By Thomas Harrington
The Anaheim Ducks have two stud blue line prospects currently playing in San Diego. The first Anaheim fans have become very familiar with, as Shea Theodore recently made his NHL debut and played 13 games for the Ducks before returning to the Gulls. The second is Brandon Montour, who currently leads San Diego in both assists and points. Both have a lot of offensive upside and should be in the NHL in the very near future.
Theodore was drafted 26th overall in the first round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. When he was drafted, I heard him described as a Mike Green clone. At the time, that was a pretty fair comparison. Green is best known for offensive skill set, and as a defenseman, had a season where he scored 31 goals. However, since he was drafted, Theodore has put much more of an emphasis on improving his defensive game, and it showed during his time with Anaheim. Of the 13 games he played in, he only had one really bad one against Detroit, and bounced back with a strong performance against Boston. There were times when he was caught out of position, but his smooth skating allowed him to get back into the play more often than not. Also, this is the NHL. The offensive skills of the forwards in this league mean that even the best players will be caught out of position sometimes. Even Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger were caught out of position or beaten one on one by an opposing forward. The important thing is, when Theodore made a mistake, he would do his best to correct it right away. Barring that, he would come out and play better in his next shift or game.
Theodore reminds me a lot of Cam Fowler, but with a much better shot. He’s an excellent skater with good passing ability and can read the play very well. What separates Theodore from Fowler is his shot. While Fowler has an accurate shot, he simply does not achieve the velocity that Theodore does. In some ways, he reminds me a bit of Sandis Ozolinsh, but much more defensively responsible. Theodore also reminds me of Scott Niedermayer. I don’t think he will ever reach the loft play of Niedermayer (let’s be honest, there will be few people who ever will), but he plays a similar game, using his skating ability and stick work to deal with difficult situations.
With the Gulls this season, Theodore has played in 30 games and scored four goals and 17 points. While those numbers don’t pop out as much as Montour’s do, it’s very clear in watching Theodore’s game that he has been focusing on playing defense. When he’s been in San Diego, he’s been seeing time in all situations, including time on their top pair, the top power play unit, and the penalty kill unit. He’s being groomed to be the Ducks’ defenseman of the future and that future could arrive soon.
Montour was drafted 55th overall in the second round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Given that he was taken a full round later than Theodore, his draft pedigree is clearly not as high, but he has seen a meteoric rise in his career since being drafted. In the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Nick Ritchie was viewed as the only player drafted by the Ducks who would be in the NHL in the near future. Montour and the rest of the prospects were all viewed as long term picks. However, Montour has quickly changed the Ducks’ mind about him. He started last season playing in the USHL, then played in the NCAA for half a season, and finished things up by joining the Norfolk Admirals for the last part of their season.
Between this season and the end of last season, Montour has been near a point per game player as a rookie defenseman in the AHL. His 33 points are tied for 33rd overall in AHL scoring. He’s tied for fourth in rookie scoring and tied for second in points from a defenseman in the AHL. Clearly, his offensive game is superb. I’ve been lucky enough to watch some Gulls games this season, and Montour has not disappointed in them. He sees the ice incredibly well, has a great shot, and knows how to find the open man. He is going to get a lot of points on the power play when he gets to the NHL.
Montour’s biggest issue is defense. More accurately, sacrificing defense for offense. For offensive defensemen, there is a great balancing act between when to jump into the play and when to hang back and make the safe play. In the last several years, we’ve seen Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and Hampus Lindholm all have to work on this as they’ve acclimated to the NHL. Thankfully, that is something that can be taught and Montour is working on it, but he’s not there yet.
One thing that Montour has that Theodore does not is that he is a right handed shot, something that is a premium in the NHL these days. At this point in time it’s hard to compare Montour to current NHL players because of how much he’s progressed over the last year and a half. If he continues to get better at a similar rate, the sky’s the limit for this kid and he could be the Ducks’ answer to Erik Karlsson. Or his progress could slow and he could end up more like Justin Schultz. At this point it’s simply hard to tell, but because of his shot and his offensive skill, I would compare Montour to Vatanen, but with a bit more size and physical play.
Before this season started, I had Theodore as the Ducks’ top prospect, Montour as the Ducks’ fifth best prospect, and I had them as the top two defensive prospects in Anaheim’s system. Despite Montour’s offensive prowess, I would still keep Theodore above him right now for two reasons. One, Theodore has already proven that he is NHL ready and Montour is not quite there yet. Two, Theodore is the more well rounded player of the two. However, in my mind, Montour has certainly closed the gap between the two of them. Both players could end up as top pairing defensemen, but, Theodore I think will end up being the better player. I think that Montour could end up on a top pair, but would settle in much more comfortably on the second pair and getting a lot of time on the top powerplay unit.
We can expect Theodore back in the NHL as early as this season. Despite their recent run of high scoring games, the Ducks are most likely still trying to upgrade their offense by trading one of their many defensemen. It’s not a guarantee to happen, but Theodore is good enough to be in the NHL right now and I would not be surprised if the Ducks make a move to both improve their offense and get Theodore on their roster. If that doesn’t happen, I do believe that Theodore will be a full time Duck starting next season. Montour is a little trickier to predict. If the Ducks end up falling out of the playoff race I do believe he will make his NHL debut towards the end of this season, but I think that it’s much more likely he makes his NHL debut next season, with an eye towards full time NHL duty in the 2017-2018 season.
Follow us Twitter @DucksNPucks !
Like us on Facebook at DucksNPucks !
Follow us on Instagram at DucksNPucks !