(photo by Dinur Blum)
SAN JOSE- Generally speaking, the defender who logs the most minutes for his club is considered their “No. 1″ defenseman.
In that case, so far this season, Justin Braun, not Dan Boyle nor Marc-Edouard Vlasic, is San Jose’s No. 1 defender.
The 26-year-old Minnesota native leads all Sharks skaters with an average 21:42 in TOI, a full 36 seconds more per game than Boyle and 51 seconds more than Vlasic.
Remember, Boyle is a two-time All Star who owns a Stanley Cup ring with the Tampa Bay Lightning and a Gold Medal with Team Canada. Vlasic has been in the NHL since he was 19, and is getting major attention to play for Canada in the upcoming Olympics in Sochi.
Meanwhile Braun, who was a 6th/7th defenseman that was in and out of the lineup as recently as 10 months ago, has added his name into that elite category.
Paired most of this season alongside Vlasic, Braun has arguably fared even better when apart from his regular partner. His plus-16 rating is currently 15th best in the league and eighth best amongst NHL defensemen. Vlasic on other hand comes in at a plus-12.
Considering his rather humble beginnings as a 7th round pick in 2007 and his limited power play minutes, Braun is certainly not a house hold name.
Come February however, there’s a good chance that will change. At this point in time, it would be an absolute travesty if Braun doesn’t make the Olympic roster for Team USA. In fact, with the season he is having, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him paired at the Olympics with the Wild’s Ryan Suter (AKA the best American defenseman in the game today).
While Braun only has 11 points through 37 games this year, all but one of them have come at even strength and more importantly he has a knack for leading strong breakouts.
When hockey is broken down into it’s core, it’s primarily about breaking out of the defensive zone and winning 50-50 battles. Braun particularly excels in both these areas. He never gives up on a loose puck and he always seems to be moving his feet. Sharks forwards are fortunate to have him on the ice while breaking out of the defensive zone. When the forwards are covered, Braun is almost always in the right spot as the weak-side (side of the ice without the puck) support jumping up into the play.
“He skates so well” commented Sharks captain Joe Thornton on Braun. “You see his confidence [out there] and he just seems to be getting better every game and he’s really fun to watch right now.”
Thornton took the words right out of my mouth, Braun is indeed quite fun to watch right now. I recommend all hockey fans spend at least one period watching nothing but the Sharks number 61. You’ll come away impressed and entertained.
As always, for more on the Sharks follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch