ANAHEIM, Calif. – Anaheim Ducks defenseman Shea Theodore wants to put fewer miles on his car.
The 21-year-old blue liner has had to drive between Orange County and San Diego for the past two years as he tried to hone his game in the AHL with the Gulls and then attempted to use what he has learned there to cement himself in the NHL up the freeway with Anaheim.
It’s a process that was beneficial for Theodore, a 2013 first-round draft pick, at the beginning but has started to grow old on him now.
“I know my car is getting a little tired for sure. I bought it brand new last summer so I got about 12,000 miles or something like that,” Theodore joked.
For the next few weeks, Theodore will likely be able stay in Anaheim for a while as the Ducks deal with a knee injury to all-star defenseman Cam Fowler that he suffered against the Calgary Flames last Tuesday. On Thursday, Anaheim announced the 25-year-old Fowler will miss the next two-to-six weeks, which means he will probably sit the entire first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Even though Fowler’s injury stings, having Theodore in the organization puts the Ducks in the unique position to absorb Fowler’s injury without the same type of drop-off that other teams may experience when losing a No. 1 defenseman.
“When one door closes on an individual another one opens for somebody else. We’re going to have to find somebody to play in that position and the tools that Theodore brings to the game are along the lines of Cam Fowler,” coach Randy Carlyle said about the two left-handed shooting blue liners. “But again we’re asking a younger player with limited experience – I would caution our putting him on the same pedestal, that would be the right way to phrase it. We’re not going to expect Shea Theodore to come in and replace Cam Fowler, we’re not.”
Entering this season, it appeared Theodore would get a legitimate shot to land an everyday role with the Ducks. He had 37 points in 50 games last season with the Gulls and seemed primed to take another step and become an NHL regular. But the Ducks had so many solid defensemen with similar skills that it seemed there was no place to play Theodore.
In 32 NHL games this season he notched nine points while averaging 17:19 of ice-time per-contest, almost two minutes less than he averaged in 19 games with Anaheim last season. He was fine in the AHL with 20 points in 26 games but was stuck in sort of no-man’s land of being a No. 1 defenseman the minors but not having a dedicated roster spot in the NHL.
Interestingly while Theodore was shuttling back and forth, 22-year-old right-handed defenseman Brandon Montour jumped up on the Ducks’ defensive depth chart to a degree with 32 points in 36 AHL games. Since Montour was recalled by the Ducks in early March he has been a plus-10 in 14 played while averaging 17:24 of ice-time and giving them a speed boost from the blue line.
“I felt like I was ready to play obviously at the start of the year coming into camp. I felt like I was ready to play then. I wanted to make a big impact and make the team out of camp and unfortunately I had to go back but when I came (back) I wanted to play hard and gain everybody’s trust and focus on my defense first and play the right way,” Montour said. “I felt like right away, I had a good attitude and I fit in and kept getting confidence as we kept going and playing with good players like Cam and Hampus (Lindholm) since I’ve been here. I’m happy with the way things are going and hopefully they keep going.”
Though it could be seen that Montour took Theodore’s spot, really Montour turning into a legit NHL player was a positive for Theodore and one that could benefit him as he tries to land an everyday role with Anaheim. The two have played together in San Diego for a couple of years now and can push one another at this level as well.
“We both are good with learning and being patient and sticking with the process,” Montour said. “We know the depth here. For our sake it’s good to have that in a system, right? We’ve played together for two years now. It has been great ever since we got here. He’s such a good kid and a good friend to me.”
Plus, at a time of year when depth is crucial, having two young puck-movers with potential gives the Ducks a critical advantage heading into the postseason. Anaheim had also been without Sami Vatanen and Lindholm down the stretch though their issues weren’t considered long-term like Fowler’s.
“It definitely makes a difference when you have a strong depth on D,” Theodore said. “For me and Monty to come up and be able to play and play well up to this point, I feel like it’s good from an organization standpoint.”
Still, the spotlight clearly remains on Theodore more than Montour to produce. The Ducks have been waiting for the Langley, British Columbia native to arrive as an everyday player for a while and this is a time where he will surely get the opportunity he belongs.
“I feel like I’ve grown from the start of the year,” Theodore said. “I had a couple of shaky games early on or towards the mid-season but I feel down the stretch the past couple of games I’ve played I’ve been real solid. I’ve been more confident. The coaching staff has shown more confidence in me and I’m kind just trying to take it and run with it and try and keep it going. I feel good so it’s good to get that confidence gong into the playoffs.”
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