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POSITION PREVIEW: Patrolling the Blueline

A solidified top 4 with changes at the bottom create interesting scenarios on defense for Anaheim

Washington Capitals v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Kevin Bieksa and Francois Beauchemin are out. New blood has been added. Possible competition for a spot on the blue line. A top 4 about as sure as a team can have. Some things change, and some things don’t for the defense of the Anaheim Ducks.

Time to break it down.

Hampus Lindholm

Did you know that Lindholm is still only 24 years old? Yet, he’s now entering his 6th season with the Ducks. While Cam Fowler gets the #1 defenseman designation from most of the media, that honor should rightly go to Lindholm. A darling of the analytics community, Lindholm is one of the top shutdown defensemen in the game, especially when paired with Josh Manson. He may not wow you with great offensive numbers, but he suffocates opposing team’s forwards whenever he’s on the ice and is a master at quickly transitioning out of his own zone, making everyone on the ice around him better.

Lindholm took a step forward in scoring last season with a career-high 13 goals en route to his third 30+ point campaign. If he can elevate his offensive game to around the 50 point level, we could be looking at a prime contender for the Norris Trophy.

Josh Manson

Barely anyone had heard of the name Josh Manson when he was called up from Norfolk during the 2014-2015 season. He first made his name by throwing thunderous hits and endearing himself to many for his effective physical play. The next season, he won a permanent spot on the blueline by showing he was more than just a big body. With great puck protection skills and sneaky offensive abilities due to his late transition from forward to defense in junior hockey, Manson broke out last year on the heels of a new 4-year contract with 37 points, leading all Ducks defensemen.

The Lindholm-Manson pairing quickly became the most utilized defensive unit under Randy Carlyle last year and one of the most effective shutdown duos in the entire NHL. Some new faces on the back end could separate the two for stretches this season, but both players have shown that they can handle their own assignments.

Cam Fowler

Now entering his 9th season with Anaheim, Fowler is the grizzled veteran of the Ducks blueline. Still just 26 years old, Fowler already ranks 8th overall in games played, 7th in assists, 8th in points, and in the top 3 in all of those categories amongst Ducks defensemen. He’ll continue to climb the leaderboards this season, likely taking over his mentor, Scott Niedermayer.

While not the greatest without the puck on his stick, Fowler can make a lot of things happen very quickly when he gains possession, mostly using an above average slapshot and skating that is considered to be amongst the best in the league.

He missed 15 games last season due to injury, but still managed to crack 30 points for the 5th time in his career. And with his 8-year, $6.5 million/year contract kicking in this season, Fowler will continue to be a leader both on and off the ice.

Brandon Montour

Montour had a tough ask of him last season: make General Manager Bob Murray not regret giving up Shea Theodore to Vegas. He didn’t disappoint, putting up 32 points in his first full season as a Duck. While he cooled off down the stretch, the 24-year-old led the team in scoring for an extended period while half the roster was recovering in the infirmary.

Montour was paired alongside Francois Beauchemin for most of the first half before being linked up with Fowler towards the end of the season. That pairing proceeded to become one of the most exciting defensive duos in the NHL, giving up a large amount of shots while on the ice, but creating a metric boatload of offensive at the other end. They were nothing if not incredibly fun to watch.

Montour could easily reach a new level of offense this season with continued development and with proper positioning on the power play in the left circle ready to launch one of the best one-timers in the league.

Andrej Sustr

The one some call “The Gentle Giraffe”, the 6’7” Czech was an undrafted free agent when he signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning out of the University of Omaha-Nebraska in 2013. Sustr played parts of 6 seasons with the Bolts before signing with Anaheim as a free agent over the summer.

Sustr is a typical stay-at-home defenseman with a career high of 21 points. He isn’t the fastest skater, but usually makes good decisions with the puck. Sustr will likely secure one of the right defensemen slots when opening night arrives.

Luke Schenn

Schenn is a familiar name to Ducks fans, having spent the last 2 seasons in Arizona and a season in Los Angeles.

A hard-nosed, stay at home defensemen, Schenn was likely brought in by Murray as a free agent to replace the distinct lack of #leadergrit with the loss of Bieksa and Beauchemin. Having failed to register more than 11 points over the last 4 seasons, Schenn may compete for a spot with Marcus Pettersson or Jacob Larsson. However, given Murray’s history, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume he has the inside track.