Only four defenseman are returning to the Ducks from the previous season. Two of the new faces are those likely to round out the top six. Having always been thin at defense, there are many players in Norfolk ready for the call-up.
SCOTT NIEDERMAYER IS BACK as an assistant coach. It may not be the same as having him in a jersey every game day but he's still with the organization. The legendary defenseman is now officially the (paid) Sensei to Cam Fowler (again), Luca Sbisa and when healthy, Hampus Lindholm. (I also have a theory he's on staff to mentor Ryan Getzlaf on the ways of the 'C'.)
After years of our many, many complaints about defense, the Ducks have not only planned for the future with Fowler Sbisa and Lindholm, they have stocked up the cupboard with a squad of vets having variable levels of success throughout their careers.
Since injuries are always a concern, especially for one newcomer on the d-corpse, Anaheim has a bunch of filler defenseman in Norfolk, ready to take to the ice in a moment's notice. Well, moment's notice plus a five-ish hour flight.
Without further ado, let's take a look at who is defending the blue line for this 48 game season. We have four returners from last season, a handful of familiar faces and a few new ones. (By the way, I don't totally understand the CORSI rating, so I'm even going to attempt to add it in.)
Francois Beauchemin - In the wake of Brian Burke's dismissal, there were many reflections on the success of his team. One of those mentioned how he transformed the Mighty Ducks roster into what would later become the Stanley Cup Champion Ducks. One of the moves made was to send aging former-superstar (when he was a Red Wing) center Sergei Federov to Columbus in exchange for center Tyler Wright and Francois Beauchemin. Frankie became an important member of the Ducks defense.
We will ignore how he left the team and came back to focus on last season. Beauch played in all 82 games, scoring 8G, 14A and was minus-14. He was mainly paired with Cam Fowler on what became the top line as the season advanced. He was arguably the more consistent of all the d-corpse. He was rewarded for his service with a three year contract extension mid-season.
Frankie can provide some offense, nothing very consistent. What he's more known for is his devastating legal hits, right Mike Fisher?
Cam Fowler - C4 Kid Dynamite had a good freshman season. His sophomore year wasn't as successful. Paired mainly with Beauchemin and occasionally Luca Sbisa, he played in all 82 games. Cam scored 4G, 24A and was a minus-28. He's a work in progress and is still in the Ducks plans for the future. Prior to the lockout, Cam signed a five-year contract extension. As the lockout progressed, Fowler made his way over to Sweden to play for Sodertalje. He scored 2G, 5A and was plus-8 in 13 games played. Hopefully, Cameron's time in Sweden gave him a confidence boost that translates over to the NHL.
After Cam moved out of the Niedermayers following his first year, I got the feeling he wasn't working with Scotty as much the second year. Now he has the fulltime access of the Norris trophy winner, the smooth skating 21 year old will improve.
Bruce Boudreau's system allows for the defensemen to get involved in the offensive zone. Like the Getzlaf of yore, Fowler is a playmaker more than he is a goal scorer. He gets the puck to those that can complete the job. He could be swapped for Sheldon Souray on the top power play unit, which might be a good thing. Having Cam on the second unit to feed Bobby Ryan should make that group stronger.
Toni Lydman - Lydman is in the final year of his three year deal. I highly doubt the Ducks will re-sign him and suspect he won't end the season in an Anaheim jersey. With the signing of Bryan Allen, another stay-at-home defenseman, Lydman is expendable. Boudreau likes to 'activate the defense'. If memory serves me correctly, the further Lydman is from the defensive zone, the more bad things happen. He's slow, which doesn't fit in with the front office's new mantra for team construction, 'bigger and faster'.
Another thing not in Toni's favor is the pairing. His regular partner on the blueline, Lubomir Visnovsky, is gone. The two had a waaay better than expected first full season together. The second year was a steep drop-off.
