The Youngest D
Recently, there has been much talk about the Ducks lack of top-4 defencemen, and right-handed ones at that. While I’ve discussed that in previous articles, it seems to me that the play of two of the Ducks young left-handed defencemen is rendering the argument moot. Jacob Larsson and Brendan Guhle have both scarcely put a skate wrong all preseason and are making a strong case for either (or both) to be included full time on the NHL roster.
Amongst Anaheim Ducks defencemen this preseason, both players rank in the top 5 for shooting metrics, with Larsson the best at preventing Corsi attempts. Similarly, both are in the top 3 for expected goals against, with Larsson again leading the charge. This is somewhat reversed for high-danger chances, with Guhle being the best of the skaters there, and Larsson being a close second. All this coming together to put Guhle on top of the defensive corp’s gamescore ratings (and second overall) with Larsson coming in 5th place amongst defencemen, and 13th overall.
Perhaps most importantly, they’ve both played with different players, which would allow coach Eakins to even out the minutes and solidify the defense. With Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson expected to be joined at the hip, only Cam Fowler is left as an experienced Top-4 option. Guhle was paired with him last season, and articles were written this preseason about Fowler continuing to mentor him. From what we’ve seen this preseason, that pairing is likely to continue.
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Guhle has played the majority of his games with Fowler and thus far has excelled. While the statistics show that he’s performed strongly, they, more importantly, illuminate what the casual fan has seen with the eye-test. On many occasions, we’ve seen Guhle put on a burst of speed and engage with the offense. On other occasions, we’ve seen him use his reach to break up plays. In the most recent preseason game, we saw him reach in and take away a certain goal, with Miller out of position. Certainly still a rookie and prone to the mistakes of youth, Guhle has at least cemented himself in the minds of fans and hopefully the coaching staff.
Larsson has spent the bulk of his minutes between Korbinian Holzer and Michael Del Zotto. Holzer and Del Zotto, of course, are most likely a 7th defensemen on most teams in the league, however, both will likely play a high number of games on the Ducks third pairing this season. Larsson, however, has shown that he deserves to be the one fixture and that the veterans are the ones who rotate in and out of the team around him. Both the Holzer and Del Zotto pairings have presented strongly, although in different aspects of the game. Larsson and Del Zotto, has been stifling defensively, while Larsson and Holzer have been surprisingly strong offensively.
Given that the Anaheim Ducks have actively drafted or traded for these two young players, it seems best to live through their growing pains and see how far they develop. While fans have cooled on the previously mentioned Faulk trade after seeing his long contract extension, the thought behind acquiring an additional top-4 defenceman is still about. While only preseason, Guhle and Larsson, should be putting that thought to bed. Young, talented, and exciting. They’ve been everything fans could hope for this preseason.
Game Score courtesy of hockeystatcards.com. All other statistical data courtesy of naturalstattrick.com
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