Clayton Stoner's standout play for Minnesota during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs was a major reason the Ducks signed him to a four-year deal last summer. And it was during this past postseason – his first in Anaheim – the veteran defenseman further proved his reliability.
The 30-year-old Stoner played all 16 of the Ducks’ playoff games as a formidable pairing with partner Sami Vatanen, maintaining a level of play that kept fellow veteran James Wisniewski from ever making a postseason appearance. Stoner, a hard-hitting, goal-protecting, stay-at-home presence on the back end, had a plus-4 rating and led the team with 60 hits in the playoffs. His 128 hits during the regular season also led all Ducks d-men.
“I think that was kind of the idea of me coming here,” said the 6-3, 212-pounder last season. “Mix some size with some more skill,” Stoner said.
Not one to typically find his way on the scoresheet, he did score a goal in a Game 6 defeat in Chicago and had a goal and seven assists in 69 regular season contests.
“I think he’s done really good,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said of Stoner during the season. “We didn’t expect him to put up Sami Vatanen point numbers. But that’s fine. He has fought the tough guys. He plays a solid game. We use him in every situation except power play.
“He’s been a great teammate. And when he’s on his game, which has been most of the time, he’s a really good puck mover. I’m surprised that he doesn’t have any more points than he does.”
Stoner’s steady presence in the back end throughout the season also allowed more room for Vatanen to showcase his offensive skills
“He’s been a big part of helping Sami, as far as protecting Sami,” Boudreau said. “And when Sami’s rushing, he’s backing him up and knows his role. I can’t say enough good things about Clayton.”
With the departure of longtime Duck Francois Beauchemin, the Ducks have more of a need for a veteran presence on the blueline, and Stoner (along with newly acquired Kevin Bieksa) will be leaned on this season and beyond. Meanwhile, all signs point to him once again being paired with Vatanen, with whom he developed a significant comfort level last year.
“I think Sami complements my game,” Stoner said. “He moves the puck really well. And I can kind of get him the puck and he does a lot with it.”
Stoner’s only goal of the postseason – in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final in Chicago – was a beauty (despite the possible goalie interference on the play). He took in a Nate Thompson pass at the left point and hammered a slap shot that struck the inside of the far post before diving into the net.
It brought the Ducks to within a goal, but the Blackhawks would ultimately prevail 5-2 to force a Game 7.