Teens seizing spotlight as Ducks visit Coyotes

The teenage talent on the Anaheim Ducks and Arizona Coyotes will take center stage when they meet on Saturday afternoon in Tempe, Ariz.

The Ducks could have as many as three teenagers in their lineup while the Coyotes will have another.

Leo Carlsson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft who will turn 19 the day after Christmas, scored in his first NHL game on Thursday night, a 3-2 loss to the visiting Dallas Stars.

“Leo got better as the game went on,” Ducks coach Greg Cronin said. “I thought the first period he was a bit measured, the second he was too measured, so we goosed him a bit after the second. I thought every shift in the third period he was very visible.”

Carlsson, who centered the top line, was joined in the lineup by 19-year-old defensemen Pavel Mintyukov and Tristan Luneau.

Logan Cooley will be the youngest player for Arizona in its home debut, but the 19-year-old center already has shown his worth. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft has four assists in his first four NHL games.

Cooley had an assist in a 6-2 win at the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, which helped the Coyotes finish their season-opening road trip with a 2-2-0 mark.

“It’s a big step for us,” Arizona goalie Connor Ingram said. “We’re working to change the culture around here and become a winning culture. We’re in games and we’re competitive, and that’s huge for us.”

The Coyotes played the Ducks three times during the preseason and got better each time. After losing the first meeting 5-4, Arizona won the next two 4-2 and 7-1.

Cronin said the Coyotes’ speed through the neutral zone caught him by surprise.

“It made me think about ways to get our defensemen more comfortable with that type of speed,” he said. “That’s an area we’ve got to get our D confident with.”

Mintyukov, the 10th overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, already has a goal and an assist in his first three NHL games.

Luneau, a second-round pick (53rd overall) in 2022, made his NHL debut on Thursday night.

“Tristan was terrific,” Cronin said. “He’s a very confident guy with the puck and the challenge for him is to balance out his play in 1-on-1 possessions. He tries to beat guys sometimes instead of moving it and moving without the puck.”

Anaheim’s defensive corps, which includes a third rookie, Jackson LaCombe, will not only have its hands full against Cooley, but also Arizona’s top line of Clayton Keller, Barrett Hayton and Nick Schmaltz.

Keller and Schmaltz each had a goal and an assist in the win against St. Louis.

“They work extremely hard,” Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny said of his top line.

Stars coach Pete DeBoer gave a similar assessment of the Ducks on Thursday, especially through the first half of the first period, when the Ducks outshot Dallas 13-1.

“You have to give them credit, they were ready to play,” DeBoer said. “The scouting report on them is they’re playing really hard and they’re putting a lot of pressure on, and they did exactly that in the first period.”