Unless you have been living under a boulder throughout the summer months, you probably already know that the San Jose Sharks—led by their GM Doug Wilson—have been one of the more active teams this offseason. You also probably know that the overhaul of changes have been widely applauded by experts and fans alike.
But what you might not know is which two Sharks players are the ones most prime to reap the benefits of the organization’s offseason moves. Or maybe you do. After all the column that follows doesn’t exactly qualify as a uniquely detailed analysis to yours truly.
In other words, one would tend to believe this line of reasoning to have been on the minds of plenty of Sharks followers since the two big swaps with the Minnesota Wild were completed earlier this offseason.
What is that line of reasoning? It’s quite simply the fact that the two returning Sharks who will benefit the most from the offseason are forward Joe Pavelski and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
While this offseason was not a huge one—directly speaking—for either the Pavelski or Vlasic household (after all neither was traded or signed to an extension), the trades made by Wilson signify career years to come for both players.
In Pavelski’s case, the extremely crafty and clutch right handed center will now be back on one of the top two scoring lines thanks to trade of Devin Setoguchi to the Wild. If we are to believe our own hype (that being the media)—which has been aided by the most respected Sharks media source in the Mercury News’ David Pollak—Pavelski will start the season on the No. 1 line with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.
Now the first thing that comes to mind with Pavelski on the top line is that Thornton will get tossed from the face-off dot even more s0 than he already does. However, in regards to Pavelski playing alongside two All-Stars, well the sky is the limit for the former Wisconsin Badger. Last season Pavelski set a career high in assists 46, and points 66 while playing the second half of the season as the squad’s third line center.
Of course the devils advocate can argue that on a third line, Pavelski did not see the top defenders from the opponent which allowed him to thrive. That certainly holds some truth to it. That said, Pavelski will be going from playing with Kyle Wellwood and Torrey Mitchell, two 20-30 point players to Marleau and Thornton, two 70-80 point players.
Thornton turned Jonathan Cheechoo into a 56 goal scorer, he gave Nils Ekman a second straight 50-plus point season. Nils Ekman! Sure, the Swedish winger had a tremendous year for San Jose the season prior to Thornton’s arrival but almost everyone on the 2003-04 Sharks played above and beyond their projected levels of production. In 2005-06, before Thornton’s mid-season arrival, Ekman had just five points in the first 20 games— back to his career mediocrity that saw him tally just 39 points in parts of three seasons outside of his time in San Jose. Over the next 57 games that year, Ekman had 52 points, mostly playing with Thornton and Cheechoo.
Yet San Jose’s top center doesn’t just make average players better, he has turned Marleau into a 37-44 goal scorer after Marleau had been a high 20’s-low 30’s goal scorer his entire career. Therefore, Pavelski, who has twice recorded a career high of 25 goals while playing on a second line, should at the very least eclipse that mark playing with Thornton and Marleau. And 3o-plus goals for Pavelski certainly is not out of the question but even if he doesn’t reach that goal total, if the line gels and stays together for the majority of the season, the secondary assists will be put in the bank. A healthy Pavelski in that situation reaches 70 points easily, if not 75.
Even if the line doesn’t last, the second most likely spot for Pavelski is right wing alongside budding star center Logan Couture and power forward Ryane Clowe. It would be a trio of players all coming off career years. Clowe finished with 62 points last season, Couture with 56 in his first full year. Those two played most of the second half with the struggling Dany Heatley on the opposite wing. Add a more consistent Pavelski to the mix, and that line has the potential to be better than most team’s top lines. And again, Pavelski should have a tremendous look at a 70 point season on that line.
Furthermore, with the Brent Burns acquisition on defense, Pavelski looks to be moved from the point to net front or low slot on the No. 1 power-play unit which should increase his point totals on the man advantage.
Fans tell me they are excited for this upcoming season, just imagine how pumped up Pavelski must be.
That said, Pavelski is already known for being productive at both ends of the ice. The player with even more to gain is Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Vlasic made the Sharks opening night roster as a 19 year old in 2006. During the 2006-07 season, “Pickles” made his mark as an excellent defensive defenseman with a decent offensive upside. That rookie campaign saw Vlasic post a solid 26 points in 81 games. The following year Vlasic’s point totals fell to just 14 but a second year drought offensively seemed understandable.
In his third season the Sharks brought aboard veteran stud Rob Blake to serve as Vlasic’s defensive partner. Playing alongside the powerful shot and poise of the future hall of famer, Vlasic’s defense proved as strong as ever while setting career highs in goals 6, assists 30, and points 36. Being a top tier shut down defender, one could envision Vlasic as a fringe candidate for a future Norris Trophy if he could increase his point totals into the 40 point range.
That may sound crazy, but you don’t have to be a physically bruising player with a hard slap shot like Shea Weber to win the Norris, just see the career of Lidstrom, Nicklas.
Speaking of Weber, last season he was one of the three finalists for the defensive player of the year award (Norris Trophy) and he “only” had 48 points. While Vlasic plays defense in a more Lidstrom-esque style, different from Weber, just how far off is Vlasic (after all, he is still just 23 years old) from possibly being a finalist for the award?
“Pickles” is about a 10 point increase on his career high in points and another top notch defensive effort away from legitimately belonging in the conversation. Perhaps not ready to yet become a finalist. Probably won’t score enough goals compared to other candidates and an east coast bias will certainly doom him this year.
But why should Vlasic reach a 10 point increase on his 36 point career high this year after posting just 16 and 18 points the last two seasons? Two words: Brent Burns
The Sharks have not made it official where they are leaning in terms of defensive pairings but lets be realistic for a minute here, how can they not pair Vlasic with the newly acquired All-Star puck mover? Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray have too much chemistry to split them up, and the ideal pairing combines a defense first player with a more offensive minded talent. Therefore Burns won’t play on a pair with either Boyle or Murray, nor another offensive player in Jason Demers. Only option other than Vlasic that makes any sense would be veteran Colin White but at his age and style of play, it just doesn’t make enough sense to pair him with a minutes eater like Burns.
Burns and Vlasic will eat up minutes together like it’s nobody’s business. Both in their early to mid 20’s, both can skate and move the puck out of the defensive zone with ease. Boyle is certainly a great player and Murray is the big physical stay at home defenseman and they make for great chemistry together. But the Sharks have never put together a pair of defenseman on paper that looks as good as Burns and Vlasic.
Vlasic’s point total will see a tremendous increase playing with Burns, a younger, more agile, better offensive defenseman than the elder version of Blake that Vlasic previously played with. Yet, in that first year playing with a near 40 year old Blake, Vlasic’s point total increased a staggering 22 points from the year prior.
Who’s to say that can’t at least happen again this year in the first campaign with Burns as a defensive partner? Another increase of 22 points puts Vlasic at a 40 point season this year.
Great defense and 40 points? Maybe an outside shot, perhaps the fringe of the Norris conversation? Probably not, even though he would be more than deserving of a little national recognition to at least be mentioned.
However even if he continues to go unnoticed, at just 23, Vlasic has his whole career ahead of him to earn his spot in the conversations. And after all, Vlasic will be in the league a long, long time after both Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara are long, long gone.