Going into training camp the San Jose Sharks did not expect 19-year old defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to make the NHL this year, let alone play a prominent role 5-on-5 and on special teams. This was evidenced by the fact signings of veteran defenseman Scott Ferguson, Mathieu Biron, and Patrick Traverse. After leading the Sharks prospects in scoring at the Pacific Division Rookie Tournament, and impressing the coaching staff during the pre-season, Vlasic was rewarded with an opening night roster spot.
Now that Vlasic has played in several regular season games, and has earned ice time in all situations, his role with the team is starting to be defined. The coaches are steadily increasing his ice time. Vlasic only trails behind veterans Kyle McLaren, and Scott Hannan for the team lead in total time on ice. Coach Ron Wilson has not been afraid to use Vlasic on the power play, or the penalty kill. He has been one of the go-to guys if the Sharks are down 5-on-3. This has not been blind faith, as Vlasic has looked superb in every game so far, showing maturity and poise beyond his years.
I’ve been very impressed with Vlasic. I decided a couple of games ago that he was going to stick with the team. So, evidently, did the Sharks — they started the season with 8 defensemen, but sent Doug Murray to Worcester a couple of games ago for conditioning (meaning he stays on the 23 man roster for now). That was the Sharks safety net, which they evidently decided they’d rather have skating than watching.
Here’s how impressive Vlasic is: Last night, against Detroit, he had an absolutely horrid first shift. Draper and the Draper line just overwhelmed him, although nothing bad happened. It was the first time I’ve ever seen the kid look nervous or rush a pass or panic a little bit. His second shift was better, but he still seemed to be struggling a bit. Not surprising, Draper’s done that to far more experienced guys
After that, I more or less stopped seeing Vlasic on the ice. I noticed him on the occasional shift, but basically, he dropped from sight. I assumed that the coaches noticed what I did and cut back his time.
Imagine my surprise when I checked the game stats to see the kid logged > 20 minutes (again). He didn’t get his time pulled, instead he did what many veterans can’t do: he settled down, he simplified his game, and he ended up playing a very good, solid, mostly invisible game. For me, defensemen are at their best when you don’t notice them; it means they’re doing their job well. Anytime you notice them doing something GOOD (scoring goals, big hits) that’s a bonus. Mostly fans notice defensemen when bad things happen, or when they recover from a horrible play (theirs or someone else’s) with a defensive move to avert disaster – but that’s not necessarily good, given you’d hope they’d never make the initial mistake in the first place.
That Vlasic was able to adjust his game that successfully that quickly at his age just astounded me.
The kid is a keeper.