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Fowler embracing veteran leadership role with Ducks

Defenseman eager to work with new coach Eakins, return to playoffs

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. -- Cam Fowler has heard a lot about Dallas Eakins, the Anaheim Ducks' new coach. The veteran defenseman has spoken to a few younger players who skated for Eakins with San Diego of the American Hockey League the past four seasons.

"Everyone just raves about him," Fowler said at the Eastside Elite All-Star Challenge on Tuesday. "He's supposed to be a player's coach, brings a lot of enthusiasm, energy to the team. I haven't heard a negative thing about him.

"I know his big thing is communication. He wants to talk to the players, understand where we're coming from. That's kind of the main vibe I've gotten from him so far. So looking forward to getting to work with him."

Fowler received a call from Eakins a couple of weeks after he was hired June 17. Eakins let Fowler know what he could expect from him, and also what was expected of Fowler.

Last season, the Ducks missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2011-12. On May 9, center Ryan Kesler had hip surgery, making it unlikely he will play this season and putting his career in doubt. On June 19, they bought out the contract of forward Corey Perry, who ranks first in games played (988), second in goals (372) and third in points (776) in their history; Perry signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Stars on July 1.

Fowler, selected by Anaheim with the No. 12 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, is entering his 10th season with the Ducks. He had 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 59 games last season and has 272 points (58 goals, 214 points) in 620 NHL games.

"I think [Eakins is] putting a lot of trust in me as a guy that's kind of been there now for 10 years," Fowler said. "So I think he's expecting me to take on a little bit more of a leadership role. He was very upfront about what he expected, which I appreciated. 

"In terms of just someone who's been there, I'm kind of next in line with [center and captain Ryan Getzlaf] there, which is hard to believe."

Video: ANA@LAK: Fowler wrists one from the point

Fowler laughed. Wasn't it just yesterday that he was 18, making his NHL debut against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena?

"It's gone by so fast, and I'm grateful for every chance I get to play hockey," he said. "It's just a blessing for me to be able to do that. And leadership, I think you can do it in a variety of different ways. I'm not going to be a huge vocal guy. It's not really in my nature, but I've got to be there to push the young kids, be there every day to work and do the best I can to help the team."

Fowler grew up in suburban Detroit, spends the offseason there, and plays in the Eastside Elite summer league. But he's invested in Anaheim, signed through 2025-26. Goalie John Gibson is the only other member of the Ducks signed that long.

"Anaheim's my home now," Fowler said. "It's where me and my family will be. I want to be a part of the solution there. In Anaheim, we expect at the very minimum to make the playoffs and be a team that competes, and we didn't do that last year. So I think we should come in this season motivated and ready.

"I don't think people are expecting much out of us, which I think we can use as a little bit of fuel for our group. But the biggest thing is, we're just going to be young. We're going to rely a lot on some of our younger players to take a big step this year, and I can kind of speak to that. That was a position that I was in a while ago. So the best I can help them out, that's what I want to do. I want to be a part of the reason why we're able to turn things around."

The Ducks need contributions from the 21-year-olds on their roster, including defenseman Brendan Guhle and forwards Troy Terry, Sam Steel and Max Jones, and they need to do a better job supporting Gibson.

Eakins likes to play an in-your-face game, forcing opponents to earn everything.

"I think our style needs to change a little bit to help [Gibson] out," Fowler said. "It seemed like last year we were getting caught in between a lot. We wanted to be aggressive, and then we would do it at the wrong times. We just left him out to dry.

"It'll be interesting to see what changes, but I think we'll be a team that plays with a lot of pace, a lot of speed. And if we can do that and take care of our own end, that's when you'll start to see some big changes start to happen."

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