The Anaheim Ducks are currently right in the middle of the playoff race.
The injury bug has been following the team, so it's no surprise that they have been struggling to establish themselves as the powerhouse we have come to expect. But with some key players coming back recently, the Ducks’ record should improve. And it is to be expected that a healthier version of the team picks up steam, carrying itself to the post-season.
This would place them as buyers at the trade deadline.
The Ducks' current core is partly an aging one, especially up-front, with players like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler. This is another incentive for them to try for a Stanley Cup in the next couple of years.
The trade they made earlier this season, taking Adam Henrique from the New Jersey Devils, also suggests that this is where the organization is heading, as the contract of the centreman expires in July of 2019.
Anaheim is set on defence for the most part, another reason why trading Vatanen for Henrique made sense. They have a plethora of excellent blue-liners in Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Brandon Montour, all 25 or under. Even looking at their future at the position, they have plenty of prospects that could step in on the back end in the next few years.
Only a few teams currently in a playoff spot are behind the Ducks in goals for. They need help up front, especially with the decline of Perry, who has been demoted to the fourth line recently.
It's possible that Montreal becomes an enticing trade partner for them as the Habs should think about unloading some of their wingers to replenish their defence. It's unlikely Anaheim wants to part ways with anyone on their current back end, but it could be acceptable for them to give up one of their defensive prospects to boost their scoring.
Jacob Larsson is often talked about as the next defenceman in line for the Ducks. He was drafted in the first round in 2015, has the size, and appears to be a really good skater. He currently plays with their farm team in San Diego and has a respectable eight points in 25 games.
He would be an interesting option, but there is a rising star in the Western Hockey League this season that possesses an offensive side to his game that Larsson has shown limited aptitude for.
Josh Mahura currently plays for the Regina Pats, and is second in the league in points-per-game for defencemen.
The 19-year-old was drafted in the third round of the 2016 draft. That is understandable despite his obvious skill considering that he missed almost the entirety of his draft season due to a knee injury.
He returned to the Red Deer Rebels for that year's playoffs, but couldn't show everything he was capable of due to the long absence that preceded a jump right back into high-intensity hockey.
The Ducks took a chance on him anyway, and it's paying off big time. This season, Mahura has 50 points in 42 games, including 17 goals. Thirty-eight of those points are primary: either the first assist on a goal or putting the puck in the net himself. He stands currently as one of the top defencemen in the WHL.
Mahura wears number #5 for reference in the video clips.
The Pats player has a distinctive ability that will have him score at any level, and that is his booming shot. He possesses a quick slapshot motion that transpierces goalies when they cannot get perfectly set to challenge. More than once this season, after the defenceman fired from the point, the puck made his way across the goal line by passing through a netminder who could only partially slow the momentum.
The young defenceman doesn't waste his shooting opportunities. He moves laterally before teeing up until he sees an opening. If the traffic in front of him is too dense, he opts for wristers to get the puck on net for rebounds.
Mahura also likes to attack the middle of the ice when he has the room to skate in. He has good hands and, waltzing his way through opponents, he stays constantly upright with his head up looking for options.
He is supported by his strong balance and agility in his attempts to escape defensive pressure. He can out-skate the majority of players in a straight line, which allows him to join the attack from the back end, profiting from lapses in opposing coverage for scoring opportunities.
While he prefers simple plays over flashiness, and, as a byproduct, short passes over puck rushes, the defenceman has the ability to carry the puck up the ice, further showcasing his ability to remain elusive and protect possession.
When he has the space to gain some momentum, he can easily get his team in the offensive zone.
Unlike many blue-liners with offensive upside, Mahura's play away from the puck is not a weakness. Far from it. He's very much a two-way defender with a developed positional awareness. His defensive-zone play is probably one of his best attributes. He's constantly with his man on the right side of the puck and isn't afraid to play a physical game when it's needed.
He is a great asset for Regina in transitions, as his ability to quickly identify breakout solutions makes life easier for everyone else on the ice. He has the necessary confidence to execute with limited space, and is willing to absorb hits, waiting for support instead of giving away possession at the first sign of forechecking pressure.
If there's something the young defenceman has to work on, however, it's defending off the rush. While his skating can be a great strength to his game, that currently only applies when he's going forward, as he can have some trouble matching speed and establishing a solid gap while attempting to move the other way.
Skillful backward skating can be a great tool to have, especially at the next level. But in a changing game of hockey it is not as much of a requirement as it once was. More and more defenceman — the most notable being Erik Karlsson — rely on building momentum with forward strides before making their pivot.
Mahura is adapting to this deficiency in his game in the same way, and it is a telling sign of a player who is smart enough to figure out how he can be the most effective with the abilities he possesses.
What would a trade with Anaheim for Mahura look like?
As always, there's a certain element of risk that is associated with youngsters — even if they project to a top-four role and could make an impact at the NHL level in the next two years like Mahura. A one-for-one trade for any of the more desirable, established NHL wingers of the Habs would not be fair value, especially if we are talking about a top goal-scorer like Max Pacioretty.
But, the Western team also has a lot of other interesting up-and-comers such as Sam Steel and Troy Terry that could entice Montreal and be great supplementary pieces to pry away the captain. The Ducks also hold all of their 2018 assigned picks to work with.
This kind of trade would be on a much larger scope and would change the look of both franchises for a long time. But with one team looking to trend up in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup and the other wanting to reset their organization, there could be a potential fit for both sides.