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2015-16 Ducks Positional Preview: Defense

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A brief glance into the blue line of the Anaheim Ducks hockey club and pipeline.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Bieksa (#2)

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM Avg. TOI uSAT%
Regular Season (Vancouver) 60 4 10 14 77 20:50 49.01
Playoffs 6 0 0 0 9 18:19 44.62

Trending: Up

Reasoning: Last year, Bieksa was plagued with a variety of partners due to the inconsistencies on the Vancouver blue line. He ended with one of the worst puck possession stats of his career, but Bieksa may not be fully at fault for posting abysmal stats. He was paired with Vancouver's worst puck possession defense partners such as Ryan Stanton and the ex-Duck Luca Sbisa (and we all know how he plays). Bieksa is known to be a risk/reward sort of player, taking chances which either end in high reward or risky consequences. The 34-year old NHL veteran is not getting any faster or any better, so slotting him in the bottom defense pairing will allow him to face a game that is at more his pace. There are more stay-at-home options here in Anaheim as for defense partners as opposed to last year's Vancouver's shoddy defense corps. Here's to hoping....

Clayton Stoner (#3)

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM Avg. TOI uSAT%
Regular Season 69 1 7 8 68 17:39 52.42
Playoffs 16 1 0 1 10 18:14 51.25

Trending: Even (and maybe that's being too generous)

Reasoning: In my personal opinion, nothing about Stoner changed during training camps or preseason games. My hope is that he just doesn't get any worse. We don't need another Bryan Allen anchoring down the blue line please.

Cam Fowler (#4)

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM Avg. TOI uSAT%
Regular Season 80 7 27 34 14 21:09 50.84
Playoffs 16 2 8 10 2 23:08 51.76

Trending: Up

Reasoning: The Anaheim club's beloved "kid" is no longer a kid. The rest of the blue line will look to Cam to lead the defense corps. From day one we knew Cam had the skating, it would just be a matter of time when he would really break out. While he really has transitioned into an A-grade defenseman, he is still overlooked by the Duncan Keith's and Drew Doughty's of the league. No matter, what has been particularly noticeable about Cam's evolving game is the balance between his offense prowess and defensive outlook. While he has always had great hockey sense, the balance between the two sides of hockey has really peaked in past couple seasons. If paired with Simon Despres like the tail end of last season, we can expect to see an extremely active and mobile blue line. (*insert smiley face here*)

Simon Despres (#24)

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM Avg. TOI uSAT%
Regular Season (Pittsburgh) 59 2 15 17 76 16:23 52.17
Regular Season 16 1 5 6 22 16:52 55.1
Playoffs 16 1 6 7 6 20:46 51.89

Trending: Up

Reasoning: Now that Despres played a few regular season and playoff games with the Ducks, he has fully transitioned to the coaching style of Bruce Boudreau and Anaheim's blue line system. We can only expect a younger and more nimble line (with some obvious exceptions) who will activate more frequently.

Josh Manson (#42)

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM Avg. TOI uSAT%
Regular Season 28 0 3 3 31 18:26 49.09
Regular Season (Norfolk AHL) 36 3 9 12 47 - -

Trending: Up

Reasoning: Getting in quite a few games with the big club has definitely boosted the kid's confidence and given him the taste of the NHL. Manson has apparently played well enough during training camp to make it to the opening roster. It's unlikely that we will see a superb jump as defensemen need the time to grow and develop, but playing with the big boys will definitely aid to better his game.

Sami Vatanen (#45)

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM Avg. TOI uSAT%
Regular Season 67 12 25 37 36 21:28 53.01
Playoffs 16 3 8 11 8 21:14 50.28

Trending: Even

Reasoning: I dearly hope I am underestimating Vatanen by predicting his even trend this season. Sami has always been an extremely active and offensive defenseman--an aggressive puck carrying blue liner. At times this has gotten the team in sticky odd-man situations. While he is extremely speedy, we cannot deny his smaller size. It will be a big question how this will affect his ability to keep up with the rest of the blue liners as he continues to develop.

Hampus Lindholm (#47)

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM Avg. TOI FF%
Regular Season 78 7 27 34 32 19:26 52.06
Playoffs 27 2 10 12 10 21:46 57.91

Trending: Up

Reasoning: I think we can all agree on this one. The kid is a gem on the blue line. We forget how young Lindholm really is due to his maturity defensively. The greatest part though is that there is a unanimous sense that he still has room to grow and develop. He's been playing in the big league for a while now and despite his youth, he is able to more than keep up. Analysts are right--the Ducks really don't have that #1 defenseman. But the Ducks do have a combination of some up-and-coming blue liners, among Fowler and Vatanen. One thing is for sure, the only way to prove those experts wrong is if they collectively step up.

Matthew Berkovitz

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (Sioux City Musketeers-USHL) 20 0 0 0 12
Regular Season (Green Bay Gamblers-USHL) 23 0 4 4 6

Trending: Up

Reasoning: Berkovitz is the prototypical well-skating defenseman. He was setback last season with sickness but he should see more time on a USHL team that is in rebuild mode. He is scheduled to spend one more year in the USHL then transition to begin his college career at University of Wisconsin. From reports, he has the potential to become a steady and reliable two-way defenseman, but this will heavily depend upon his ability to garner ice time.

