Looking noticeably burlier following an offseason training program with Ducks strength and conditioning coach Mark Fitzgerald, highly-prized defenseman Brandon Montour says he put in serious work in the weight room as he prepared for the upcoming season.
"I've put on quite a bit of muscle this summer, so I'm around 200 pounds now and I'm happy with that," he says, during some downtime on the first day of rookie camp. "Speed is key with me, but I haven't lost any. It was a good summer for me."
Montour might not be a household name yet around the league, but that could change if he continues on his trajectory.
The 22-year-old's impact at the American Hockey League level last season was profound. Montour was named to the 2015-16 AHL All-Rookie Team after posting 57 points (12g/45a) in 68 games with the San Diego Gulls in his first full season of professional hockey. He finished the season ranked second among AHL defensemen and third among all league rookies in scoring, and also ranked second in the league in power-play points (5-24=29) and tied for third in assists. He then added five points (all assists) in nine Calder Cup Playoff games.
"It was a good year for me and the team," he says, helping lead the Gulls to a 39-23-6 record in the regular season, good for second place in the Pacific Division. "I'm going to come in with the same mindset, and that's to make this team in Anaheim. They have a lot of bodies still, so it's going to be tough, but I'm willing to work at it."
Montour is among a talented group of blueliners in the pipeline for the Ducks, which also includes Jacob Larsson, Marcus Pettersson and Shea Theodore, who made his eagerly anticipated NHL debut last season.
"Seeing Shea play in the NHL, and him being a good friend and teammate, getting the insight when he came back, it was good to have him there in San Diego," Montour says. "It was great to see him do well in Anaheim."
Following a breakthrough rookie season in the AHL, Montour says he's ready for the next step in his development.
"I believe I'm NHL ready," he says. "With the year I had last season, I was really comfortable. It's just about being comfortable at every level. I've had to test the waters to see what it's all about. But as time went on, and as I played more games, I gained more experience."
The offensive numbers have always been there for Montour, who racked up 67 points (18g/49a) in 49 games with the Caledonia Corvairs of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) in 2012-13, and 62 points (14g/48a) in 60 games with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League (USHL) the following season. In 2014, Montour made the transition to NCAA Division 1, where he posted 20 points (3g/17a) in 21 games at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After turning pro later that season, Montour made his AHL debut with the Norfolk Admirals, and finished with 10 points (1g/9a) in 14 games.
Though he's known for his offense, Montour prides himself on the improvements he's made where it really counts, and that's in the defensive zone.
"That was definitely No. 1 for me," he says, referring to strengthening his play on the defensive side of the puck. "The coaches in San Diego definitely helped me a lot. That was my priority, and I thought I made a lot of strides last year. My defensive game has come a long way. That's an important piece to me, and I take a lot of pride in that. There's work to be done still."
Montour is currently taking part in Anaheim's 2016 rookie camp, which began today at The Rinks - Anaheim ICE. Two more scheduled practices will take place at the team's official practice facility (tomorrow at 10 a.m. and Saturday at 9:30 a.m.). Both are open to the public and free of charge. More information, including the camp roster, can be found here.