Turning our attention to the Ducks defense, we have a handful of surprises from this season both good and bad, much like the defense has been night to night. Some nights the blue line has been amazing (i.e. last night's win over Vancouver) but some nights it's been more porous than a particularly bubbly loaf of Swiss Cheese.
Nonetheless there have been some remarkably encouraging storylines coming from the defense this year, including some surprise young hotshots, some better-than-expected acquisitions, and likewise some poor years from veteran presences.
But without further ado, I present to you the nominees for Best Defenseman of the Year:
The lone United States representative at the Sochi Olympics from the Anaheim Ducks, Cam Fowler has had a year that we in Anaheim have been hoping for for so long. Being thrown into the NHL headlong at the age of 18, Fowler has taken quite a while to develop (as his career plus-minus indicates). For the first time this season, Fowler will finish the regular season with a positive plus-minus, as he currently sits on a plus-15.
His 5v5 Corsi-for has improved dramatically as well, up to a 49.4% against the highest quality of competition amongst defensemen on the Anaheim roster.
Fowler has quarterbacked the power play this season, often times being the only defenseman on the ice when Getzlaf took over the opposite point. He has also appeared on the penalty kill for much of the year, and is third on the team with 118 blocked shots.
While there is still room for improvement in his game, Fowler has finally started to prove that Anaheim's investment of time in his development has not been for nothing, as Fowler has shown promise of becoming the elite defenseman of the future.
Hampus Lindholm spent most of last season injured while playing with the Norfolk Admirals, appearing in only 44 games.
Injuries to Luca Sbisa and Sheldon Souray coming out of training camp gave him the opportunity to crack the Anaheim Ducks lineup on opening night. Hampus Lindholm grabbed that opportunity by the horns and has refused to let go.
Playing alongside veteran presence Francois Beauchemin on the blue line, Lindholm has quickly become one of the most dynamic rookie defensemen in the entire league this season, leading all first-year players with a +27 rating. That same rating is good enough for 15th in the league amongst all players. The buzz has even caught the attention of national media, prompting Pierre Lebrun to even give Lindholm some love for the Calder Trophy.
With Souray officially being out for the entire season, Lindholm has never been under threat of being sent back to Norfolk, and some nights the young Swede has even been the best player on the Anaheim blue line.
With his smooth-skating style, brilliant positioning, and excellent hockey sense, it wouldn't surprise me if Lindholm once again returned to Anaheim full-time next season, this time with a lower jersey number.
Young Sami Vatanen has endeared himself to the Anaheim faithful with the moniker "The Vatman." While he has only spent about half of the season up with the Anaheim squad due to a significant log jam of players at the defensive position, Vatanen has still found time to earn himself 19 points, third amongst Ducks defensemen. Six of those points have been goals, which tie him for the lead amongst defensemen with the two players already mentioned: Lindholm and Fowler.
Sami's dynamic play can be attributed heavily to his excellent foot speed and no-holding-back aggression. While these two can combine to put him out of position or cause him to overcommit, Vatanen has often times bailed his team out of sticky situations with an aggressive play or a good hustle to recover.
Despite his diminuitive size and limited play time, Vatanen has also logged 64 hits on the season, serving as a testament of his willingness to play tough against anybody, no matter their size. He doesn't care who he hits, as long as he gets the puck away from them.
Vatanen's offensive prowess has seen him earn some time on the second power play unit while up with the team, a role boosted by his incredibly powerful slapshot. He may not be big, but he can crank it just as hard as some of the big boys in the league.
A newcomer to the Ducks this season, Fistric's signing was announced almost simultaneously alongside the announcement that Sheldon Souray would be missing at least the first half of the season with his gnarly hand injury. While it wasn't a huge move expected to make a big splash, Mark Fistric has been better than we could have possibly hoped for from that signing.
Fistric has only appeared in 34 games this season, most notably due to a recent injury, but in the games he has been in, Fistric has been stellar for a rotation defenseman. In that limited time, Fistric has thrown 145 hits, including some highlight-reel bone crunchers, adding a nasty edge to the Ducks blueline that has been missing for several years now.
His nine points on the year are also pretty good, considering he rarely plays consecutive games, and is often used in a shutdown role against tough competition. That stat also gets boosted when you consider his plus-nine rating.
His play even impressed so much that it earned him a contract extension midway through the season. Granted he celebrated by getting injured, but hey these things happen. Likewise, Fistric's play has made it apparent that some current members of this blueline corps are expendable,
In his first full season with the Anaheim Ducks, the chemistry between himself and Cam Fowler has solidified almost entirely, with the two of them playing so well it gathered the attention of David Poile and USA Hockey's Olympic Team selection committee. While Lovejoy himself was not nominated, his steady play on the back end was a large factor in getting his partner chosen to represent the United States in Sochi.
While he's struggled a bit in recent games, mostly due to his partner being out of the lineup and him being unable to develop the same level of chemistry with a new linemate, Lovejoy's season has been chock full of highlights, including a beast-mode performance in the New Years Eve win over the San Jose Sharks that featured a diving shot block on Joe Thornton to bail out Jonas Hiller after the Honda Center gremlins sent a puck out in front of an empty net. That block was just one of his 144 on the year thus far, second-best on the Anaheim roster.
Lovejoy also scored twice just three days later in a 5-2 Anaheim win over Edmonton.
Despite playing top-pairing minutes against the toughest competition in the league (which can be attributed to his 48.4% 5v5 Corsi-for), Lovejoy is fourth on the team with a plus-23 rating. For a guy who at one point thought his NHL career was over, Lovejoy has found a home on the Anaheim blue line, and has been a key cog in getting the Ducks to this point.
Note: Voting for all Callies polls will be open until Sunday April 13th at 12pm. Winners will be announced before the start of the playoffs.