Jake Muzzin, T.J. Brodie, Alfred. They’re the oft underrated sidekicks to dazzling heroes, but there is another. One whose skill undoubtedly places him among the best defenders in the NHL, but mention his name to a casual fan, and even to the more fanatic followers of the NHL, and in return you’re greeted with quizzical stares; eyes that gleam with a flicker of recognition before it’s wisped away. Just who is this mystery defender? His name is Josh Manson.
Who is Josh Manson?
The 25-year-old Manson has just over 100 games of NHL experience, all with the Anaheim Ducks. His 22 career points are nothing to write home about but when you look at the raw Corsi leaders over the last two seasons, there he sits, quietly the fourth best defender, sandwiched between Hampus Lindholm and Victor Hedman. His defensive partner just above him, together they form the NHL’s best kept secret.
A product of Northeastern University, Manson is already one of their most prolific alumni, behind only Joe Vitale, Chris Nilan, and Dan McGillis in NHL games played. He spent brief parts of two seasons with the Ducks farm team, the Norfolk Admirals, accumulating 13 points in 45 games in the AHL.
Never one to put up points, Manson’s primary ability comes in his ability to drive play. This season, only Nick Ritchie has allowed fewer attempts against per 60 minutes (CA60) for the Ducks, but what’s more impressive is the improvement in Cam Fowler’s game. Last season Fowler averaged 57.91 CA60, the worst among Ducks players with at least 100 minutes played, this season he’s down to 47.64 CA60, the fourth best on the team.
For context, here’s how dominant the Fowler-Manson pairing have been this season:
I’ve added their Corsi differential per 60 in brackets. Manson/Fowler are in “dull” but with a ~+5 CD60). That’s impressive w/ Fowler. pic.twitter.com/QOoTuTjzaY
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) November 13, 2016
And this breaks down the Ducks D as of November 7:
The Ducks are pretty average but their SCF% is an issue. pic.twitter.com/01lEqhJd0B
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) November 7, 2016
Josh Manson: Shutdown Master
There are two things we can gather from these charts. Primarily, Manson is a fantastic shutdown defender, and pairing him with Fowler has turned Fowler from a defensive liability into half of one of the best shutdown pairings in the NHL. The second aspect of these charts worth noting comes from the second one.
Not only is Manson effectively shutting down opposition chances, he’s the best Anaheim defender at ensuring the Ducks are creating them as well. No Ducks defenseman has a higher expected-goals for per 60 minutes than Manson, and the only players above him are the Ducks trio of Ritchie, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry.
Manson has been the Ducks best defender by miles this season but he’s also been one of the best in the NHL. No defender with at least 100 minutes played has a higher xGF% than Manson’s 60.74%, and his 45.79 CA60 is seventh best in the NHL.
Much like Muzzin, Manson has spent much of his NHL career in the shadow of a bigger name. Whether it’s Lindholm, or Fowler, Manson has always been their Alfred, quietly toiling in the background, rarely noticed, but the driving force of a dynamic duo. He is, simply put, the best defenseman you’ve never heard of.