Drafted 85th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, Josh Mahura spent time with both the Red Deer Rebels and the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League (WHL) over the course of four seasons before making the trek south of the Canadian border to play for Anaheim’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the San Diego Gulls.
Regarded as an offensive-minded defenseman who likes to join the rush and can run the power play, Mahura is a player that Ducks fans have been eager to see seize a full-time role on the Anaheim blue line since he scored an astounding 69 points during his final season with Regina in 2017-18. However, the St. Albert native has been unable to stick in the NHL for a prolonged amount of time to this point.
Glut of Defensemen
Mahura can’t be faulted for being blocked by both Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm, the Ducks’ two best defensemen. However, the past couple of seasons have also seen fringe players get more chances to play ahead of Mahura instead of the latter being given a chance to take on a bigger part at the top level.
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Players such as Jake Dotchin, Andrej Sustr and Andy Welinski regularly got playing time in the past while Mahura was either in San Diego or sitting in the press box. While the players listed are fairly serviceable defensemen, their floors were very limited and their ceilings don’t come close to matching Mahura’s.
After getting his feet wet as a rookie during the 2018-19 season (five points in 17 games), Mahura once again received several call-ups to the NHL this season, playing in 11 games. He averaged just a shade over 16 minutes per game and contributed four points, with three of those coming in the same game.
Following Mahura’s career night, Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins was obviously extremely pleased to see the young defenseman have a breakout performance in his 2019-20 season debut:
“It was great. It was excellent to see him have his head up, he was moving his feet, and he was all over loose pucks. I just thought he had an excellent night and obviously the three points is a great thing, but knowing Josh like I do, he’s really happy with the win and more happy with just his overall play.”
Big Performance Needed
With the 2020-21 season being Mahura’s last before he enters restricted free agency, it is a make-or-break year for the young defenseman. While his inability to secure extended time with Anaheim isn’t entirely his fault, Mahura has been constantly overlooked for the likes of Jacob Larsson, Marcus Pettersson and more recently, Brendan Guhle and Christian Djoos.
Even if Matt Irwin and Michael Del Zotto—who are unrestricted free agents this summer—don’t return, Mahura still has competition on the left side with Lindholm, Guhle and Djoos all expected to play there while Fowler shifts to the right side.
A fully healthy Ducks roster would see Josh Manson and Erik Gudbranson fill out the rest of the defense, which already leaves Mahura on the outside looking in. Not to mention Jani Hakanpää, who was a late-season call-up and performed well when he was in the lineup.
Larsson is also currently a restricted free agent and is likely to be retained, adding even more competition to Anaheim’s crowded blue line. To top it all off, the Ducks signed Kodie Curran—another left-handed defenseman who can play on the right side—from the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) to a two-year deal in June after he was named league MVP for the 2019-2020 SHL season.
The 2020-21 season will likely see Mahura bounce between Anaheim and San Diego once again, barring injuries. If he doesn’t stick with the Ducks for a majority of the season, this will be Mahura’s third season playing primarily for the Gulls.
He cracked the 20-point mark for San Diego during the 2019-20 season and came close to reaching that mark (19) the season before. As one of the now more experienced players on the Gulls roster, Mahura needs to show he can be one of the leaders offensively.
Looking Beyond Next Season
While his performance in the 2020-21 season won’t necessarily affect what kind of contract he gets since he’s a restricted free agent, a poor performance would likely lead to other defensemen in San Diego, like Simon Benoit, garnering looks instead.
Next summer will see Djoos, Gudbranson and Hakanpää all head to free agency along with Mahura. Larsson may be headed back there as well if the Ducks only offer him a one-year deal.
If Gudbranson and Hakanpää aren’t retained, a spot on the Ducks’ blue line could potentially be open for Mahura as part of the third defensive pairing. Djoos being a restricted free agent will likely get a deal of one or two years with Larsson receiving the same.
The situation would remain the same if Curran shows out in his first season in the NHL. The most likely scenario in which Mahura locks down a spot in 2021-22 is if one of the Ducks’ defensemen gets traded or suffers a long-term injury.