He strikes an imposing figure at 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, known for knocking opposing players into oblivion, so it's a little funny to hear Josh Manson describe himself as "a late bloomer."
But when your father is Dave Manson, a bruising defenseman who played more than 1,100 games in the NHL for seven different teams, expectations are naturally high. Yet at a time when a lot of future NHLers come into their own physically, Josh Manson still had a lot of growing up to do.
"It's just the way my progression has gone as a hockey player, it just seemed to happen later than it did for other guys," says the now 26-year-old Manson, the Ducks defenseman in the middle of his fourth NHL season. "Some of these guys are 18 years old, and fully big and strong already. When I was 18, I was nowhere near being a professional athlete. So I just felt a little behind all the time, and there's nothing wrong with that."
Manson was born in Chicago, where his dad was playing for the Blackhawks at the time, but Dave was traded to Edmonton just four days after Josh's birth. Dave went on to also play in Winnipeg, Phoenix, Montreal, back in Chicago, Dallas and Toronto before his career was over, meaning the family (which includes Josh and three siblings) moved around a lot. Josh has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Canada, but he says, "I feel more Canadian because that's where my whole family is from, and my dad played more in Canada after I was born."
Manson actually went to college in the States to develop his game, spending three years at Northeastern University in Massachusetts after being taken by Anaheim in the 2011 NHL Draft. His draft-day story doesn't involve hugging friends and family before striding to the stage in a suit and slipping on a brand new jersey. Manson didn't go until early in the sixth round, and he wasn't even aware he was picked until his phone rang while he was hanging around his family home in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
"I actually thought the draft was later on in the day," he says with a laugh. "So I was kind of getting along with my day, and all of a sudden I got a call from my agent, "Hey, you've been drafted!" So that was that.
During his junior year at Northeastern, he was selected as Hockey East's Best Defensive Defenseman and was named to the Hockey East Second All-Star Team. But most importantly, he used that time to mature both physically and mentally. "I found I went the perfect route," he says, "I went to college and got myself an extra two or three years that I needed to develop and really find my game, come into my own and develop as a player as a person."
The former tall-but-lanky high school senior eventually grew into the body he has now, which came as a surprise to some back home. "This kid used to pick me up when I was younger and put me on his shoulder," Manson says with a smile. "I saw him for the first time in like eight years, so of course I picked him up and threw him on my shoulder. Tables turned a little bit."
Manson would ultimately forego his final year of school to sign a two-year entry-level contract with the Ducks in March of 2014. The following season he got his first chance up with the big club and he's hardly looked back, evolving into one of Anaheim's most reliable defensemen. Last year he played all 82 games and led all Ducks d-men in hits with 426 and plus/minus rating with a +14. Though he doesn't get the fanfare of a Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm or Sami Vatanen, the organization has shown how much they value Manson in the past few months.
Going into last June's NHL Expansion Draft, Anaheim opted to package fellow young defenseman Shea Theodore in a trade to Vegas rather than risk losing Manson to the Golden Knights. "Coming out of it and still being here in Anaheim, I couldn't have been happier," Manson says. "It was just another way they showed they wanted me to stay here."
Earlier this month, the Ducks signed Manson to a four-year contract extension that will ensure he stays in Anaheim through the 2021-22 season. "I don't know if there are words for it, but it's what you've always wanted," Manson says. "You want that kind of security from your team. And when they commit to four years, that's when you know they have faith in you as well and they think you're a valuable member of the team."
Manson bought a place near a lake back in Prince Albert over the summer, where he built a gym in the garage to help in his offseason training. He still rents a house in Newport Beach that once belonged to former Ducks winger Tim Jackman and has teammate Jared Boll living next door. The location affords Manson a lifestyle he knew little about when he first got to Anaheim back in 2011.
"I'd never been to California before that, and I didn't know much about it," he says. "All that I knew about was the rink, the Doubletree Hotel and the area around it. The only place they took us out to was Huntington Beach, which was great, but I had no idea guys live down along the beach in Newport and those areas. As I slowly began to realize it, I was like, God, this is an awesome setup. You can go to the rink during the day, come home to the beach and go surfing if you want."
Manson admits he hasn't been on a board yet, but says he plans on doing that one of these days, while also hoping to buy a place now that he knows he's entrenched in Orange County for the foreseeable future.
"I'm comfortable here in Anaheim, the whole organization," Manson says. "I love the city, I love the fans and I just love playing here. I couldn't be happier."