Beauchemin gets on track just in time for Ducks


Once on the verge of playoff oblivion, the Ducks revived their postseason hopes by infusing new blood into their lineup.

Defenseman James Wisniewski brought grit, a knack for shot blocking and unshakable will. Forwards Petteri Nokelainen and Erik Christensen have had their moments. Ryan Whitney, though dubious defensively, can get the puck out of the zone quickly.

Then there’s the defenseman who excelled during a punishing practice Tuesday, relishing each hit and making smart plays while paired with Bret Hedican.


“Where’d he come from? He’s a good player out there,” Hedican said. “He’s making me look good.”

The “new” guy was an old guy: Francois Beauchemin, whose imminent return from major knee surgery couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Ducks, clinging to seventh in the West, haven’t been the same since Beauchemin tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Nov. 14. They missed his physicality and power-play presence and were staggered by the ripple effect his absence caused.

Without Beauchemin, every defenseman below him on the depth chart had to step up a level. None made the leap with much success. Scott Niedermayer overextended himself nobly trying to do the job of three players but only dragged himself down with the team.

Beauchemin has been skating for a few weeks but he endured his toughest test Tuesday, a high-tempo, two-hour session that included battling down low and killing penalties. Afterward, Coach Randy Carlyle upgraded Beauchemin’s status to possible for the Ducks’ last two regular-season games, Friday at home against Dallas and Saturday at Phoenix.

“I felt really good today, actually,” Beauchemin said. “Hopefully it’s going to be the same the next couple of days.”

Hedican, who has missed 18 games because of back spasms, also moved closer to returning. His strongest asset is a resume that includes three trips to the Stanley Cup Finals. He lost with Vancouver in 1994 and Carolina in 2002 but won with Carolina in 2006.

“You can add a guy like Beauchemin back in there and hopefully myself, and any time you can get guys with experience out there, especially in big games and in playoffs, it helps,” Hedican said.

Beauchemin’s versatility gives him the potential to make a bigger impact. He’d probably replace Brendan Mikkelson, who has struggled under the intensity of the playoff scramble.

“Everybody knows what he’s done for our team here the last three years,” said Niedermayer, Beauchemin’s defense partner. “It would be a challenge coming back after such a long layoff but we’d be glad to have him back.”

Returning for only two games isn’t ideal but it’s better than leaping into the fury of the playoffs completely cold.

Chris Pronger, who called Beauchemin’s return “like making a trade-deadline deal and getting a guy back,” remembered benefiting from playing the last five games in 2002-03 after recovering from knee and wrist surgery.

“Just getting those games in before getting thrown in the mix for the playoffs was crucial in getting your timing, getting your feet wet and underneath you,” Pronger said.

Beauchemin can become an unrestricted free agent July 1 but said he isn’t rushing to return to showcase himself for a big payday. He toiled steadily to rehab his knee and get back to being the strong physical presence he was during the Ducks’ 2007 Cup run, when the rest of the NHL discovered the extent of his skills.

If he returns this weekend, he knows he won’t immediately be in top form.

“But at least I would have the feeling of the regular season, how my knee would react, and I would have an idea of what it would feel like after that,” he said. “So hopefully everything goes well this week and I can get a game or two.”

A game or two would be better than none, which is where the Ducks’ playoff chances stood before these new guys arrived.