By Thomas Harrington
After playing in 19 games in the 2015-16 season, Shea Theodore played in 34 games this past season and is Anaheim’s next graduated prospect. It may seem surprising to see Theodore listed as one of this summer’s graduated prospects because of how few games he played, but his play in the postseason is the reason why. There is no question in my mind that he has earned himself a spot in Anaheim’s top six next season, assuming he doesn’t regress over the summer and Anaheim doesn’t bring in more defensemen, rather than trade some away. If not for a glut of NHL defensemen in Anaheim this season, Theodore certainly would have seen more NHL action.
Theodore had the very definition of what an up and down season is, as he was shuttled back and forth between Anaheim and San Diego over a dozen times. When he was with the Gulls he was playing major minutes in every situation. Overall, he played in 26 games for San Diego and scored five goals and 20 points. Given how often he was back and forth between the two leagues, those are pretty eye popping numbers as he rarely had a chance to get comfortable with his linemates in San Diego.
In the 34 games that Theodore spent in Anaheim, he scored two goals and nine points. His play with the Ducks was inconsistent, and that was reflected in his ice time. Some games he played over 20 minutes, and some games he played around 12 minutes. There were times when he looked like the best young defenseman in Anaheim’s system and at other times he looked overmatched against NHL competition. Clearly, his path and progress to the NHL hasn’t been a straight line.
It was in the playoffs where Theodore really shined, especially in the first couple of rounds. He played in Anaheim’s first 14 playoff games and scored two goals and eight points. He was dominant at times in the first round against Calgary, and was one of the major reasons why Anaheim was able to sweep the Flames. In game three, Calgary held a 4-1 lead late in the second. With less than a minute to go in the period, Theodore scored a goal to make it 4-2 to give Anaheim life heading into the third. About half way through the third, Nate Thompson made it a one goal game. With about five minutes left in regulation, Theodore tied the game with his second of the night. Besides scoring his first career playoff goals in this game, it was also his first career two goal game in the NHL. The Ducks went on to win game three from a Corey Perry overtime gamewinner. Overall, Theodore had five points in the four game sweep of Calgary. Against the Oilers, Theodore struggled in some games and finished the series with two assists. His worst moment of the playoffs came in game seven, when he skated the puck in front of John Gibson and Edmonton managed to score an early goal and take the 1-0 lead. Against Nashville, he played in the first three games of the series and collected one assist. However, the series was getting increasingly nastty from game to game and Randy Carlyle decided to bring in Kevin Bieksa for the rest of the series. If Anaheim had made the Stanley Cup Final, I think that it’s likely Theodore would have made his way back into the lineup at some point, as his skating ability would have been an asset against the high flying Penguins.
Despite playing great in the playoffs, Theodore didn’t quite meet the expectations that I’d hoped for him this past season. I’d hoped for him to spend most of the season in Anaheim, and while playing in almost half of the season was pretty good, it was still significantly less time in the NHL than I was hoping. Part of that can be attributed to Theodore’s up and down season and a less than stellar training camp, but part of that is also because Anaheim had so many NHL ready defensemen, as well as a couple of other prospects who were also on the cusp of making it to the NHL at the start of the season. Even with Simon Despres and Clayton Stoner missing most of the season, the Ducks still had Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, Korbinian Holzer, and Bieksa, as well as fellow prospects Brandon Montour and Jacob Larsson. However, Theodore did meet expectations for the games he played while in the AHL. For the time he spent in the AHL, I wanted to see him continue to develop as one of the Gulls’ top defenders, and he certainly did that this past season.
This coming season, I expect Theodore to be with Anaheim for most of, if not all of the season. He may not play in all 82 games, but he’s proven that he should be in the NHL on a regular basis. Depending on what happens this summer with the expansion draft and roster moves, there could still be a bit of logjam of NHL defensemen in Anaheim, but he should still be on the ice for Anaheim most nights. Besides playing as many games as possible, I’d like to see him receive more consistent ice time, rather than being all over the place throughout the season. I’d also like to see him put up more power play points this season, as he only scored two points with the man advantage, despite averaging over two minutes of ice time per game on the power play. A lot of that time was on the second power play unit, and I’d like to see him become the go-to guy on that unit this season, rather than being one of several options to put back there. Finally, I’d like to see him spend more time on the penalty kill unit. He averaged 46 seconds of shorthanded ice time per game this season; only Montour averaged less. If he’s going to take the next step and become a true NHL regular, he needs to show that he can be trusted to play more often when Anaheim is down a man. With the recent news that both Lindholm and Vatanen will likely miss the start of the season, Theodore is going to have a huge opportunity when October rolls around.
Theodore has one more year left on his entry-level contract, and I’m sure the Ducks will re-sign him in a year’s time, if not sooner. Outside of Patrick Eaves, the Ducks don’t have any major players they need to try and get back under contract this summer, but six defensemen will be unrestricted or restricted free agents on July 1, 2018. With so many players up for a new contract in just over a year, Bob Murray will likely be hard at work getting certain players extended. There’s no doubt that Fowler is the priority, but Theodore, Montour, and Manson will be next on the list, and it’s entirely possible one or more could sign an extension sometime later this summer. The Ducks would be perfectly happy to sign Theodore to a long contract extension at a cheap price, but Theodore will most likely want a shorter bridge deal so he can cash in a few years down the line. I think something similar to what Vatanen got after his entry level deal would make both sides happy, a two year deal around $1.25 million per season.
I’d give Theodore a B- for his performance during the regular season, but bump it up to a B+ in the playoffs. His play was erratic at times, but he’s shown that he’s capable of being a top four defenseman in the NHL; now he needs to do that consistently. He’s a long way from reaching his ceiling, and he’ll hopefully continue to grow by leaps and bounds this coming season.
The next prospect update will be on Ondrej Kase.
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June 2nd, 2017