SAN JOSE- Unfortunately he will probably never be a finalist for the Norris Trophy—the annual award for the NHL’s best “all around defenseman” is typically slanted more towards big point producers—but the San Jose Sharks’ Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a tremendous two-way defenseman.
No. 44 in teal certainly doesn’t deserve the “stay-at home” nor “defensive defensemen” label. But since Vlasic hasn’t consistently put up big point totals over the years, those who don’t watch him on a daily basis assume his offensive skill set to be limited. However, this simply isn’t the case. The 26-year-old is now in his eighth, that’s right, eighth season in the league and is a vastly underrated puck mover.
So far through two games, Vlasic has picked up three assists, one in the opener against Vancouver and two against Phoenix on Saturday.
But it’s not just that he has opened the season with three points in two games, because as Sharks head coach Todd McLellan noted at practice, Vlasic has scored three points in back-to-back games a handful of times.
What these two games are a reminder of however, is that Vlasic is plenty capable of generating offense. Unfortunately, initiating the offense often leaves a defenseman off the score-sheet. Earlier in his career though, Vlasic did register a 36 point season while paired with the now retired Rob Blake.
“He’s scored three points in two games many times in his career, it just happens to be at the beginning of the year where his name shows up” commented McLellan on Vlasic. “Can he keep it happening on a regular basis? I think he can. He had some pretty good offensive years with Rob Blake and [so] he can keep doing that.”
Vlasic established himself in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons as about an 17-19 point even strength producer from the blue-line before finishing with just seven in last years shortened season.
During the 2008-09 season Vlasic was utilized significantly on the power-play and picked up 21 points while up a man.
You put those two numbers together, and if Vlasic were to man the point on this ever lethal Sharks power play, you would probably be looking at a 40 point defenseman.
“I think sometimes people label you” commented Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle, who was paired with Vlasic for much of the 2011-12 season. “If you’re an offensive dman they usually don’t talk about your defensive game and for him it’s kind of the other way around. They talk about his defensive play all the time but they don’t really mention him on the offensive side of things. I think you saw last game that he certainly sees the ice well and can jump in and make things happen as well.”
I followed up with Boyle about how Vlasic has progressed over the years.
“Yeah everybody talks about his progression, I think he’s been good [his whole career]. They call him steady [Eddie] for a reason.” added Boyle. “That’s what he is, he’s steady, he goes out there and you know what you’re going to get. He does his job and he does it well.”
With the Norris Trophy being so incredibly tied into point production, Vlasic will never be in the discussion. Considering guys like Erik Karlsson are putting up absurd point totals from the blue-line, even if Vlasic were putting up 40-45 points with No. 1 power play time, he still (sadly) wouldn’t be given much consideration.
But not receiving notoriety won’t stop Vlasic from continuing to be his dominant defensive self while continuing to work on his offensive game.
“I always work on defense first and then offense comes after that” responded Vlasic about improving everyday. “I always want to work on the offense, and this year I want to get better. In the offseason I put a little more emphasis on shooting the puck more and creating more offensively. So far so good but it’s only two games in, I got to keep doing that or else if I don’t, it doesn’t mean anything. But trying to create more and when I do get the opportunity on the power-play to create something [take advantage of it]. I have no shots through two games but it doesn’t mean I’m trying not to shoot it. But yeah I have worked on it, I do want to jump up more on the rush and create more offensively.”
As for his primary assist on Tomas Hertl’s first career goal on Saturday, how did Vlasic see the play develop? Did he read that Phoenix was in the midst of a bad change and then see Hertl or did he see Hertl first?
“Hertl was open right away, I saw their dmen change” Vlasic recalled. “[Phoenix] has a great neutral zone fore-check, and if you can go right up [the ice] and [Hertl] had all that space, we capitalize. They don’t give up much, that little split-second I had to give it to him was huge and then he did the rest. I knew he had room to skate.”
Vlasic and his defensive partner Justin Braun are San Jose’s defense duo utilized to shut down the opposing team’s top forwards. Both defenseman have great stick positioning while defending (Vlasic arguably has the best stick work in the world) but lost in the shuffle is that both players are excellent passers.
In Vlasic’s case, rarely do you see the veteran defenseman fail to hit his teammate with a clean, crisp feed right on the tape. And while he may not have the dangling ability of some of those offensive minded defenders, Vlasic is as equally fast of a skater as any of them.
Moral of the story? Labeling Vlasic as just a defensive defenseman is a major disservice to one of the league’s top defenders, one whom might just end up playing for Team Canada this February.
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