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Kids rule, but Ducks and Kings struggle as NHL season gets underway

Kids rule, but Ducks and Kings struggle as NHL season gets underway
Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, right, celebrates a first-period goal against the Ottawa Senators with teammate William Nylander on Oct. 12. (Sean Kilpatrick / Associated Press)

What we learned during the first week of the 2016-17 NHL season:

Youth isn't being wasted on the young

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From No. 1 draft pick Auston Matthews' four-goal debut with Toronto to Edmonton's Connor McDavid leading the scoring race with three goals and six points after three games through Sunday's action, young players have grabbed the spotlight in the early going. NBCSN altered its schedule to broadcast Matthews' second game, on Saturday, hoping to capitalize on the American-born forward's spectacular start.

The past two drafts seem to have brought an unusually exciting infusion of speed and energy to the NHL, with the promise—dare we say it—of more goals being scored. Too bad that Buffalo forward Jack Eichel will be out a while because of a high ankle sprain.

99 is 100% in

After seven years' self-imposed exile from the NHL, Wayne Gretzky has jumped back in with both feet. Last week he was appointed vice chairman and partner of the Oilers Entertainment Group—though he said he has no financial investment in the team—and he agreed last month to be an ambassador for the NHL's centennial celebrations, which will begin Jan. 1.

He also has a book due out Tuesday, "99: Stories of the Game." Since he stepped down as coach of the Coyotes in 2009 he declined an employment offer from the Kings and likely from other clubs too. It's always a treat to have the Great One around..

Slow starts for Kings, Ducks

The Golden Era of hockey in Southern California, which brought the Stanley Cup to Anaheim in 2007 and to Los Angeles in 2012 and 2014, might be lumbering to an end. The two local teams are a combined 0-4-1 and have shown huge holes in their respective lineups.

The Kings figured to have trouble scoring even before winger Marian Gaborik broke his foot at the World Cup and they've scored only three goals in two games. Their lack of depth on defense and Matt Greene's struggles to keep up with the fast pace leave them ill-equipped to withstand losing goaltender Jonathan Quick long-term to an apparent groin injury and possible surgery.

The Ducks' defense has been disorganized and they've had little chemistry up front. Every bad result for them drives up the signing price for restricted free agent defenseman Hampus Lindholm, who is keenly missed on the power play and everywhere else.

Panic is never good, but Panik is

With the Cubs unexpectedly playing deep into October, the Blackhawks have been pushed into the background of the Chicago sports scene. But they're still worth watching: They won only one of their first three games but might have found a gem in Slovakian right wing Richard Panik, who has been given the difficult assignment of playing alongside Jonathan Toews on the top line.

Panik had a hat trick Saturday in a 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators, giving him four goals and five points in three games. Consistency has been a problem for Panik, whom Chicago acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in January, but he has a chance now to establish himself as a top-six forward.

Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen

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