Down on the farm, some Ducklings are hatching.

The Syracuse Crunch can loosely be broken down into two
groups of players: Those who are still developing, and those you might see in
Anaheim this season.

Nick Bonino and Kyle Palmieri cut to the front of the
promotion line with strong performances last week. By Wednesday they were in
Ducks uniforms, playing against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That might have been ahead of the curve for both, who are
just beginning their first full season in professional hockey. Even though
Ducks fans have been hearing about Bonino and Palmieri for more than a year, if
anything they have been fast-tracked to the NHL.

“In baseball, most of the top prospects get put into
Single-A and work their way up,” said David McNab, the Ducks’ senior vice
president of hockey operations. “It doesn’t appear that they draft a player and
immediately stick them in Triple A. that’s what the American League is:
Triple-A baseball. It’s a tough league. There’s a lot of veteran hockey players
in the American Hockey League who are great players. It takes time.”

Yet Bonino and Palmieri were up to the task, each leading
the league in rookie scoring with nine points at the time of their recall.
Bonino, a center, had two goals and seven assists in eight games; Palmieri, a
right wing, had seven goals and two assists in nine games when he got the call.

They were playing on an all-rookie line with left wing
Nicolas Deschamps, a second-round draft pick by Anaheim in 2008, who has four
goals, three assists, and a plus-5 rating in nine games.

“That’s been a dynamic combination,” McNab said. “Deschamps
has been an offensive guy his whole life. Put three rookies together … (ages)
20, 22 and 19, they’ve walked in and faced the other team’s best checkers, and
they’re doing a lot of good things.”

The Ducks certainly could use the scoring help, but they
could also use help improving a defense that has allowed an NHL-worst 38.4
shots against per game, and ranks 25th in the league in goals-against average

Only three Crunch defensemen – Luca Sbisa, Brett Festerling
and Joe DiPenta – have NHL experience.

Sbisa was projected by many to start the season in Anaheim
but was demoted after two rather unproductive games. In five games for the
Crunch, Sbisa has two goals, six assists and a plus-2 rating. Both of his goals
have come on the power play, and his eight points make him the new team scoring
leader with Bonino and Palmieri in Anaheim.

“He’s been great,” McNab said of Sbisa. “He’s gone down,
played competently. He’s got lots of points. I have not seen him in the
American League playing, but Bob (Murray) has seen him. Everyone that’s seen
him play says he’s playing really well.”

So why does the 20-year-old’s failure to land a job in
Anaheim seem like a disappointment?

“(Sbisa) is a very unique player because he played in the
NHL at 18,” McNab said. “I almost think people forget how young he is. In most
circumstances, he would be a rookie in pro hockey. The fact that he jumped into
Philadelphia (in 2008-09) at 18 and made the NHL, that is very difficult. In
most situations, a 20-year-old player is in his first year of pro hockey.
Because last year he played just a few games, this is still only his second
year of pro hockey, and his first year wasn’t a full year. He’s had an
interesting career and sometimes people forget he’s a very young player and
it’s difficult to adapt.”

Festerling hasn’t shown much of a knack for offense at the
NHL level – he has no goals and eight assists in 83 career games, all with the
Ducks. But he’s found the scoreboard in a short time in Syracuse, with four
assists in eight games. Then there’s DiPenta, the Ducks’ sixth defenseman
during their Stanley Cup-winning 2006-07 campaign, who returned to the
organization after a season with the AHL’s Portland Pirates, a Buffalo Sabres
affiliate. He has a goal and an assist, along with a plus-1 rating and 13
penalty minutes, in nine games.

Danny Syvret started the season in Syracuse before getting
the call to Anaheim, where he’s been a third-pairing defenseman (and occasional
power-play point man) in six NHL games. Syvret has a goal and an assist and a
minus-3 rating for the Ducks.

McNab also cited Mat Clark, a second-round pick in 2009, as
a player who could possibly make the leap to Anaheim in a pinch.

For now, 22-year-old San Jacinto native Jake Newton falls
more in the “developing” category. In nine games, the defenseman has no points
and a minus-4 rating.

“He’s really a sophomore in college,” McNab said of Newton,
who signed with the Ducks after his freshman year at Northeastern University.
“He’s been very good. What you want is a guy to go down and develop. You always
sort of figure, you want them by Christmastime – how’s Jake Newton going to be
at Christmas? In March? – you want a player to get better. He’s improving.
He’ll have his ups and downs, as all rookies in pro hockey can.

“There’s a major adjustment period to playing against that
caliber of forwards that (Newton) is playing against. You don’t worry too much
about points right now. Jake has played well.”

Palmieri had an immediate impact in his first NHL game,
scoring the game-tying goal in an eventual 3-2 overtime win for the Ducks on

Can other prospects be expected to step in long-term if the
Ducks’ veterans continue to falter?

“No idea,” McNab said. “We’ll see how they do. You have to
let them play and see how they develop as players. You don’t force anybody. …
Each player is adjusts at his own pace and there’s some really good rookies who
have played two, three, zero games in the minors. Everybody’s different.”

Excluding Bonino and Palmieri, there are still 11 rookies on
the Crunch’s active roster. Nine of them are Ducks property, which speaks well
of the organization’s recent ability to draft (or sign) and develop.

How long each of those players takes to develop into
NHL-caliber talent is another matter.

“When a player’s in the NHL and he’s a rookie, a lot of
people think they’re all the same, but some have played 200 pro hockey games,
some have played zero,” McNab said. “There’s a difference. You don’t want to
rush them into situations. You want them to be ready to come and when they’re
ready, they have confidence. The expectation factor can sometimes be unfair for
a young player. you just have to let them learn, develop and get better.”


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