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Top Shelf: Anaheim Getz what it needs

Ryan Getzlaf is on pace for 28 goals and 95 points this season. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Ryan Getzlaf is on pace for 28 goals and 95 points this season. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There’s a lot of gum flapping going on around the Ducks these days.

Falls from grace typically happen with Ferrari-like speed and it has been no exception in Anaheim, where a club we’ve grown accustomed to seeing beef up at the trade deadline is suddenly being spoken about in the context of “seller.”

Whether or not shuffling the Ducks means moving out veteran blueliners Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer, there’s a franchise cornerstone to build around up front in the form of 6-foot-4 center Ryan Getzlaf.

The NHL world got its first real introduction to Getzlaf during Anaheim’s run to the 2007 Stanley Cup. The prevailing notion at that time was Getzlaf, who turned 22 during the Ducks’ post-season drive, could be as good as he wanted to be.

Well, he apparently wants to be really, really good.

Getzlaf notched 24 goals and 82 points in 77 games last year, his third NHL campaign, and has used this season as a springboard to join the league’s truly elite players.

With 17 goals and 58 points through 49 games, Getzlaf trailed only Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in the scoring race. He has 22 points in his past 18 games and has been held pointless in just two contests over that stretch.

One of Anaheim’s senior citizens, 35-year-old Scott Niedermayer, said it has been a steady rise to prominence for Getzlaf.

“I think it’s been a constant improvement for him,” Niedermayer said. “He’s continued to work hard - I think that’s the most important thing - and he’s obviously got a lot of talent.

“He’s been put in a role this year where we’ve relied on him a lot for offensive output, with some injuries and what not to our team, and he’s given it to us. He’s really carried us at times and he’s a great player.”

Getzlaf’s progress may seem like a no-brainer, but success – even for big, talented men – isn’t always a given. Just ask Eric Staal.

The 6-foot-4 Carolina Hurricanes center looked ready to dominate the league after scoring 100 points as a sophomore in 2005-06 and leading the playoffs in scoring with 28 points in 25 games as the Canes claimed the Cup.

But the scoring titles and MVP-type seasons Staal seemed destined for have eluded him. He dropped to 70 points in the first post-Cup year before rebounding for a solid 82-point season last year.

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However, that forward motion has, well, stalled again, as the 24-year-old was on pace for just 58 points through 49 games.

Getzlaf, on the other hand, has yet to take a backward step and that’s why Anaheim should feel very good about the 23-year-old being a central figure on its team moving forward. The club should also be very excited about the fact he’s locked up at a reasonable rate of $5.325 million per season through 2012-13.

Niedermayer, who’s been on his fair share of quality teams, believes the Ducks will be in good hands long after he’s using his for something other than making deft passes.

“He’s a great player and he obviously has been through quite a bit in his first few years,” said Niedermayer of Getzlaf’s experience. “I think having a player like him and Corey Perry alongside him; up front those are two good guys to have.”

Already having that Cup ring on his resume is surely something in Getzlaf’s favor, but success early in a career can also create a sense of entitlement. When you win a championship within a few years of entering the league, it’s easy to forget parades are precious, not a privilege.

Niedermayer, who was also 22 when he won his first title with the Devils, knows reaching the top of the mountain ahead of schedule can play on the mind of a young player.

“You don’t really realize exactly how hard it is to do,” said Niedermayer of winning Cups. “As I went through my career and was able to do it later on, you do realize that it doesn’t just happen every two years once you hop in the league.

“But as your career goes, you understand that it takes hard work and a lot of sacrifice to get there and the challenge is to do it again.”

For Getzlaf, his test will be to do it again in the role of go-to guy.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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