- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
- 0 Shares
A rival scout who shall remain anonymous recalls the first round of the 2010 NHL draft when somehow Cam Fowler slipped to 12th overall.
"We were flabbergasted as he started to drop,'' the scout told ESPN.com this week. "His junior year in Windsor [OHL], he was such an elite skater. But because he was loose with the puck, people really started to pick on him, and they forgot how special a skater and player he was.
"We were sitting at our draft table as he was dropping saying, 'Can you believe this? Can you believe this?' With the premium on young defensemen in this league and the need for them, I just can't believe some of those teams passed on him. It's beyond me.''
To the scout's dismay, Fowler didn't drop far enough for the scout's team to select him. The Ducks stepped in and snagged him at 12th overall. "Anaheim made a great pick. To say the least,'' the scout said.
Four years later, that much is evident. Fowler is stepping up his game this season, becoming one of the most improved players in the NHL as he's grown his defensive game to a level that wasn't there before. Team USA certainly noticed, making him one of its roster picks earlier this month for Sochi.
"His improvement has been so startling defensively,'' Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "He's so much more a better player. Him and Ben Lovejoy have great chemistry and they really play well off each other. Cam's defense has picked up so much, where now that pairing plays against the top line from the other team all the time.
"They've done a good job of shutting down, plus Cam is probably going to end up with 45 points or so as a defenseman which would be great.''
Fowler, 22, carried 26 points (4-22) and a plus-14 into Wednesday's home date with the Vancouver Canucks. Now, plus/minus isn't always a terribly accurate measure of a player, but in this case it does serve to underline Fowler's transformation defensively. He was minus-25 in his rookie season in 2010-11 and minus-28 the next season. That was cut down to minus-4 last season, and this season he's finally a plus player.
"It's obvious that was the knock on me my first couple of years,'' Fowler told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "It took me a while to figure out how to play defense effectively in this league. Coming in as a young defenseman, there are growing pains for a lot of players and that was certainly the case for me. I had some dark times and kind of had a dark cloud hanging over my head and people wanted to point at that number [plus/minus].
"Whether that's fair or unfair, it's the business and that's how it works. But the role I've played this year, the responsibility the coaches have given me and Ben Lovejoy, we're matching up against the other team's top players, that's really given me a boost confidence-wise. I know the coaches have trust and belief in me and that really goes a long way and it's helped me have success this year.''
He's definitely arrived. Said our friend the scout: "His natural tools were off the charts as a prospect. And today you see that all translated at the NHL level. Sure, there were growing pains, that's natural. This kid is a stud, an absolute stud.''
Take a bow, Ducks GM Bob Murray. Your decision to sign Fowler to a five-year, $20 million extension in September 2012 is looking like a stroke of genius now, because that salary is peanuts when you consider most top young defensemen are signing for north of $6 million a year, at least.
Fowler was born in Windsor, Ontario. His dad is from Newfoundland, but his mom is American and he moved across the border when he just 2, growing up in Michigan. He's a full-fledged Team USA guy, and playing on the gold-medal winning team at the 2010 world juniors is among the highlights of his young career.
Thinking he'd be Olympic-bound just four years later? Well, that would have been a heck of a thought. Fowler went from summer long shot to make the Olympic team to a late-charging, must-add because of his play on both sides of the puck.
"I knew when I was invited to the camp last summer there were only a few spots left and quite a few players battling for them,'' Fowler said. "So I knew the position I was in coming into the year. I think the season I've had for sure helped. And I think I've grown as a player, I've really come a long way since my first year, and certainly the success our team has had here helped me, as well. I just want to keep getting better but I'm really looking forward to going to Sochi and playing for my country.''
He found out he made Team USA by watching the announcement during the Winter Classic broadcast and seeing a little kid wearing a jersey with his name. Nobody from Team USA had yet reached out to Fowler yet.
"I don't know if it was supposed to be that way but that's how I found out. It was interesting,'' Fowler said, chuckling.
Part of Fowler's impressive growth this season stems from his player exit meeting with Boudreau last spring.
"A big thing is that he played the first two and a half years on the right side,'' Boudreau said. "He played the left side in Windsor. He feels so much more comfortable coming up the left side and seeing the whole ice in front of him, feels better passing the puck from that side. When we had an exit meeting last season, he said he really preferred it. So that's something that's really helped him this season.''
Fowler understood why he had to play the right side his first few seasons in Anaheim -- because the Ducks were so stacked with lefties -- but his move this season to the left has allowed him to feel at home.
"I don't know what it is but for whatever reason I feel like I can see the ice a lot better from my left side,'' Fowler said. "It's a lot more natural for me. Bruce even told me that sometimes I would take the puck on the right side and my natural instinct was to skate over to the left side. The reads are just easier for me over there. It's where I've been playing most of my whole life.
"Bruce knew that. I'm certainly happy being back on my natural side.''
And even happier, of course, to be on a team that's atop the standings and riding a ridiculous wave, winning 17 of its past 18 games before Wednesday's tilt with the Canucks.
"It just speaks to the depth we have on this team when you talk about the success we've had," Fowler said. "We also know it's just the regular season. Our goal in our room is to go much further than that come playoff time. We need to keep getting better because other teams will. You look at the Western Conference, there are so many good teams. But winning at this rate is certainly a lot of fun. Let's keep it going.''
After a tough test with the Canucks, the Ducks then face more at Chicago on Friday and St. Louis on Saturday. That's two more chances to see where they rank with the big boys of the West.
"We played Chicago and St. Louis back-to-back a month ago and were able to win those games,'' said Fowler, pointing to a 3-2 win at Chicago on Dec. 6 and a 5-2 win at St. Louis the next night.
"But you know what kind of test this is, these teams are really tough, starting with Vancouver. These three games should give us a little test to see where we're at as a team. We're going up against the best which is what you want to do.''