By Thomas Harrington
Prior to this past season, Brandon Montour was the fastest rising Anaheim prospect over the last couple of years. This year, he finally arrived and his stock just kept on going up. A year ago, I had him as Anaheim’s second best defensive prospect, and second best prospect overall. Today, I’d argue that he’s surpassed Shea Theodore in terms of where they are in the organization. That’s no slight on Theodore, he’s still got an incredibly bright future, but it does show how far Montour has come since being a second round pick in 2014.
Montour only played in 27 games this past season, meaning he has now played too many games to be considered a rookie. I still could have considered him a prospect, just as I did Nick Ritchie this past season. However, Montour’s play down the stretch, and especially in the playoffs, shows that he’s definitely graduated to being a full time NHL player.
Montour started the season playing in San Diego, and continued his stellar play from last season. By the end of November, he had 14 points in 15 games and his defensive play continued to improve. Finally, at the end of December, he got called up to Anaheim and made his NHL debut against Calgary and played almost 18 minutes in that contest. After that, he was back and forth between the NHL and AHL, though not quite as many times as Theodore was. However, after February was over, Montour did not play any more games in the AHL. With San Diego, he finished the season with 13 goals and 32 points in 36 games. From that point on, he was either in Anaheim’s lineup, or a healthy scratch for the Ducks. He played in 15 of Anaheim’s final 19 games and really carved out a spot for himself on the blueline. Overall, he scored two goals and six points in those 27 games, and played pretty well defensively. He did make some bad pinches here and there, but overall, his game in the NHL was solid, and it was reflected in his ice time. Montour played less than 15 minutes only three times and he averaged 17:22 of ice time per game, good for first among Anaheim rookies.
Montour had a solid regular season, but it was what he did in the playoffs that truly stands out, and the real reason why he’s graduated from the prospect ranks. In the postseason, he played in all 17 of Anaheim’s games and recorded seven points, one more than he had in the regular season. While he failed to score a goal, it’s only a matter of time before he nets his first career playoff goal. Assuming Anaheim makes the playoffs next season, I believe he will then. He played a lot with Hampus Lindholm, and the two seemed to read off of each other really well. When one pinched, the other stayed back to cover for them. Montour just seemed to get better in every playoff round for the Ducks. While he was by no means tentative against Calgary, he just seemed to gain more confidence the more he played and that translated to his improving play over the course of the postseason. His seven assists were tied for second on the team with Cam Fowler, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler, only Ryan Getzlaf had more assists for Anaheim. At the end of the Conference Finals, Montour was tied with Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel for the rookie assist lead. More importantly than his offensive contributions was his defensive play. Playing against the best in the world in Connor McDavid, Ryan Johansen, and Johnny Gaudreau, he rarely looked out of place and played well at both ends of the ice.
Montour certainly met and exceeded expectations this year. While in the AHL, he continued to be one of San Diego’s top point producers. In fact, despite missing over half the season, he still led San Diego’s defense in scoring. In terms of his play in the NHL, I just wanted him to make his NHL debut and get a few games in. I wasn’t expecting him to get so much playing time and become Anaheim’s top young defenseman, but that’s exactly what he did. If he can continue to develop at a similar rate as the last few seasons, Anaheim will have a truly special player on their hands.
This coming season, Montour just needs to keep doing what he’s done for the last few seasons: continue to grow his game at both ends of the ice. He needs to play in a significant number of Anaheim’s games this season, and I’m anticipating him not being sent to the AHL at all. With Lindholm and Sami Vatanen missing the start of the season, there’s a great opportunity for him to show how good he can be. He’s known for his offensive abilities, and I’d love to see what he can do over the course of a full NHL season. With San Diego, Montour and Theodore manned the top power play unit and formed an incredibly dangerous duo. They’ve been out together a few times in the NHL on the power play, and I’d love to see both of them become mainstays on Anaheim’s second power play unit this season.
Montour has one year left on his entry-level deal and will be a restricted free agent next summer. Similar to Theodore, the Ducks would love to sign him to a long term deal at a reasonable price, but he’ll probably prefer a bridge deal so he can get a larger deal a few years down the line. I do think the Ducks will work hard to extend at least one of Theodore or Montour long term, but I’m not sure which one that will be. This season is what will really determine which of the two players the Ducks focus on to give a long term deal to.
For his play this season, I give Montour an A. He dominated with the Gulls, and opened a lot of people’s eyes when he made his way up to the Ducks. He’s got all the tools to be a top four defensemen in the NHL, and possibly more.
With the graduated prospects done, my attention will now turn to the upcoming draft. As a result of the Patrick Eaves trade, the Ducks are without a first round pick. They have two second round picks, a third round pick, a fourth round pick, and a fifth round pick. I do expect the Ducks to try and trade up into the first round. Up next, I’ll take a look at the other 30 teams in the league and what potential deals, if any, the Ducks can make to try and move into the first round. Once the draft coverage is complete, you can expect the usual prospect updates and profiles throughout the summer.
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June 7th, 2017