By Kyle Shohara
Players always remember when and where they made their NHL debuts, and for Ducks rookie Josh Manson, October 31, 2014 at American Airlines Center in Dallas will be a night he’ll never forget.
The son of longtime NHL pugilist Dave Manson, Josh is built like a prototypical shutdown defenseman. The fair-skinned 23-year-old from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan stands 6-foot-3, weighs in at a solid 217 pounds, and plays a hard-nosed defensive-minded game.
Manson was drafted in the sixth round (160th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft, and he went on to play three years at Northeastern University (Hockey East) before turning pro near the end of last season with the Norfolk Admirals (American Hockey League). Manson was a standout player for Northeastern, and was named a 2013-14 Hockey East Second Team All-Star and the Best Defensive Defenseman after captaining the Huskies to a 19-14-4 record.
“He’s a mobile right-handed defenseman that can play physical like his dad,” says Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. “He’s simple, as far as just getting the puck, and moving the puck.”
The big man had an impressive training camp with the Ducks, and began the season with the Admirals. So when defenseman Ben Lovejoy suffered a fractured right finger during Anaheim’s 4-1 loss last Sunday against San Jose, it was Manson whom the Ducks summoned. He was recalled by the Ducks last Monday and joined the Ducks in Chicago for their game on Tuesday at United Center but did not play. He sat for the second consecutive game on Thursday in St. Louis, but when Mark Fistric went down with an upper-body injury that night against the Blues, it was time for Manson to step into the spotlight.
Manson was penciled into last night’s lineup in Dallas, normally a tall order on any day but especially so on the second half of back-to-backs. Boudreau called it “baptism by fire,” throwing Manson out there against one of the fastest teams in the league.
“There were a couple of jitters, so I just need to get a little more comfortable out there,” Manson said today after practice in Denver. “It helps out a lot when guys talk to you. I just need to keep working on moving the puck right away.”
Manson was solid in his debut, registering one hit in 12:30 of ice time. He saw time on the penalty kill, which seemed to generate more shorthanded scoring chances than the Stars had while on the man advantage. And when he inadvertently cleared the puck over the glass early in the second period, Manson didn’t crumble.
“Young guys would get rattled after they take a shooting-over-the-glass penalty,” said Boudreau. “It didn’t seem to rattle him. That tells me that, in tough situations, he’s going to be fine.”
Manson says knowing the coaching staff had confidence in putting him in tough situations will only boost his own confidence. “That’s the kind of style that I need to play,” he says, “and that’s [penalty kill], not [power play]. I’m not much of a skill guy, and I think everyone knows that. To be defensively sound, you need to battle.”
With Fistric back in Anaheim recovering from his injury, there’s a strong chance Manson plays again tomorrow night against the Colorado Avalanche. “They’re a fast team, just like Dallas,” he said. “If that’s the way I start my first games, against fast teams, hopefully it only gets easier. I don’t expect it to get easier, but hopefully I can get more comfortable.”
Many years from now, Manson will reminisce about his NHL debut on Halloween. And although the details of that night may start the fade over time, the one thing he’ll always remember is the way he felt.
“Of course I had fun,” he said. “First game in the NHL. If you don’t have fun, there’s something wrong with you.”