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ANAHEIM, Calif. – Last summer Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler worked on different ways to fire his shot.
He practiced shooting off his back foot, off his left side and off his right side in hopes that this could help improve his offensive game that had stagnated since his rookie year.
“All these things I worked on and it’s nice to see a little bit of it paying off early on,” Fowler said.
The 24-year-old Fowler is playing the best hockey of his career in the early going of 2016-17. Along with his improved shot, he’s figured out how to best use his skill-set as a skater and a puck mover to increase his overall effectiveness.
“I’ve been so focused on trying to prove myself as a defenseman in this league that I might have let some of my offensive abilities slip, so I really worked hard this summer on shooting from all angles,” Fowler said. “When you get pucks to the net, you’d be surprised how often good things happen and that’s kind of been the key so far.”
In 2016-17, Fowler has fired 2.09 shots on goal per-game, up from last season’s 1.64 per-game. His 0.59 points per-game are also a career high as are his 0.27 goals per-game. Fowler has held a plus-3.17 adjusted 5-on-5 CF% up from a minus-5.85 last season.
“Huge step this year,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said when asked about Fowler’s play. “And he’s accepting and wanting to be part of that core group.”
The Ducks picked Fowler 12th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft, and he immediately looked like a cornerstone defenseman in the making. As an 18-year-old rookie in 2010-11, the smooth-skating Fowler scored 40 points in 76 games and averaged 22:08 per-game. Scott Niedermayer retired in the summer of 2010, and Fowler appeared to be Niedermayer’s heir apparent.
After that rookie season, Fowler never touched more than 36 points or seven goals in a year.
This past summer, Fowler’s name was involved in several trade rumors as the Ducks looked to get out of a salary cap crunch. Fowler said he was aware that he could get dealt, but this didn’t affect him too much as he tried to improve his game.
“I definitely heard what was going on. There were no secrets and I was fully prepared for something to happen but I really focused this summer on the things I could control as a player and the work ethic that I put in over the summer,” Fowler said. “At the end of the day, that stuff was all out of my control. I wanted to be best prepared for whatever situation was thrown at me and I’m very happy to still be in Anaheim and have the confidence of the coaching staff here, but it was a weird summer for me for sure.”
When the Ducks re-signed defenseman Hampus Lindholm, general manager Bob Murray stated that he would do his best to keep the team’s defensive core together.
Fowler has rewarded Murray’s faith with not just his offense, but his defensive play as well. In a 4-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 15, Fowler stopped a Connor McDavid offensive chance on one end, then raced up the ice and scored a goal on the same shift.
“The best defensemen in this league, they play against the other team’s greatest players and they also contribute offensively,” Fowler said. “That was 4-on-4 so there’s a little more room to contribute with my skating, but it’s plays like that I feel I can contribute more of and will continue to try to do throughout the season.”
Fowler’s long-term future with the Ducks still isn’t 100 percent certain. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent when his five-year, $20 million contract is up after 2017-18 and if he keeps up his current numbers, Anaheim will likely be forced to give him a large pay increase to keep him, which could further alter their salary cap situation. If Fowler hits the open market, he will likely cash in. But that’s a problem down the line, and isn’t Fowler’s current focus even though his current play will affect his future in some regard.
“It’s having that mindset that when you have the mindset that when you get the puck on your stick you can make a play,” Fowler said. “Sometimes if you’re losing confidence you might just keep it in and throw it below the goal line and let your forwards go but as a player who likes to use his skating and his abilities, which I do, I’ve found from watching tape that I could use a lot more of those skill-sets to make an impact offensively.”
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