(photo by Dinur Blum)
SAN JOSE- I know, I must be crazy, right? There is no way Justin Braun is the best Sharks defenseman ever. After all, this is his first full season without ever being a healthy scratch. And for crying out loud he has less points than Jason Demers and even Marc-Edouard Vlasic!
Not to mention over the years the Sharks have featured defenseman like Doug Wilson, *Sandis Ozolinsh* (*updated*), Gary Suter, Rob Blake, and Christian Ehrhoff to go along with Vlasic and Dan Boyle!
But while Vlasic’s 17 points on the season are four more than Braun’s 13, we all know Vlasic is more comfortable in a stay at home role and is somewhat of a fish out of water when behind the opponent’s goal-line.
Braun on the other hand, has the offensive confidence to consistently drive up on the rush and play down low in the offensive zone when the opportunity arises. He has the offensive skill set to drive the net and make plays as well as get the puck through traffic from the point.
“Another Justin Braun game” commented Sharks head coach Todd McLellan after San Jose’s 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Monday. “That’s probably the best way to put it. He was one of the few guys that had legs and used them properly, made the right play at the right time. [He] blocked some shots when it was important, so he’s Mr. Consistent for us.”
Braun picked up his 13th point of the season in what was both his and the Sharks 50th game of the season against the Flames. Midway through the first, Braun astutely got a wrist shot through traffic from the right point. Joe Pavelski deflected it home for his 26th goal of the season. It was Braun’s 10th helper on the year.
The assist was only the start of yet another tremendous two-way performance from Braun. Not only did he continue to be effective pinching in and keeping pucks alive on the offensive end, but he was once again brilliant in the defensive zone.
Late in the first period after Calgary had tied the score at 2-2, the Flames had a clear two-on-one rush with only Braun back defending. The 26-year-old Minnesota native executed his job to a T by taking away the middle of the ice and intercepting the attempted pass across, denying the odd man opportunity without even a chance on net.
Furthermore, with the Sharks nursing the 3-2 lead late in the third, Braun made another hard working play. After fumbling the puck at the blue-line, Braun hustled to the side boards to beat out the forechecking pressure and poke it back up the boards and out of the zone. It was one of those pure hustle plays that often goes unnoticed by fans but certainly not the coaching staff and teammates.
When asked about the blue-line as a whole, Sharks winger Tommy Wingels had the following to say about Braun:
“You know Justin Braun, you can’t say enough about his game.”
Couldn’t of said it better myself, Tommy. There is really nothing about Braun’s game that doesn’t deserve praise, the guy is just playing like one of the best all around defenseman in the league right now. And in my estimation, he’s having the best two-way season (*outside of perhaps Ozolinsh in 1993-94*) that the Sharks have ever seen on their blue-line.
While I was a bit too young to remember Doug Wilson as a Sharks player, he did play with San Jose at the tail end of his storied career. Perhaps you can make an argument for him, but outside of that, Braun’s 2013-14 season is the best in my eyes.
Rob Blake and Gary Suter were also on the back end of their careers when they got to San Jose and had limitations to their games by that point. Ehrhoff, while a big point producer, often struggled to hit the net at the offensive end and frequently made head scratching turnovers in his own zone. Vlasic is a defensive dynamo who can intermittently jump up on the rush but isn’t a true offensive attacking defenseman.
And finally, as great as Dan Boyle has been in the past, a No. 1 defenseman, power-play quarterback, 50-60 point scorer, he has mostly been above average in his own zone. Some years you could say he was average, some you could say he was even good in his own zone. But he’s never been considered great in his own end.
Justin Braun right now is absolutely phenomenal, dominant, stellar, or any other similar adjective you can think of, in the defensive zone.
While he has just the 13 points, 12 have come at even strength which is just three behind Demers’ 15 even strength points and three ahead of Dan Boyle’s nine. Vlasic has 14 even strength points (albeit 16 if you include short-handed points).
In other words, Braun’s point totals are right in the mix with the rest of the blue-line’s even strength production but he’s a much bigger offensive threat than Vlasic, and much better defensively than Boyle or Demers.
Braun’s current plus-19 trumps Demers’ plus-8 and Boyle’s minus-3. At 6’2” 205, Braun is the strongest and most physical of the Sharks puck moving defenseman. Combine that with being the hardest worker and most mistake free defender outside of Vlasic, and you have the most well rounded defenseman on the current roster and perhaps that the organization has ever seen.
As always, for more on the Sharks follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch