Pacific: Voynov top rookie in veteran-heavy division

By Andrew Knoll

Photo: Los Angeles Kings rookie defenseman Slava Voynov displayed a good combination of skill and defensive ability in his freshman season (courtesy of

Ric Tapia/Icon SMI)

While the Pacific Division remains replete with veteran talent and playoff contenders, only a handful of Pacific rookies have impacted their clubs.

Players like Anaheim’s Devante Smith-Pelly and Los Angeles’ Dwight King have bolstered their teams’ size and energy levels. San Jose backup goalie Thomas Greiss, and defenseman Andrew Desjardins as well as Dallas Stars defenseman Philip Larsen have contributed regularly in their roles. Fourth-liners like the Kings’ Jordan Nolan and Dallas’s Tomas Vincour have also given a glimpse of a promising future in limited minutes.

The three rookies who have made the strongest impression in the Pacific this season are:

Slava Voynov, D, Los Angeles – Voynov emerged as a promising player during the 2011 training camp when he impressed during a battle with several other young rearguards while No. 1 defenseman Drew Doughty held out in a contract dispute. Though Doughty signed an extension just before the regular season, it would not be two full weeks into the season before Voynov found himself as a fixture in the Kings lineup. Known as a skilled puck-mover, Voynov has delivered on that potential and proved a pleasant surprise defensively as well. Of late, he has prospered anew following a mid-season lull. Coach Darryl Sutter has praised Voynov’s attention to detail on the defensive side and rewarded him with regular power play time. Voynov plays a sound positional game, makes quick passes on the breakout and has patience as well as imagination in the offensive zone. A fluid player with sound instincts, Voynov has been the Pacific’s most outstanding rookie with 17 points and a +11 rating in 45 games.

Kyle Palmieri, RW, Anaheim –
Palmieri dealt with the uncertainty and frustration of four separate call-ups this season. As he has shown at the AHL level, he can thrive despite instability. In his latest call-up, he has done just that and appears destined to stick with the Ducks this time. In his last five games, he has five points, including three goals. He has invigorated each line he has played on, whether it was the top line in place of the injured Corey Perry or on the third line where he has skated with Nick Bonino and Bobby Ryan. Teammate Teemu Selanne has praised the speed, agility, shot and vision of Palmieri, describing him as a player with no identifiable weakness in his game.

Richard Bachman, G, Dallas –
Bachman has established himself as a reliable young backup netminder this season. During a December stretch in which Dallas lost top goalie Kari Lehtonen to injury, Bachman won five of his seven decisions, including his first three. Bachman also came up with huge wins against Chicago and Vancouver during the Stars’ recent ten-game point streak. He has quickly earned the trust of his coaches and the respect of his teammates, giving Dallas one of the more formidable goaltending tandems in the Western Conference this season. What Bachman may lack in size, he more than makes up for in agility, flexibility and confidence.

Pacific Division Notes

Phoenix captain Shane Doan was suspended three games for his elbow on Dallas’s Jamie Benn. The Coyotes have just eight games remaining on their schedule … Dallas signed 2007 fifth-round pick and Dallas native Austin Smith to a two-year, entry-level deal Wednesday. Smith, a Hobey Baker Award candidate, is the first Texan to sign with the franchise. He concluded his career at Colgate University by notching 36 goals in 39 games … Anaheim rolled four lines and three pairings liberally last night in a 4-3 comeback win over league-leading St. Louis.