Brandon Montour didn’t get discouraged when he wasn’t drafted in 2012, the year he turned 18 and was playing for Brantford of the Junior B-level Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
“You watch it growing up and you have this wish, but at that point I don’t think too many people were watching me at all,” said Montour, who was passed over again the next season when he played in the tiny town of Caledonia. “I wasn’t expecting to get drafted.”
He began to attract attention while playing for Waterloo (Iowa) of the amateur U.S. Hockey League and was chosen by the Ducks 55th overall in the 2014 NHL draft. After a season at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and time in the Ducks’ minor-league system, he has become another gem in a string of impressive defensemen the Ducks have found and developed over the past decade.
His one-goal, three-assist performance in the third period of their 6-3 comeback win over Dallas on Wednesday showcased his growth and emphasized the difficulty of assessing the future of an 18-year-old kid, especially one who played in an out-of-the-way town.
A lot of people are watching him now. “I hope so,” Montour said before the Ducks traveled to Columbus to begin a six-game trip. “This is where I want to be and have some success in this league, and hopefully we can keep that up.”
Montour became the first NHL defenseman to record four points in the third period of a game in nearly 12 years, and first defenseman to score four points in any period in more than five years. He also tied a club record for points in a period that’s shared by three other players and is the only defenseman in that group. He was credited with a team-high three blocked shots and a club record-tying plus-five defensive rating, but his feats were overshadowed by Ondrej Kase’s hat trick as the Ducks won for the seventh time in eight games.
Montour wasn’t even named one of the three stars, an honor bestowed by the team’s TV broadcasters.
Although he was overlooked Wednesday, he deserves praise for his work in the month since Cam Fowler was forced out of the lineup by severe facial injuries. Montour’s smooth, effortless skating has always been a great asset, but the defensive part of his game was questionable. He has made progress there since he was asked to step in for Fowler and step up in the lineup.
“That’s been the biggest difference, I think, that the choices that he’s making seem to be much more effective now, rather than just going and going and going,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.
“He is trending up and he has been since the added responsibility of the loss of Cam Fowler. He’s got more responsibility, he’s gotten more of an opportunity, and he’s continuing to earn it. He’s part of the power play now, he’s part of the penalty killing, he’s part of five on five. He’s playing with Hampus [Lindholm], so those guys are getting the large minutes, the lion’s share of the defensive responsibility. And that’s just the growth of a young player.”
Montour spent part of his childhood in Ohsweken, a village in the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve. His father has First Nations Heritage; his mother does not. He played forward when he was young but preferred defense. “There was just one point when I decided to play full-time defense because you get the puck a lot more, you get to be out there a lot more, you can control the play a lot more and you can see the ice that much more,” he said.
He also was an accomplished lacrosse player and won the Minto Cup, awarded to Canada’s top junior A lacrosse team, with the Six Nations Arrows in 2014. At different points he played against Ducks teammate Nick Ritchie and Ritchie’s older brother, Brett.
“Hockey was always No. 1 but it was one of those things where I still loved lacrosse and wanted to play that too,” said Montour, whose parents live on the reserve.
Choosing hockey was another good decision. The Ducks have a knack for nurturing NHL-caliber defensemen and have been able to trade some in order to fill other needs: They dealt Sami Vatanen to New Jersey for center Adam Henrique just over a year ago and recently sent Marcus Pettersson to Pittsburgh for winger Daniel Sprong. Carlyle and general manager Bob Murray were defensemen in their playing days, giving them insight into the development process and making them protective of the confidence of youngsters.
“We try to make sure that we grow the player and coach the player up, and try to find ways to develop the player, plus be successful,” Carlyle said. “You don’t really know what you’ve got until you’ve played an extended number of games. But don’t put them in situations they can’t survive in.” Montour is surviving and thriving in those situations.
Montour, 24, has several tattoos. On his left shoulder is the date 12-29-16, the day of his NHL debut and his mom’s birthday. Within an elaborate design on the inside of his left arm are the words, “Anything is possible if you believe.” He grew up with that phrase, he said. He’s living it now.
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