Fowler proves he's no longer a kid
It usually is the captain that gets called on to talk to the media after a particularly tough loss and Sunday night was no different in the Anaheim Ducks' locker room.
“I forced it,” Fowler said. “Terrible play. It’s not something that I usually try and make. I’ve got to be more patient than that.”
Fowler then took ownership of his team’s trouble advancing the puck out of its zone.
“That starts with me,” he said. “I’m the quarterback up the ice and it’s up to me to make plays and get the puck into the hands of our skilled forwards up front. They did a good job and showed me some different looks, but it’s up to me to adjust at that point and I didn’t do it well enough here tonight.”
In other words, Fowler sounded like a true veteran at the advanced age of … 19.
Yep, it’s difficult to believe that Fowler is still a teenager because he has stepped into a man’s role for the stumbling Ducks.
Fowler leads Anaheim with 25:35 minutes of ice time per game in a top defensive pairing with veteran Francois Beauchemin.
Last season the Ducks’ top duo of Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman were perhaps the most dynamic in the NHL. Visnovsky led all defensemen in scoring while Lydman was among the league’s plus-minus leaders.
But both struggled during Anaheim’s awful start and coach Randy Carlyle has given far more ice time to Beauchemin and Fowler, whose role is even more significant in the wake of Visnovsky’s broken finger that will keep him out until mid-December.
It is an expanded role and Fowler has not been without issues in his second season.
He was on the ice for all three Dallas goals in a 3-1 loss on Oct. 21 and was a minus-4 in a 5-0 loss to Detroit Nov. 5. After another loss to the Red Wings on Sunday, Fowler fell to minus-11 on the season.
Those numbers are also a reflection of the team’s poor play but Fowler, who had 10 goals and 40 points as an 18-year-old rookie last season, knew there would be an adjustment his second time around.
“That’s what everybody talks about,” he said. “No matter what kind of rookie season you have, everyone just assumes that the sophomore slump is coming. It is what it is. It happens and we all go through certain slumps during the season. That’s no different for any player.”
Fowler acknowledged Sunday night how difficult it is stepping into Visnovsky’s skates.
“It’s up to me to kind of take the responsibility and put it on my shoulders and lead the team up the ice,” Fowler said. “I’ve been able to do that before. I’ve shown that I can make plays and for whatever reason, I’m just seeing some different things and different looks that I’m not used to and trying some different plays that I probably shouldn’t.”
Despite his mistakes, everything about Fowler says he’s well equipped to develop – even in the midst of a 2-9-4 Anaheim stretch that is the worst slide in Carlyle's seven-year tenure.
He hit the weights in the offseason and ballooned to nearly 210 pounds atop his 6-foot-1 frame before getting down to a lighter, more mobile 204.
It was all in the name of confronting the so-called sophomore slump. It seemed to pay off early as Fowler was perhaps the team’s smartest decision maker on the blue line through the first couple games.
Known for his safe play, smart passing and solid footwork, Fowler also has an underrated shot. He scored two goals in the team’s first game without Visnovsky on Nov. 13.
Fowler, who "fell" to 10th in the 2010 draft, also carries a precocious professionalism that is well suited to weather bad times. He’s well spoken in media situations, yet youthfully honest, and that might be a reflection of Scott Niedermayer, the former Ducks captain who had Fowler live with him last season.
They occasionally check in with each other, but Fowler is the equivalent of a teenager gone off to college — only this one involves bumping shoulders with the Johan Franzens and Joe Thorntons of the NHL.
Fowler won’t be a teenager much longer. He turns 20 on Dec. 5 and hasn't lost sight that he's working his dream job.
“I haven’t looked forward to it too much,” Fowler said. “I hadn’t even realized. I’m just lucky to be in this situation that I’m in at this stage. … Not many teenagers get to do what I’m doing right now.”
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