Aside from competing in the upcoming 2023 Stanley Cup Final, there’s one thing that Shea Theodore, William Karlsson, Brandon Montour, and Josh Mahura collectively have in common. They began their careers with the Anaheim Ducks. And no matter the result of this final series, two of them will emerge as champions.
Karlsson and Theodore have blossomed into essential pieces of a perennial Western Conference contender, while Montour and Mahura are key contributors in one of the most surprising playoff runs in recent memory.
Theodore and Karlsson Get Second Crack at Cup with Vegas
Before we get into the specifics of each player’s history with Anaheim, let’s start with Theodore and Karlsson, who will get their second attempt at a Stanley Cup championship after reaching the final in Vegas’ inaugural 2017-2018 season.
The Vegas Golden Knights took everyone on a true Cinderella-like run the entire way that year. Though they fell to the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final, success like that in your first season as a new franchise was unheard of. They had to go through some serious competition too – Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Winnipeg Jets – to get there, and they did it impressively, going 12-3 in the first three rounds. They’ve had a similarly tough road this time around, going 12-5 through three rounds against the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, and Dallas Stars.
From the initial puck drop in Vegas’ first game, Theodore and Karlsson established themselves as core members of this franchise. They are two of six players remaining from the original roster that will have their second opportunity to bring the Cup to Vegas. So, let’s look at how they ultimately ended up playing for the Knights.
Hard to See Karlsson’s Success Coming
Karlsson absolutely exploded in his first season with Vegas to the tune of 43 goals and 78 points. His 43 goals in 81 games more than doubled his career goal total to that point. He converted his shots to goals at a ridiculous clip of 23.37%. The 53rd overall pick by Anaheim in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft certainly didn’t show that kind of ability while in a Ducks uniform. Truthfully, he barely got to wear a Ducks uniform before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets and wasn’t given much of a chance in the games he did play.
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Of the four, “Wild Bill’s” success was by far the least predictable. His 18 games played for the Ducks were also the fewest played by any player on this list. However, he and Vegas were the perfect match, and Ducks fans should hold no bitterness toward the success he has found with the franchise. Theodore, not so much.
Theodore Trade Still Stings
Theodore was drafted 26th overall by the Ducks in 2013. After spending some additional seasons in junior and in the American Hockey League (AHL), he made his Ducks debut in late in the 2015-16 season, even taking part in their first-round playoff series with the Nashville Predators. He would spend another season in Orange County, splitting time between the AHL and NHL, including valuable experience in the Ducks’ 2017 Western Conference playoff run, before falling victim to an expansion draft trade later that summer.
Bob Murray, the Ducks’ General Manager at the time, deemed Theodore expendable for the sake of keeping other defensemen protected and made him available for Vegas as long as they took Clayton Stoner in the expansion draft. Murray felt better about the other defenseman in the Ducks’ stable; this trade was effectively betting on them at the expense of a future with Theodore manning the team’s blue line. Well, he got that one wrong. Most of those defensemen – Kevin Bieksa, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and even Montour – are gone, and the Ducks have experienced zero playoff success since. Zero. Granted, it’s not all because of this trade, but this team would be better if Theodore were still on it.
His skating pushes the pace, he plays well in all situations and has the instincts and skill on both sides of the puck that the Ducks need. Bitter is one word you can use to describe the sentiment around this trade. The Ducks’ loss was Vegas’ gain on this one.
Montour In the Midst of a Renaissance
Montour enjoyed a career season and is having an equally monstrous postseason run with Florida, leading the team in ice time and producing nine points in the team’s 16 postseason contests. He has a high-risk, high-reward style of play, but he is always skating, always active in all three zones, and looks for his opportunities to get involved in the offense.
He was the Ducks’ 55th overall pick in 2014 and collected 63 points in 169 games for the Ducks before being traded to the Sabres for Brendan Guhle, who has since retired, and a first-round pick in 2019 that was used to select prospect Brayden Tracey (currently playing with the San Diego Gulls). Montour’s body of work outside of this year has been consistently average. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been sensational this year, and his efforts have his team four wins away from glory, but if we’re looking at the body of work as a whole, it’s clear the Ducks and Sabres felt they saw enough. If Montour wins a championship and produces the rest of his career in this fashion, perhaps both teams regret it. But, similar to Karlsson’s success, Montour’s was unpredictable given his production and impact until that point.
Don’t Forget about Josh Mahura
Not to be forgotten, Mahura has found a role with this Panthers team on the third defense pairing. Claimed off waivers by the Panthers after a handful of seasons in the Ducks organization, he produced 20 points in 79 regular season games, and a couple of assists these playoffs. Mahura never quite broke through with the Ducks, who drafted him 85th overall in 2016. He often split time in the AHL and NHL and couldn’t establish his footing with a bad Ducks team. The Panthers claimed him, he carved out a role, and now he’s competing for the Stanley Cup.
Makes You Wonder What Could’ve Been
With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that the Ducks should’ve kept most or all of these players. In reality, the only transaction the organization really fumbled (at the time the transaction was made) was Theodore’s. They gave up on him too early and put their faith in the defenseman they felt were more on the Ducks’ timeline. He was collateral damage in an unfortunate case of roster mismanagement, and the Ducks have felt the sting of not having a top-pairing defenseman other than Cam Fowler in the years since.
However, this is all moot. Each player is clearly in a better spot and succeeding in a place that gets the most out of their individual skillset. Plus, with the up-and-coming pool of talent the Ducks have, we may look back one day and not be bothered to think about the players we let go. Making personnel decisions and dealing with the consequences, that’s all part of the game.