Three names are locked for Anaheim Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins’ blue line on opening night. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Josh Manson are the core of a defense group that has seen some key players head out the door in recent years. Brendan Guhle hopes to add his name to that core after arriving in Anaheim last February in a deal that sent Brandon Montour to the Buffalo Sabres. He has a long way to go, but Guhle is primed for a breakout season in 2019-20.
Small Sample Size but Good Results
Despite joining the team in February, Guhle missed most of the last 15 games of the season due to an oblique injury. He amassed only six games in a Ducks uniform, playing only 6:02 in the season finale against the Los Angeles Kings.
It would be an understatement to say that six games is a small sample size. However, the results over that brief period provide some optimism for the 2019-20 season.
Controlling shot share and generating scoring chances has not been a strength for the Ducks over the last few seasons. Especially last season, in which the Ducks ranked fifth-last in both categories.
Then there is Guhle.
The 23-year-old Edmonton, Alberta native led all Ducks blueliners with a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 53.13% in 5-v-5 situations. He also led the group in generating scoring chances. His scoring chances for percentage (SCF%) was over 10% higher than the next Ducks blueliner at 58.70%.
It’s easy to get carried away with the numbers, but we have to remember it’s only six games. Guhle has yet to establish himself as an NHL regular, and despite showing similar production in an 18-game stint with the Sabres in 2017-18, there are still concerns over the legitimacy of his potential ceiling.
Guhle Has Been Sheltered but Underutilized
You may be wondering how a then-22-year-old defenseman who played nearly 19-plus minutes a night was sheltered, and you wouldn’t be wrong for questioning. As most young defenseman are, Guhle was deployed heavily in the offensive zone. In fact, 77.27% of his zone starts were in the offensive zone.
In a small sample size, that’s something which could drastically inflate his shot share and scoring chances. Only Josh Mahura and Jake Dotchin had a higher offensive zone start percentage. This is also something that could change over the course of a full season, especially since Guhle expects to play a big role for the Ducks in 2019-20:
I want to play on the Ducks full time this year. If they want to put me in San Diego, I’ll be open to that, but I’m coming to camp trying to make the team. I want to be a contributor and help us win games, help us get back to the playoffs.”
Guhle – NHL.com
It’s clear Guhle wants to be a contributor this season. One place he hasn’t been able to do that is on the power play. The Ducks’ power play was ranked in the bottom-third of the league in 2018-19, and is in desperate need of a shake up.
Fowler led all blueliners with 147:16 minutes on the power play. The next highest was Montour, who now plies his trade with the Sabres. Lindholm was the only other defenseman to play over 20 minutes with 93:15. Unless Eakins plans to play Lindholm 30 minutes a night, there is a spot to be filled and Guhle is likely first in line.
Will Guhle-Fowler Stay Together?
It’s been quite the struggle for the Ducks to find a consistent partner for Fowler. Over the last five seasons, he has played significant time with Kevin Bieksa, Montour, Manson, Sami Vatanen, and Ben Lovejoy. Montour seemed to be the most suitable fit, but that was thrown out the window by former head coach Randy Carlyle at the start of the 2018-19 season. Guhle seems to be next in line, but with roster spots up for grabs, could it last an entire season?
The decision falls on the shoulders of Eakins, and he has some positives to draw from. Albeit from a relatively small sample size.
Fowler and Guhle had the second-best CF% of any defense pair to play over 50 minutes with 53.13%. Marcus Pettersson and Andy Welinski had a 60.00 CF%, both of which are no longer with the Ducks organization.
Ducks general manager Bob Murray made it clear in development camp that not every young player will make the roster to open the season:
“I’m not going to put six, seven kids in our lineup right off the bat. You’re setting them up for failure, and we have to set them up for success. We have to give them an opportunity to have some success. So they’re fighting for three or four jobs, and they’ve been told that.”
Murray – NHL.com
Guhle will be competing with an interesting mix of veterans and youth for a spot on the Ducks blue line. Korbinian Holzer signed a one-year contract extension to remain with the Ducks. Michael Del Zotto was brought back for a second stint in Anaheim after winning a Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues. Newcomers Jani Hakanpaa and Chris Wideman will provide some options for the Ducks on the right side. Mahura and Jacob Larsson are two of the Ducks younger players competing with Guhle for a roster spot.
Small sample size aside, Guhle will have a clean slate in 2019-20 to prove he belongs on the Ducks blue line. It’s up to him to make the most of his opportunities.