The NHL Entry Draft is a precarious endeavor A lottery pick is no guarantee of landing a franchise player, and the best value is often found with later picks.
Take Shea Theodore’s scouting report before the 2013 draft:
Theodore is a high-level offensive defenseman. He specializes in power play situations and is a smooth and agile skater. He has a very accurate and hard shot, and has been a dangerous point man at the junior level. His defensive zone play and physicality could improve but Theodore possesses good intelligence of the game and a very appealing offensive skill set.
By that description, one would have expected teams to jump on Theodore early in the first round. Not so, as he fell into Anaheim’s lap at the 26th pick, well outside of the lottery.
Fast forward to 2015, and this is what the scouts now had to say about Theodore:
Theodore’s physical attributes and defensive awareness, though, are rare and he should be a top pairing two-way defender who contributes to the attack once he is NHL-ready
By all indications, he’s absolutely NHL-ready.
Theodore Brings Immediate Value
With only 60 games of minor league experience, Theodore plays with a maturity far beyond his years. His defensive game in particular, which is usually an instant reproach towards offensively-inclined defensmen, is of top pairing caliber. He shows it off here in a January contest against the rival Los Angeles Kings:
He maintains a textbook stick length gap from the veteran Dustin Brown thanks to an excellent backward skating technique. The second Brown exposes the puck, Theodore pounces and then immediately transitions into offense with a pass into the neutral zone. Unfortunately on this play, the intended target Corey Perry goes off on a line change. There’s clearly a very nuanced understanding of defensive play here though. As much as he’s grown defensively, his true value lies in his attacking mindset, which he showed last week against Ottawa:
Here he recognizes the defense collapsing and jumps into the vacant space behind Ryan Getzlaf, where he elects to take a shot. It doesn’t get through, but what at first seemed like an innocuous play turns into a good look for Anaheim. Thanks to that added threat, defenses can’t just simply collapse and swarm onto the puck carrier. That makes the Ducks all the more dangerous on the rush, and perhaps even more important, all the more unpredictable.
Permanent Roster Spot
The moibility of Anaheim’s blueline is well documented. Theodore is certainly no exception, yet the Ducks’ already impressive depth on the back end allows them to use him judiciously. He’s been paired with Cam Fowler recently, and seeing two of the team’s best skating strides on the ice at the same time has been impressive to watch. Their underlying numbers haven’t taken off yet, but that could definitely change with smarter deployment.
The playoffs will bring with them a whole new level of physicality. Instead of loading up on beefier guys like Clayton Stoner and Kevin Bieksa, head coach Bruce Boudreau would be wise to add as much puck-moving and skating on his blueline as possible. That way opposing teams will have a much more difficult time establishing a forecheck and taking runs at Anaheim defensemen since the puck will be moving out of the zone that much quicker.
Theodore certainly fits that bill. Boudreau just has to wise up and give the 20 year old the permanent roster spot that he’s both deserved and earned.