Fatherly advice, when given in the right spirit, can make all the difference. So when Perry Fowler told his only son to walk tall and carry a bigger stick, the son listened. And like it did for legendary lawman Buford Pusser, doing so has made all the difference.
With his ninth goal of the season, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler not only helped deliver his team a much-needed victory, but he also leaped ahead of Shea Weber into sole possession of second place in goals by defensemen, behind only San Jose Sharks freak of nature Brent Burns. This is not a happy coincidence or an accident. When he wasn’t being mentioned in trade rumors – and even when he was – Fowler was working on his shot. And part of that improvement entailed taking his father’s advice that he increase the length of his Bauer 1S (95 flex) stick by about two inches. When the 6-foot-1 Fowler is without skates, the stick goes up to his nose, where it went up only to chin in previous years.
“If you looked at my stick for the past few years, it was short for a defenseman,” Fowler said. “Especially a defenseman of my size. My dad has watched me play hockey all my life and I’m kind of a student of the game and I see some of these guys like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, you can just tell when he walks the line, he has a long stick and he snaps it and you can tell there’s flex in that stick and it comes off hard.”
And Fowler shot the puck. A ton. In fact, he dedicated most of his summer to improving his shot. Shooting from all angles, wrist shots, slap shots, through traffic. As a result, Fowler is on pace to take 181 shots this season, well above his career high of 123. The way Fowler saw it, he scored 40 points as an 18-year-old rookie in 2010-11 and hasn’t eclipsed that total since. Part of that came from the dip in his play that many young defensemen experience early in their careers, but most of it came from getting more of a shooting mentality. With a 55-point pace after 33 games, Fowler is poised to shatter his career best in points. His next goal will match his career high in that department, which he also established in his rookie season.
“I just didn’t feel like I was contributing as much offensively as I felt I was able to,” Fowler said. “When I was scouted and I first started in the league, I was known as an offensive defenseman and I had a good rookie year in terms of points, but then I was around 30-35 points and I felt like there was more there. I’m trusting myself a little more. It’s a mindset. If you see pucks go in, you start to gain confidence.”
Sometimes it’s hard to build that confidence when your name is being bandied about in very strong trade rumors the way it did over the summer. We’ll never know how close he came to being traded, but it doesn’t really matter. When you deal with that kind of uncertainty, it inevitably wears on you. For his part, Fowler was convinced he was going to be dealt during the draft last June and the persistent rumors throughout the summer did little to quell his fears. The Ducks have been getting calls on Fowler for the better part of three years, but the Ducks precarious cap situation seemed to give more depth to those in the summer of 2016.
“I understood that,” Fowler said. “As a player, I have a good relationship with management here. I think nothing would happen unless their backs were against the wall. I don’t think it was personal, it was more business. It gave me a little motivation, to be honest with you. I wanted to show teams that if they were interested in me that they’d be getting a good quality player and it really pushed me through the summer and even the start of the season.”
(One pro scout told me last night that he had heard the rumors, so he went to watch Fowler play one night and immediately called his GM after the game and told him to forget about it. Fowler played 25 minutes and was the best player on the ice. “I said, ‘There’s no way they’re trading him,’ ” the scout said. “You don’t trade your best defenseman if you want to keep your job.”)
It seemed to many that the Ducks would ultimately have to choose between Fowler and restricted free agent Hampus Lindholm. And when the Ducks signed Lindholm to a six-year deal worth $31.5 million, that notion once again gained momentum. But Ducks GM Bob Murray made it clear he had no intention of dealing Fowler and told him as much about five games into the season. A former player himself, Murray thought Fowler needed some reassurance that while a lot of teams were calling, the Ducks were not shopping him.
“The difference as a player, if you know you’re not being shopped…As a GM, you’re going to listen to offers and I understand that,” Fowler said. “(Murray) and I have a great relationship and he’s always been very open with me about the direction we’re headed and things like that.”
Exactly where the maddeningly inconsistent Ducks are headed is a little unclear. But wherever that is, they’ll do so with Fowler driving much of their offense from the back end.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.