Brian Cooper

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (U of Nebraska) 39 5 11 16 55

Trending: Up

Reasoning: Standing at only 5'10'', Cooper already faces the challenge of being out-bodied. He has taken measures to bulk up to become stronger in the past year. He was one of 2 Nebraska-Omaha defenseman to skate in all 37 games in his sophomore season. That being said, he has also earned minutes on the top unit. Although he was projected to be a puck-carrying offensive defenseman, he has transitioned more so into a two-way defenseman role. He will hope to continue making up for his size with his mobility and two-way game.

Kevin Gagne

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (Norfolk AHL) 57 2 6 8 16

Trending: Down

Reasoning: Though Gagne is able to show a solid two-way game, his 5'8'' stature is his greatest hurdle. He is said to have a great shot and ability to carry the puck on the power play unit. But if he is assigned to clear the front of the net, his size is going to be a major limitation.

Korbinian Holzer

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (Toronto AHL) 9 0 2 2 10
Regular Season (Toronto NHL) 34 0 6 6 25

Trending: Even

Reasoning: Though he has the potential to add more bulk to his tall frame, Holzer did have the chance to skate with Toronto Maple Leafs blue line. He is not much of an offensive player, but playing with the San Diego Gulls may allow him the chances to develop that side of the game.

Jacob Larsson

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (Frolunda Swe) 20 1 2 3 6
Playoffs (Frolunda Swe Jr) 8 0 4 4 6

Trending: Up

Reasoning: The Anaheim Ducks' 1st round 27th overall pick in this past summer's 2015 NHL draft, we should expect pretty great things from Larsson. Larsson was ranked third among international skaters in the Central Scouting final rankings. Touted as an explosive defenseman with impressive skating skills, we can expect the defenseman to further become stronger and further develop his game during his tenure in Sweden. This is going to be a kid to watch.

Jaycob Megna

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (Norfolk AHL) 32 1 4 5 4

Trending: Down

Reasoning: Megna is your big-bodied defenseman. There is still room for improvement with his skating and his offensive skills are limited. But his big frame can be utilized as a bottom-pair stay-at-home defenseman.

Brandon Montour

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (Norfolk AHL) 14 1 9 10 8
UMass 21 3 17 20 30

Trending: Up

Reasoning: Montour is the high risk/high reward defenseman with his offensively inclined skills. A good skater and passer, he was known in the USHL as a strong puck carrying defenseman. That being said, he still has much to improve on his end defensively. He will be with the Gulls, and will likely see good amount of minutes with his offensive skills.

Andrew O'Brien

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (Norfolk AHL) 62 4 10 14 118

Trending: Even

Reasoning: A big-bodied, gritty and physical defenseman, don't be surprised to see this guy in the middle of multiple scraps down in San Diego. Still has room to improve skating-wise and in positioning.

Shane O'Brien

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (San Antonio AHL) 51 11 19 30 127
Regular Season (Florida NHL) 9 0 1 1 5

Trending: Up

Reasoning: A former NHL defenseman, O'Brien has shown both an stay-at-home defensive play as well as a offensive side. He makes up for his skating and mobility shortcomings with his mean and bullish tendencies. He fits right in with the AHL type of game.

Marcus Petterson

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Skelleftea (Swe Jr) 20 2 8 10 20
Skelleftea (Swe) 14 0 0 0 0
Playoffs ( HC Vital Swe) 4 0 1 1 2
Playoffs (Skelleftea Swe Jr) 1 0 0 0 2

Trending: Up (if ever so slightly)

Reasoning: Playing in Sweden, Pettersson does show the potential to develop into a solid two-way defender. But he still has much room for improvement in strength and speed. He lacks physicality, which should be made up for in quickness, which he does not have at the moment. He will need a lot more time before making it to the NHL.

Joe Piskula

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (Milwaukee AHL) 67 1 16 17 30
Regular Season (Nashville NHL) 1 0 0 0 2

Trending: Down

Reasoning: Your average defensive defenseman, Piskula will most likely only serve as a stay-at-home blue liner in San Diego. As a 31-year old player, he will only serve as a depth player and most likely not see any minutes in the NHL.

Steven Ruggiero

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (USHL) 25 0 7 7 16
Regular Season (U-18) 41 1 7 8 28

Trending: Even

Reasoning: After de-committing from Penn State, Ruggiero is headed to play at Providence College. Although currently a steady defenseman, he has lots to learn as he enters his first year of college hockey. It will be a while before we hear anything about Ruggiero.

Shea Theodore

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (Norfolk AHL) 9 4 7 11 2
Regular Season (Seattle WHL) 43 13 35 48 16

Trending: Up

Reasoning: Theodore is a prospect that has great potential--one that most of us are wondering about. He has the skills to become a specialized offensive defenseman but there is room for improvement in physical play and on back-end of the ice. That being said, he will undoubtedly be an asset on the Gulls this coming season. This is a player that may see glimpses of the NHL ice if he continues to impress.

Keaton Thompson

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (U of North Dakota) 36 3 8 11 14

Trending: Even

Reasoning: Not a flashy player, Thompson has the potential to develop into a very reliable two-way defenseman. He will be skating again at the University of North Dakota as a sophomore. He has room to develop his skating skills.

Andy Welinski

2014 Stats:

GP Goals Assists Points PIM
Regular Season (U of Minnesota-Duluth) 40 9 12 21 24

Trending: Up

Reasoning: Entering his junior year, Welinski should be ready to enter the minor pro level. He has proved his worth as a two-way defenseman through his skating and physicality at the college level. As a junior, he will be a pivotal part of the blue line at Minnesota-Duluth.