(Photo: Dinur Blum)
SAN JOSE- If someone had said at the start of the 2013-14 NHL season that Sharks defenseman Jason Demers would have a better year than teammate and fellow defenseman Dan Boyle, I would have looked at them like they were crazy.
But with older veterans like Boyle and Brad Stuart having down years while battling through injuries, the Sharks have been fortunate to see Demers take off.
Still only 25-years-old, Demers is having a career year at both ends of the ice. He has become a top-pair defender alongside Team Canada stalwart Marc-Edouard Vlasic. That’s right, Demers, who was a healthy scratch in favor of Scott Hannan in last year’s playoffs is now playing to the level of an elite NHL defenseman.
Despite coming off back-to-back miserable seasons in 2011-12 and 2012-13, Demers has turned his career around 180 degrees. Not only is he back to flashing the offensive skills that saw him earn No. 1 power play time ahead of Rob Blake as a rookie in 2009-10, but he has cleaned up his mistakes in his own end as well.
Even without seeing much time on the Sharks top power play unit this year, Demers still leads the Sharks defense in scoring with 31 points and his 18 even strength assists have him tied for 15th amongst all NHL defensemen. A couple of the defenders whom also have 18 even strength helpers just happen to be a couple of the biggest names in hockey in Minnesota’s Ryan Suter and Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall. And remember, Demers has put up those assist totals with significantly less ice time than these two established stars.
On the flip side, Demers has also been more confident with the decisions in his own zone. When struggling the previous two seasons the Quebec native would rush the play and frequently turn pucks over. This season however, he is letting the play come to him and showing the patience of a confident defenseman. A big part of hockey is playing with confidence and doing so has allowed Demers to trust his abilities rather than second guess himself. He is making reverse D to D passes at the right times and alleviating the fore-checking pressure by drawing opponents towards him while making excellent chip passes to initiate the breakout.
“[He's] been one of our better defensemen down the stretch here” commented Sharks head coach Todd McLellan after Demers had another strong two way game in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals. “The youthful legs that he has and the energy that he has right now is a benefit to everybody. He’s been partnered with Vlasic for awhile and are arguably our most steady pair. ”
Against the Capitals Demers saw 22:20 in time on ice and he was tremendous in shielding opponents to the outside off the rush, particularly in the overtime period. The coaching staff trusts him right now to log important minutes alongside the best shut-down defenseman in the game today. Not only is his 31 points a career high, but his plus-16 rating is also nearing a new career mark. Over the last few weeks he’s seemed to surpass Justin Braun in terms of trust of the staff. Braun comparatively only skated 19:40 against the Capitals.
With the aforementioned struggles of Boyle and Stuart, if Demers was having a third straight poor season, this Sharks team wouldn’t be anywhere near first place in the division. It’s difficult to under sell just how crucial Demers’ performance has been. If he were struggling like he did last year, the Sharks would have only two defenseman playing at an elite level. That simply wouldn’t be a recipe for success. However, if Vlasic, Braun, and Demers all remain healthy, the Sharks have an opportunity once again for a deep playoff run.
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