Anaheim calling to the hockey world...
Cam Fowler logged his first NHL regular season game tonight, racking up 21:20 of ice time, with 18:38 of even strength time (played principally with Paul Mara), 16 seconds of power play time and an impressive 2:26 on the PK. The 18 year-old was even in the plus-minus column in a 4-0 loss to Detroit. Fowler has been riding a wave of positive performances, not to mention positive performance reviews form his coach, but tonight was his first real test.
Unfortunately for Fowler, that test will continue for the next 8 games. As a player below the age of 20 serving under an Entry Level Contract in the NHL, Fowler triggers CBA Article 9.1(d)(i):
(d) (i) In the event that an 18 year old or 19 year old Player signs an SPC with a Club but does not play at least ten (10) NHL Games in the first season under that SPC, the term of his SPC and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be extended for a period of one (1) year
Under the CBA, Anaheim has until Game 9 to 'test drive' their rookie defenseman, after which they'll have to make a decision to buy him this year (and thus burn a year of his Restricted Free Agency before the age of 20) or send him back to Juniors. Daniel, based on his play tonight, what do you think of Cam Fowler's chances of making it to Game 10?
Fowler was, hands down, the best defenseman for the Ducks. He was poised. He made smart plays with the puck and protected it when he had to. He showed a great ability to skate the puck out of the zone. He has a terrific first pass. The kid has the full tool kit. Having said that, it's a little disappointing that the best guy on our blue line couldn't register a shot on goal. I digress. To thoroughly answer the question, I think he will stay for his 10th game, but I can't help but think it might be a mistake.
If I'm a coach, I'm telling everyone on my team to take the body and force Fowler to the backhand. He had a nasty tendency to just throw the puck up the middle of the ice when he got forced to his backhand. If you take away his skating space, and force him to the backhand, he may cough up the puck. Moreover, I wasn't really impressed with his offensive game. He did have some good rushes up the ice. It's clear he can jump into the play and find some soft spots. But, when he was working the point, he didn't get a shot through to the net, and he didn't seem to be creating anything. I know that's not his responsibility, per se. However, Fowler is supposed to have high offensive upside, and some of that HAS to translate to this level.
Yes, Fowler will stay past his 9th game. The Ducks are so desperate for D help, I don't know how he can't stay up. If the AHL was an option, I'd much rather that he go there. Unfortunately, I think Fowler will have to learn here in the NHL, because going back to the CHL would just be a waste of a season.
Well, first, I want to disagree about the backhand. I think Fowler showed he was able to skate away from trouble and skate under pressure, and if he looks at film and sees his backhand isn't working, he can adjust. Second, I want to agree about the desperation. With Lydman out, with Andy Sutton getting looked at for a broken thumb, any competent Top 4 defenseman is going to find work in this lineup.
And I think that's the key here: competent Top 4 defenseman. All the negatives (or not-enoughs) you listed regarding Fowler were levied against Drew Doughty as reasons he shouldn't win the Calder Trophy. At the end of the day, the impressive part about his rookie performance was just holding his own in a top pairing in the Pacific Division, not being an impact player in the NHL. Then, in his sophomore year, he exploded and translated every part of his game to the next level. Now, I'm not saying Fowler is as good as, or will be as good as Doughty. We don't know that. But the expectations for Fowler's first year cannot be Doughty's SECOND year. They have to be Doughty's FIRST year.
I'm looking for Cam to be as good as Luca Sbisa is this year. If Cam can show the poise in 9 NHL games at the age of 18 that it takes most players 50 NHL games to display at the age of 20, then he absolutely deserves to burn that year of restricted free agency, for better or for worse. Then, maybe next year we start asking where the offense is and where the NHL-impact player we drafted is. For now, he's making plays well beyond his 18 years. He's playing within the system, clearing the puck under pressure (even shorthanded) and using his skating on every shift. He's not giving them a reason to send him down, and the defense is getting so thin, I don't know if they can before they get to his 10th game.