Luca Sbisa - Luca finally seemed to figure out the NHL game towards the middle of last season. He contributed a bit on offense with 5G, 19A and was a minus-5. Where he really excelled was the physicality. He figured out the right and wrong times to hit an opponent, instead of hitting anything that skated near him. I see Luca as a Beauchemin-esque player in development.
During the lockout, Sbisa headed back to his native Switzerland to play for Lugano. In 30 games, he had 5G, 7A and was a minus-1.
Bryan Allen - The first of two defensive additions made in the offseason. Signed to a three year deal, Allen comes to the Ducks from the Carolina Hurricanes. As mentioned in Toni Lydman's summary, Allen is a stay at home defenseman. In 82 games, he added only 1G, 13A and was minus-1. I don't know about faster, but he's definitely bigger at 6'5" and younger than Lydman. He also has more penalty minutes, 76 to Lydman's 46. I see him being paired with Sheldon Souray, forming the sequel to the Lyman/Visnovsky pairing.
Fun fact: Allen was selected in the first round of the 1998 NHL draft, fourth overall, by the Vancouver Canucks.
Sheldon Souray - Souray's offseason signing was one of the most surprising and argued about on AC. Some, like myself, felt three years and a $3.67M cap hit, was too much and too long for an over 35, oft-injured player. Souray joins the Ducks from the Dallas Stars. In his one year with the Stars, he played in only 62 games due to a broken foot. Known more as an offensive defenseman, he had 6G and 15A. Decent numbers. His best stat from last season is his plus/minus. He was plus-11 for Dallas. Souray is expected to take Lubo's place on the power play. He has an incredibly heavy one-timer.
I think of Souray as an experiment. The Ducks have the buy-out option in their backpocket should he bet a total bust or injured.
Hampus Lindholm - He was the surprise sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. After watching him at the rookie scrimmage, I began to see why he was picked up by the Ducks scouts. Smooth skater, good puck handler. I had a feeling the Ducks were going to try to turn him into Cam Fowler part deux when they talked him out of going back to play for his junior team in Sweden. Lindholm, only 18, was signed to an entry level deal and assigned to play in Norfolk prior to the lockout. He definitely has a learning curve. Catching up to the bigger, faster AHL players proved to be difficult but his pairing with vet Nate Guenin has helped close the gap.
The biggest concern with Lindholm is health. While in Norfolk, he missed a handful of games due to an undisclosed injury. Many surmised it was a concussion after he took a vicious hit in a game. Shortly after returning, Lindholm was released to play for the Swedish junior team at World Juniors. In a tuneup game, Lindholm took another hit and was out with a confirmed concussion. He has yet to re-join the Admirals. I'd be surprised to see his blonde locks at camp.
Nate Guenin - Captain of the Norfolk Admirals, Nate Guenin made a few appearances with the Ducks in 2011-12. In 15 games with Anaheim, he had two goals. That's it. This season in Norfolk, he's missed a few games due to injury. Playing in 28 games, Nate has scored 2G, 7A and is even.
I see him as an emergency fill-in, should Bryan Allen or (while he's still a Duck) Toni Lydman go down.
Jordan Hendry - Hendry was with the Houston Aeros for 10 games the previous season before heading to Switzerland to play for Luca Sbisa's lockout team, HC Lugano. He signed a one year deal in the off-season with the Ducks. His likelyhood of making the team out of camp may be slightly higher due to the absence of Lindholm and Vatanen. I saw Hendry as another bit of insurance should one of the top six fall.
Sami Vatanen - Sami is one of the players I can't wait to see. And I will have to wait longer to see him after he sustained a lower body injury versus the Charlotte Checkers the previous weekend. He has a booooming shot, much like Mr. Souray and just kills it on the point. Having played 32 games, missing some bouts due to injury, Vatanen has 4G, 16A and is even. The knock against Sami is that he's the smallest of the Ducks defense at 5'10" and has shown to be slightly injury prone. He's fast and powerful. I like him.