So is Fowler. He's great offensively, and he isn't physical, but he is not bad defensively by any stretch of the imagination. He was matched against Taylor Hall at the WJCs, and did a very good job in both games. Because of the lack of physicality, a lot of people were quick to call Fowler one dimensional. In reality, I'd say Gudbranson is much more one-dimensional than Fowler.
There isn't a lot of physicality from our group, and there's a lot of offense, but defensive ability isn't really lacking. Fowler, Sbisa and even Gardiner look to have developed very nicely defensively, and if they pan out, shouldn't be defensive liabilities at all. Hell, even Vatanen is regarded as pretty good defensively, despite his size. All in all, if our guys can pan out, they're a very scary group simply because of their skating ability and the fact that they bring so much to the table in both ends.
Fowler was matched up against Taylor Hall's line in the WJC to help shut him down. His offensive upside is undeniable, of course, and in my opinion the highest of any prospect we have, but some people don't realize that he's been utilized in important defensive situations quite a bit.
Gardiner was used in a shutdown role in the WJC as well, and Wisconsin has used him in that role too. This season will probably be a coming out party for him offensively in Wisconsin too, as two of Wisconsin's best offensive defensemen will be departing, opening up a slot for Gardiner.
Sbisa's game has also developed into a better two-way game than before. I loved the way he played for Switzerland in the Olympics. I thought he played smarter than he did for us in Anaheim, where I thought he was a little too high risk at times in our own end. He was a bit more conservative in his own end, while still displaying exactly the of skill we can expect from him in other areas on the ice. I thought the difference between him in Anaheim and him in the Olympics was damn near night and day, and that was only a few months later. And his poise, well, the kid has oodles of it. That's right, I said oodles.
None of these guys are Drew Doughty(or, at least, no one is expecting that from them) but that trio could very well be Anaheim's three best defensemen a few years down the line, and with players like Clark, Mitera, Vatanen(a gamble, but he has tremendous skill, and his only downside is that he's a bit soft in his own end and he's small), and Heed(another gamble, but a good one) I think Anaheim might well have some of the best young prospect defensemen of any team. There is a lot of depth there, as well as versatility. Both are important to me. You could build a complete blue line from that, and not want for anything.
Players like Vatanen and Heed are risks, but if even one of them pans out that would really be something. Clark and Mitera bring a great gritty, and smart stay-at-home game, and both have shown an ability to play a shutdown role. Clark seems to excel in that role. Gardiner is still a bit of a project(but not nearly looking like the risk he was when we drafted him), but he's such a tremendous skater, and I can't help but be impressed at how after turning a defenseman only a few years previously, he is now playing a shutdown role for the Badgers, who had probably the best blue line in the NCAA. What impresses me more is that he was known as an offensive defenseman, and hasn't been able to utilize that quite as much as he probably could have because of his role in Wisconsin. Add in Sbisa and Fowler, who seem like Anaheim's two best prospects, both of who could very possibly end up as real good #1 defensemen in the future, and how can you not be excited about that?
Anaheim's team on the ice might not be great this season, and I don't think they will be Cup Contenders by any stretch of the imagination, but the future is bright in Anaheim. More so if Murray signs Ryan, which I have high hopes for. And they've done some of this while making the playoffs every season except this last one. That's really something. And let's not forget they've been good in the playoffs every season as well, except in 2008 when they got trounced by Dallas. We're not talking about a team that sneaks into the playoffs and then gets creamed in the 1st round.