Josh Manson Could Make Veteran Defensemen Expendable for Anaheim Ducks


Josh Manson is not one of the three stud blue-line anchors that the Anaheim Ducks put on display night after night. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen, who are each under 25 years of age, each bring different elements to the Ducks, and all three have been impact players for Anaheim. Vatanen is tied for the lead among NHL defensemen with four power-play goals (with Dallas Stars defenseman Trevor Daley) and tied for first among defensemen with ten power-play points (with St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and Arizona Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle). Lindholm is tied for 5th in the NHL among defensemen in +/- at +9, while playing the second most minutes per game for the team (behind Francois Beauchemin, who has missed the previous five games with the mumps). Fowler is tied for 21st among NHL defensemen with ten points and has quickly become one of the best players on the back-end for the Ducks.

It is very evident that the Ducks have very skilled, smooth defensemen who are capable of putting up points and initiating offense. In today’s NHL, teams value puck possession, skill, and the ability to both handle and move the puck from the blue-line. However, teams also need to balance skill on the blue-line with physical, defense-first players. With injuries to veterans Beauchemin, Ben Lovejoy, and Mark Fistric, that was an area the Ducks needed to address. This is an area where Manson has played well in, showcasing how he fits onto this team.

Three months ago, very few Ducks fans would have even known who Josh Manson was. However, after playing in seven NHL games, fans are becoming more impressed with him. Manson was a sixth round selection in 2011 out of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Following his draft selection, Manson chose to take the college route and play at Northeastern University. He played with the Huskies for three seasons, converting from forward to defense when he began. Manson captained the team his junior year before forgoing his last year of eligibility to become a professional. Following the end of the Huskies 2013-2014 season, Manson signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Ducks and reported to the Norfolk Admirals. He played in nine regular season games, scoring one goal with a +1 rating. He played an additional ten playoffs games, scoring another goal with a -4 rating.

The transition from college hockey to the AHL is a sizable gap, so with the Ducks seemingly set on the blue-line to start the 2014-2015 season, there was no reason to rush Manson along. He had a great showing in training camp and solid showing in the preseason, but the team could give him time to mature his game while playing in an everyday role with the Norfolk Admirals. However, the Ducks suffered numerous blue-line injuries, and when Bryan Allen, Fistric, Lovejoy, and Beauchemin all were placed on Injured Reserve, Manson was the Ducks’ initial choice among their blue-line prospect group.

Manson made his NHL debut on Halloween in Dallas, registering one hit and 12:30 of ice time. In all, it was a solid debut: there was nothing flashy, but no terrible mistakes. It was a good showing for the rookie to get acclimated to the NHL, especially since the Stars are a team with incredible team speed and a nastiness that appears against the Ducks ever since their playoff series last April. Outside of November 7th against the Arizona Coyotes, Manson has gone on to play in every one of the Ducks games since his debut. Manson scored his first career point last night against Florida (an assist on a third period Andrew Cogliano goal) and has earned more playing time. He seems to improve with each shift and each game, a welcome sight for a team that needs production from its young blue-liners.

Manson’s best game thus far was against the Los Angeles Kings this past Wednesday. Although Manson finished with a -1 rating on the night, he had two takeaways, five shots on goal, and made smart, quick plays to keep pucks in the offensive zone and get pucks out of his own zone.  Manson played a career high 21:14 of ice time, including 1:02 on the penalty kill that night. Those minutes were more than what Clayton Stoner and Allen played. That clash with the Kings was a big game, perhaps the biggest regular season contest thus far for the Ducks. It was the first meeting between the two clubs since the Game 7 loss last season, yet Bruce Boudreau had faith in a defenseman that only had four NHL games to play those heavy minutes, especially on the penalty kill and in overtime. The Ducks have reaped the benefits of that trust: Manson is currently excelling with the Ducks. The Ducks, when fully healthy, will have nine defensemen on their roster, but it is not impossible for the Ducks to possibly move one of their current veterans to give Manson a spot.

The Ducks, when healthy, will dress Fowler, Lovejoy, Beauchemin, Lindholm and Vatanen each night. That sixth spot is up in the air, and the Ducks have their share of options. Stoner was signed to a four year contract that pays him $3.25 million per season and $13 million overall. He has played better than many anticipated he would, and he is versatile enough to play both the left and right side, so putting him on the bench for Manson doesn’t make the most sense. This leaves the seventh defensive spot up for grabs between Manson, Fistric, and Allen. Although Manson has played well enough to stay with the Ducks, the logjam on the blue-line could force him back to the AHL when everyone is healthy, similar to how Vatanen was the odd-man out of the eight-man group last season. For a young player, playing everyday and growing is more important than having an NHL roster spot. However, Manson’s play through the first few games may allow the Ducks to move a defenseman for draft picks or another prospect.

Allen is aging and will hit unrestricted free agency after this season. The Ducks have no real reason to offer Allen another contract, but they could get some value for him by trading him to a team in need of veteran defensive help. His cap hit of $3.5 million may force the Ducks to absorb some salary, but getting a draft pick is better than nothing (especially considering how Anaheim builds through the draft and its own pipeline), and it will give the Ducks more cap room to possibly bolster the team at the trade deadline. Should the Ducks feel Allen doesn’t bring a great return, the Ducks could also deal Fistric. He signed a three year, $3.8 million extension that started this season. His contract is both friendlier in dollars and has term, making him slightly easier to deal. Again, the expected return shouldn’t be much, but the Ducks can make a move to free up a roster spot for Manson.

If Manson continues his strong play and gets more confidence playing in the NHL, the Ducks will have found another young talent for their blue-line, the biggest perceived weakness on this team. Manson isn’t flashy and won’t score many goals at the NHL level, but he’s a player with a nice shot. His decision making has both improved and gotten faster as he has seen more ice time, and he has improved his defensive play while learning to not always watch the puck. Manson is a physical player who is not afraid to give or take checks. He can clear the front of the net with his strength and continue to improve as he gets more consistent playing time. The Ducks have multiple pending unrestricted free agents on the blue-line (Beauchemin, Allen, and Sheldon Souray, who is on Long-Term Injured-Reserve), so even if Manson’s time is not now, he will most likely have a regular lineup spot in the foreseeable future. In today’s NHL, teams need defensemen who can skate with the puck and create chances, both on the rush and with great puck-moving skills. However, teams also need stay-at-home, physical defenseman who can make life difficult for opposing forwards in the dirty areas and in the offensive zone. Manson is of the latter type, and the Ducks may have another cog in their future with him.