ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Six years ago, the three hoisted the Stanley Cup together and the NHL's next great line was set to cause nightmares across the league.
Corey Perry could get under your skin on one shift and then put the puck past you on the next one. Dustin Penner was an immovable object and couldn't be dislodged from the puck. Ryan Getzlaf was happy to set up either or take over the game himself as needed.
Three power forwards that would make a general manager drool over each and the Ducks had all three on one line. All of them big, strong and possessing hands as soft as that of a newborn.
And then Penner left. And then Penner ... came back.
"I think every hockey player thinks his career is going to last long and I was planning on mine lasting longer and somehow working my way back around to getting here again," Penner said. 'I'm pretty excited to be back to see a lot of the same faces."
Penner is back wearing black, gold and orange with his old No. 17 and has the chance in the 2013-14 season, which begins Wednesday night at Colorado, to skate again alongside Getzlaf and Perry -- as long as he earns it and as long as his play warrants maintaining that choice spot.
The Ducks placed a $2 million bet on the big winger, who had one goal in the preseason. And there's risk attached to it, most notably when it is about a goal scorer that had all of two in the shortened 2012-13 season and nine over his last 98 regular-season games.
Why would a team possibly want to invest in an inconsistent player on a downward slide? To recapture what once was, of course.
"I talked to Getzy even before the start of last year before the lockout," Penner said. "I guess we didn't know if we were going to lock out for sure back then. But I've known he's wanted me to come back here.
"We've obviously had success together, me, him and Perry. There were a few other teams in the mix. When Getz called me and we talked about it, it seemed like it'd be the right fit. Especially with how well the team played last year and the direction they're heading."
The Ducks made a few changes in light of their first-round playoff dismissal by Detroit, the biggest being Bobby Ryan being sent to Ottawa for a package rooted in potential. As talented as Ryan is, his game didn't always mesh with that of Getzlaf and Perry.
It meant that the two often had a revolving door of linemates on their left side. And Getzlaf got involved to change that, enlisting General Manager Bob Murray and Coach Bruce Boudreau.
"My opinion goes about as far as this room here," Getzlaf deadpanned. "We talked a lot. Me and Murph talked a lot about it and I talked to Bruce a little bit. One mindset that we came out of our meetings at the end was we were hoping to find a winger that could stay with us consistently and develop that chemistry.
"Obviously, Dustin being one of my good friends, I felt like the last time he was here, he was energetic. He was excited to be here every day and loved playing with us. I'm hoping that was kind of our mindset in going out and getting him."
A lot has happened in those six years.
Penner signed that infamous five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet to join the Edmonton Oilers, a handsomely paid mistake the winger now intimates when he says he didn't want to leave Anaheim. Numbers were put up in Edmonton but not the kind of domination the Oilers imagined.
His two-plus seasons in Los Angeles with the Kings showed the two sides of Penner -- the player that often took up space in Coach Darryl Sutter's doghouse and the player that put his playoff face on and contributed mightily to ending their 45-year Cup drought.
Along the way, there was an injury resulting from eating pancakes, a failed marriage and his share of Twitter-fueled musings and rants. Berated and beloved, Penner has been the butt of jokes but is often able to laugh at himself and others.
The snarky cut-up whose neck you want to wring but also can't stay mad at.
"It's one of those things that I think Pens went through a lot of scenarios in a short period of time," Getzlaf said. "When he left here, things weren't ... it wasn't necessarily the best decision for him but it was something he had to do. And we understood that.
"I think over the last six years or whatever, a lot's changed. Penner's grown up a lot. We're excited to have him here."
Boudreau is the latest coach to see if he can get the most out of the power forward. It was only training camp but he once called Penner's play "mediocre", to which Penner chuckled and said he was giving him too much credit. Another attempt to motivate him has been dropping him off the top line to the fourth in recent practices.
The "medicore" comment plainly suggests there's a challenge ahead. But the coach also respects Penner's contribution to the Kings and called him a player who "knows how to win." There will be no pre-judging him.
"I make up my own mind," Boudreau said. "I don't want to come in jaded. If somebody doesn't like him, don't let them try to twist your thoughts ...
"Obviously the people that know him, our management team and some of the players, you take input. But for the most part, I've been trying to handle him the way I would handle other players. See if it works or if it doesn't work."
Perry said they can prod Penner if and when it is required.
"Maybe he's a guy that if Getzy or I say something, maybe he does get going if he's in a downspurt," he said.
Getzlaf was blunt. Penner is a buddy, for sure, but also a player that has to motivate himself.
"We're not here to babysit him," the Ducks' captain said. "He doesn't need a babysitter. He's 31 years old. He knows he's got to show up to play."
There is a legion of doubters, but Penner said he is only out to prove himself to his peers and Ducks management, not those who criticize him. Especially the Twitter heroes he mocks who "hide behind the egg avatar and the fake name."
The one-time junior college player and undrafted free agent is eager to show he is still worth betting on.
"I think there have been cases of that across every sport," he said. "People that have been on a downward trend and they have to dig themselves out. For most of my life, it's been that way."
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