How Do The Anaheim Ducks Fix Their Shortage of Right Handed Defensemen?

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 07: Anaheim Ducks Defenceman Josh Manson (42) prepares for a face-off during second period National Hockey League action between the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators on February 7, 2019, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 07: Anaheim Ducks Defenceman Josh Manson (42) prepares for a face-off during second period National Hockey League action between the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators on February 7, 2019, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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Anaheim Ducks
ANAHEIM, CA – MARCH 17: Jacob Larsson #32 of the Anaheim Ducks controls the puck with pressure from Jamie McGinn #88 of the Florida Panthers during the game on March 17, 2019, at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Anaheim Ducks are not a Playoff Team

Conversely, if the Ducks are not considering themselves as a true playoff team, or rather if they think they’re rebuilding and merely hope to make the playoffs as a bonus, then spending tradeable assets to acquire a defenceman may not make as much sense.

The Anaheim Ducks already have some youthful defensive prospects coming into the team, and actively traded for one (Brendan Guhle) last year prior to the deadline. While not right-shooting, it makes an abundant amount of sense to play these prospects and help to grow them. While young enough now, Fowler and Manson won’t be around forever. Even should they be formidable rocks for 5 seasons more, developing their own youth will provide the Ducks with valuable trade assets should they find premier acquisitions available about the league.

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With restricted free agents pushing for greater deals, it seems likely that teams will be more inclined to trade them now than in the past. This season we see a gulf between players such as Patrick Laine and the Jets. While a meaningful game has yet to be played, if the Anaheim Ducks had the ability to step in and help the Jets replace the recently lost Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers or Dustin Byfuglien, it seems likely that they may be able to leverage one of the hottest young goal scorers in the game away from the Jets.

Thus, I would argue that consistent game time for Brendan Guhle, Jacob Larsson, and to a lesser extent Josh Mahura, is the most valuable use of this season for a rebuilding team. While playing these players on their off-sides will certainly mitigate their ability to dish the puck, it would also provide benefits to them. All of these players have, at one time or another, struggled with the defensive aspects of NHL hockey, which should be taken with no disrespect to them. However, playing on their off-wing will allow them the disrupt passes with their stick on the forehand rather than backhand.

Should they become skilled enough, then provide one-touch passes to an outlet player by redirecting an oppositions shot/pass to the far side wall and towards their defensive partner; a partner who would be on their correct wing, and who would be able to direct more accurate passes to one of the high forwards which by this stage would be exiting the defensive zone.

While limiting their ability to see open ice and pass the puck, coming in as the late defenceman on their off-wing, would provide an opportunity for them to cut across the seam in the offensive zone. Consider the following scenario:

Larsson disrupts an opposition play from the right side and moves the puck to the far side wall, where it is picked up by Fowler. He either skates the puck up out of the defensive zone or passes up to a floating forward who accelerates down this wing until they reach the offensive zone. In the offensive, they are likely to move the puck towards the middle of the ice, or the opposite wing. In this scenario, the defensive unit of the other team is likely to move with the puck and/or the Ducks players who are tracking from left to right.

This provides an opportunity for Larsson to move in late and cut against the flow of play and behind the Anaheim Ducks players. This type of movement will help to freeze the opposition’s defense and give Larsson space to shoot the puck without defensive pressure. In this instance Fowler takes the defensive duties for a moment, covering in case of turnovers. Once the shot is taken, Larsson then backs off to resume defensive duties, and assuming the Ducks regain possession, Fowler re-enters the play once again as a pivot point of a puck movement offense.

While using Larsson in the example, the idea works as soundly for the other prospects. It should ease their ability to perform their defensive duties and allow them some growth on the offensive end. Shooting is a skill, and a good one-timer is a rare commodity in the NHL. A homegrown talent who can hammer the puck and remain defensive sound is a low-cost asset all teams want on their list.

The Ducks drafted or traded for these players for a reason, thus developing them should be a priority. In a year the Anaheim Ducks aren’t expecting to truly make noise in the postseason, they should be comfortable with the growing pains associated with defensive prospects learning their art. As Paul Mara once mentored Cam Fowler, it may be time for Cam Fowler to mentor the younger generation.

To conclude, it would appear the Anaheim Ducks are in a situation of their own making, with a shortage of right-shooting defensive players on the roster and in the system. If they have designs upon winning a cup, then there is certainly a place for a smooth skating right shot to make their own on either the Fowler pairing or the third pairing. However, it would be my personal suggestion that the Ducks hold off on making any hasty decisions, and take the time to see what they have already. Anaheim may not necessarily be a desired destination for a lot of the hockey world, as evidence by a lack of high profile free agents signing in town and that they are on certain player’s no-trade lists.

It certainly isn’t the destination that New York is… Well, the New York Rangers at least. However, the Rangers accelerated rebuild presents a case study the Ducks would do well to follow. They developed their own (Neal Pionk) and sent that player to Winnipeg for a disgruntled star player (Trouba). They drafted well. They seduced a high profile college free agent. With all of that happening and creating buzz, they then lured a player who is perhaps the best in his position in the league to them in free agency.

Remember, not so long ago the Rangers released a letter to fans suggesting they buckle up and get ready for some rough times as they commence a long and potentially slow rebuild. Suddenly that same long-term, multi-year rebuild appears to be already all but over once the young players get games under their belt. Perhaps if the Anaheim Ducks can develop Larsson, Guhle, and Mahura, then they too can start the cascade effect that would accelerate a rebuild, and stock the team with elite talent for many years more.

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