith-Pelly said he’s hoping to fly in his family from Toronto.
He’s hoping it’s the first trip of many.