Kevin Shattenkirk's first year in Anaheim didn't go how he, or anyone, wanted. The veteran defenseman battled nagging injuries, the Ducks struggled to score goals and a COVID-19 shortened season ended with Anaheim on the outside of the playoff picture.
Now, less than two months into his second campaign in Orange County, the 32-year-old is settling into his new digs and making his impact felt on and off the ice.
"I'm confident in my body and my health this year," Shattenkirk said after a recent practice. "I'm confident in my skating and knowing I can take some chances and recover."
The blueliner's resurgence on the ice has been a key component in Anaheim's early-season success. Shattenkirk has appeared in all 19 Ducks games thus far, leading club blueliners in scoring (4-10=14) and goals and co-leading in assists.
Video: ANA@SEA: Shattenkirk scores from the circle
"He's settled in," head coach Dallas Eakins explained. "When you come into a new organization, there's an adjustment period. We all know how last season went. There was a lot of adversity and it was hard for anybody to excel in that environment. That's greatly changed with help from Shatty's quiet and upbeat leadership. He just feels like, 'Hey, I'm a leader here. I can play my game and help others.' When you have that feeling, your game falls in place."
The scoring surge from the blueline has revitalized Anaheim's power play, turning one of the NHL's worst units from a season ago into one of its most prolific. While most teams have shifted to utilizing four forwards and a lone defenseman with the man advantage, the Ducks ice one successful five-man group led by Shattenkirk and teammate Cam Fowler, whose chemistry has caused problems for opposing defenses.
"We're both playing positions we love to play on the power play," Shattenkirk said. "Cam is tremendous at working the blue line with his skating ability and his ability to move guys with his eyes. I love coming downhill, being on that flank and being able to operate from there...He knows I'm constantly looking for him and vice versa, so we play really well together in that respect."
A focal point throughout training camp, Shattenkirk and Fowler (3-10=13) have led Anaheim's effort encouraging its defensemen to be more active offensively, joining the rush and supporting forwards on the attack.
Video: ANA@EDM: Shattenkirk buries a wicked wrister
The strategy has worked in the early going for the duo and their teammates alike. The Ducks collectively rank third in goals (12) and fourth in scoring (12-34=46) among NHL defense corps, while Shattenkirk and Fowler are just the seventh pair of defensemen in the past three years to each record at least 13 points through their team's first 18 games.
"Regardless of whether you're producing on the power play, when it's positive and effective, it just gives you confidence," Shattenkirk said. "As a team, we're working well together. With some of the plays that are just automatic in our game, when we can rely on each other to be in the right position, we can make a positive impact."
Shattenkirk's impact is evident in the Ducks on-ice success, but according to his teammates and coaches, his influence off of it has been just as important. Now skating in his 12th NHL season, the Ducks have turned to the veteran as a mentor for a pair of young defensemen looking to permanently earn their place in the NHL, Simon Benoit and Josh Mahura.
"He's a selfless human being," Eakins said of Shattenkirk. "He's there to help them. He's got a really calm demeanor. He's not going to get fired up in the emotion of playing and be yelling at them. He's a really good teacher and teammate."
Shattenkirk has skated alongside Mahura or Benoit all season. They say he is constantly helping to improve their game, either as a listening ear to ask a question or a guiding hand in times of trouble.
"He has all those little tricks that can help my game," Benoit said. "He makes those comments that help me with better passing and better timing. He's a great guy for me to be around."
"The more we can talk through plays together and get an understanding of each other, it helps us," Shattenkirk added. "We grow faster and become more comfortable on the ice together. I had guys who did it for me and I was able to play with some older players as a young player. It goes a long way when you listen and apply it and they do that well."
Shattenkirk says the benefit is mutual though, since his young partners bring him energy and remind him why he loves the game. After Benoit scored his first NHL goal last month, no one was more excited than his partner.
"That sort of reaction, that joy and excitement, it makes you feel young again," Shattenkirk said with a smile. "It takes you back to when you scored your first goal. It makes you really genuinely happy for someone when they score their first goal in the NHL."
Eakins believes the partnership will continue to make both the players and team better, while setting up the youngsters for future success.
"To have that guy sitting beside you and out on the ice talking to you in practice or a game, that's a massive privilege for a young defenseman."