For so many players who have made it in the NHL, their draft stories involve buzzing arenas full of passionate hockey fans, the anxiousness of waiting for your name to be called, finally stepping onto that stage in front of a national TV audience to take pictures in your brand new jersey, then being whisked away to meet with the media and your new team's brass.
Josh Manson's story is nothing like that.
The then 19-year-old Manson had no idea the second day of the 2011 NHL Draft had even started when he was alone in his family home on Prince Edward, Saskatchewan getting ready to play a Saturday round of golf with some buddies. That was when his agent called with news that would forever change his life, that the Anaheim Ducks had taken him in the sixth round with the 160th overall pick of the draft.
There are first-round phenoms who ultimately never pan out in the NHL, but the tenacious Manson has defied the odds by going from mostly unknown sixth-rounder to bonafide NHL success. He's the son of longtime NHL tough guy Dave Manson, but Josh wasn't on most teams' radars until he switched from forward to defenseman during his last year of junior hockey with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League. After getting drafted, he spent three years at the collegiate level with Northeastern, where he was made captain in 2013-14 and was named the best defensive defenseman in Hockey East.
Last season was his sixth in the NHL, all with Anaheim, which named him an alternate captain for much of the campaign. A four-year contract he signed with the Ducks in October 2017 assures him even more stability.
Manson, who will turn 29 next week, took time from his home in Corona del Mar to reminisce on his draft story and his path to the NHL. "It's not a great story," he says, "but that's kind of what makes it unique."
What do you remember about that day?
Originally, I didn't know if I was gonna get drafted because I wasn't a super high priority player going into the draft. I had talked to two or three teams, Anaheim included, and I just didn't know what was gonna happen. My agent told me, "You know what, for the day go get your mind off things, go for a round of golf, whatever. So I booked a round with my buddies because he said the draft was going to happen around the afternoon. That morning I was brushing my teeth, maybe like 9:30, 10 o'clock, and I got a call from my agent and he's like, "You were just drafted by the Anaheim Ducks. Congratulations."
The whole thing caught me so off guard because I wasn't waiting for it. I had no idea what was going on. So I was like, "Wow, super cool." I was by myself, there was nobody in the house. And I started getting texts after my picture coming across the bottom of the ticker on TV. And then we get to the golf course and we're going to tee off, and I'm getting phone call after phone call after phone call. Obviously, it doesn't work when you're trying to tee off right there on the first hole. I'm on the phone and I'm like, "I can't just block all the calls." We got like three holes in, and I just couldn't do it anymore. We all left. So it was a waste of money. I think I still owe those guys a round of golf.
Did it ever occur to you to watch it on TV?
I watched the first day cause that's the first round, and then the next day I was like, "If they call me, they call me." Maybe I would have looked if I had known that it started that early in the morning. I didn't think it had started yet, and then I get a call. It caught me so off guard.
Did you have any idea what teams were interested in you?
Well, the Ducks scout Glen Cochran was out in Western British Columbia where I was playing. And he was the first scout that I'd ever talked to. I was a forward my first year in juniors, and then I switched to defense, and then that's when I started to get NHL people calling. Anaheim was the most interested because that was the scout that I talked to face to face.
The story goes that Anaheim didn't even have a sixth-round pick and traded with Toronto to acquire one just to take you, because Cochran had been so high on you.
I like to think I owe Glen Cochran a lot, and then he owes me a little too, you know? [Laughs]
Do you remember telling your family?
I called them and told them, but I don't remember when I saw them. I think because at that point it was the summertime, so we always move up to the lake in the summertime, but I was still in town because I was gonna go golfing in town. So I didn't see anybody. But I think I saw my grandpa first when I was driving out there because I passed him on the highway and we pulled over. He told me how proud he was of me and we hugged, and that was super special.
Do you ever think about how remarkable it is to make it to the NHL considering the circumstances?
All the time. I think about that all the time, but that's kind of how my life went. To be honest, that's how my entire career in sports went. I had to work hard, and I was fortunate enough to be put in circumstances to play at the right level. And then by the next year I had developed so much that I was a decent player at that level, and that's how it always happened my first year. I wasn't very good, and then the second year I got better. That's how it kept happening for me. So I always progressed. I was always a very late bloomer. I wasn't expecting to get drafted at 19 years old, but I did. I wasn't like, "Oh shoot. I wish I would have been third round or I could have made the team a little bit easier. No, it never even crossed my mind. And I just kind of kept progressing and progressing and progressing.
Honestly, it sounds dumb, but I was so naive to everything. I never had expectations for myself. In the back of my mind, I knew what I wanted to be an NHL player. I just dedicated myself to it, and I just worked hard at it and just continued to trust myself, put the work in and follow the steps. I didn't overthink things. And it all kind of just looked after itself. It sounds so easy, but I was just extremely fortunate. I had the right things happen to my career. I was a forward that turned into a defenseman. I got drafted by the right team that sent me to the right place. And I just found a way to get better and better and better. So I've been very, very blessed to be honest, just the path that's been laid out for me. I've just kind of followed it.