SAN JOSE-When defenseman Jason Demers made his NHL debut at the start of the 2009-10 season, he did so as part of the San Jose Sharks No. 1 power play unit.
On a team chock-full of stars like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski, Rob Blake and other talented options like Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi, it was Demers alongside Dan Boyle manning the points on the No. 1 unit.
Demers, an initially undrafted rookie defenseman was getting No. 1 power play time ahead over future hall of famer and team captain Rob Blake. Let that resonate for a moment before reading further.
While Demers’ rookie season was typical of most NHL rookies in that he was up and down throughout the season, he still ended up averaging two seconds more of power play time per game than Blake.
In 51 games, Demers notched 21 points as a first year player, good enough for a 34 point 82 game pace. He flashed offensive skill that made one think he could be a future No. 1 defenseman.
The following year Demers made huge strides in his defensive zone coverage, increasing his plus/minus rating from plus-5 to a plus-19. While his offensive production tapered off at just 24 points in 75 games, his overall play was much improved, especially in the first two rounds of the 2011 playoffs. His stat line of just three points in 13 playoff games and a minus-1 rating didn’t do his play justice. Not having him available due to injury during the conference finals against Vancouver was a huge loss with the way he was playing.
Naturally, there were big expectations for Demers heading into the 2011-12 season. Unfortunately for him and the Sharks, his level of play took a 180 degree turn south. Despite establishing himself as a legitimate NHL defenseman in ’10-’11, Demers managed to suit up for just 57 games in ’11-’12. He finished with a mere 13 points and backed up his plus-19 mark with a putrid minus-8. He only played in three of the five playoff games that year.
Last season’s lockout shortened campaign was a second straight disappointing season for Demers. He was even more frequently a healthy scratch, playing just 22 of the 48 regular season games. Offensively he managed just three points and was once again in the minus for the season at minus-4. Come playoffs he couldn’t even crack San Jose’s bottom pair which featured two stay at home defensemen in Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart.
Certainly 2013-14 was going to be a make or break year for the 25-year-old defenseman. Three straight lousy seasons could have very well put him out of a job being in a contact year. However, so far this season Demers has gotten back much closer to his old self and is back in the lineup on a consistent basis.
Offensively his game has never been better, producing at 40 point pace. His 20 points in 41 games has him tied with Dan Boyle for the team lead on the blue-line. His plus-2 rating isn’t eye popping but it’s literally back on the positive side and as his head coach notes, his defensive zone coverage is much improved.
“He’s defending better” commented Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “It’s as simple as that. He’s always been a good offensive defenseman where he has the vision to create and make things happen but he’s defending better and his play is a lot more consistent now than it has been in the past.”
“Jason brings a lot to this team, both in the locker room and on the ice” added teammate Tommy Wingels. “I think his confidence is really coming around, you know he’s having fun out there. He’s playing really well for us, especially in a time like this [with injuries] we need guys to continue that.”
Anyone who watches the Sharks on a consistent basis will tell you that when Demers is going well, he’s spending much more time with the puck on offense than defending without it. A large part of his being able to stay on the offensive is simple execution. When Demers struggles a lot of passes appear to be towards no teammate in particular and he can go what seems like weeks without hitting the net with his shot.
Lately however, Demers seems to really be back in the flow of things. His shot seems to be finding the back of the net instead of the boards (three goals in last nine games) and the potential he’s always had is coming to fruition.
“It’s always nice to be able to get into a routine” commented Demers about playing on a nightly basis again. “To be able to prepare the same way and just get the feeling of being in every game, so obviously that helps. Confidence is huge in any sport, so it’s nice to be in there frequently and just take advantage of my time right now.”
How exactly does confidence level affect performance?
“You can always think too much [when you're not confident], it’s nice to be able to go out and just play. Things have been going in for me, going my way. Obviously keep playing good in my own end and waiting for my chances offensively.”
As always for more on the Sharks follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch