Sharks’ Best Ever Defense Depth

The San Jose Sharks‘ defense is as deep of a blueline as the franchise has had since its inception. Many players have contributed to the solid and even top-notch defensive corps. The seven rearguards the Sharks currently send out each night coupled with the emerging talent with the San Jose Barracuda gives the organization the best depth it has ever enjoyed.

Sharks’ Top Pair: Brent Burns & Paul Martin

Brent Burns is the best offensive defenseman in the Pacific Division and should once again be in the running for the Norris Trophy in 2017. His time in San Jose has spanned more than 350 games, and his relative Corsi-for percentage of 3.7% is third all-time for the Sharks. Paul Martin enters his second year on the Sharks blueline as the yin to Burns’ yang. Tasked with being the one defenseman on the ice with the roving Burns, Martin gets more than a fair amount of flak for the defensive gaffes he commits, but the pair does far more for the Sharks in winning games than the hiccups do in losing them. Already Burns is the leading defensive goal scorer in Sharks history and should own just about every meaningful offensive record for defensemen when his new extension has run its course.

Middle-Pair: Marc-Edouard Vlasic & Justin Braun

The second pair features the Sharks’ most complete defender on the squad in Marc-Edouard Vlasic. No defenseman has played more games in teal than the 35th overall pick from the 2005 NHL Entry Draft who went straight from the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts to the NHL. While drawing the toughest assignments with Justin Brain, Vlasic still managed to post a career-high of 39 points in 67 contests last year.

Braun’s steady but unspectacular play is another seventh-round find for Doug Wilson, who has a knack for finding undervalued talent late in the draft. The pairing was an instrumental but unheralded part of the Sharks’ Stanley Cup Final run last year, making the opposition’s top players seemingly disappear from the ice. Factor in Vlasic’s bargain-basement salary cap hit of $4.25 million through the 2017-18 season and there is no bigger bang for the blueline buck anywhere in the NHL.

Bottom “Pair” David Schlemko, Brenden Dillon (and Dylan DeMelo)

David Schlemko parlayed a solid year with the New Jersey Devils into a four-year, $8.4 million contract with the Sharks. All Schlemko has done since is provide play at a level such that the Sharks’ seemingly rock solid expansion draft strategy now needs to be reevaluated. It also appears that Devils fans are missing him a bit.

Brenden Dillon is the one crease-clearing defenseman left on the roster, and free of Roman Polak, can be part of an impressive collaboration with Schlemko. In fact, in the chart shown above with the Burns/Martin pairing, did you notice the unmarked San Jose pairing in the upper-right quadrant? That logo is where the Schlemko/Dillon pairing is rated. Not bad for a third pairing. Dylan DeMelo has been carted around as the Sharks’ seventh defender and has been an exemplary professional, skating in only three games so far but playing very well in each. Staying sharp with such limited game time is difficult, but DeMelo has figured it out. He could be a regular in the NHL for a number of other teams, but likely will have to wait another year for full-time and regular duty for San Jose.

Barracuda Top Four: Joakim Ryan & Tim Heed, Mirco Mueller & Julius Bergman

Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed have stepped in for the Barracuda and been the top defensive pairing nearly every night. The two Swedish defenders usually take turns leading the club in time on ice and deployed together on the top power play unit as well. Both skate well, possess excellent first passes out of the zone and are slightly undersized. But the puck-moving ability is a boost to the Barracuda’s offense, and defensive ability to transition the puck up ice is well suited for the new NHL. Ryan plays a sounder defensive game of the two, but Heed’s shot from the point is second only to Brent Burns in the organization, and his 14 points in his first 16 AHL games place Heed third in team scoring. Either player would be serviceable during a call-up for the Sharks should injury strike.

Mirco Mueller and Julius Bergman are two former CHL defenseman that struggled last year adjusting to the AHL but are continuing to develop under the watchful eye of Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer. Bergman struggled early last season to get regular ice time, and Mueller’s development hit a road bump when the Sharks rushed him to the NHL as a 19-year-old. The offensive ability of Mueller has not blossomed as some had hoped, but he could develop into a defensively capable NHL player. Bergman has improved both offensively and defensively in the early going already with nine points in 16 games after a 2015-16 season with the Barracuda in which the former London Knight had only 11 points in 60 contests. His development is on track and looks to be of NHL-caliber.

Of the Barracuda defenders, only Heed (5), Ryan (2), and Bergman (1) have recorded goals for San Jose. The top-four are also unsurprisingly the top four in defensive scoring as well.

Top Defensive Prospects: Cavan Fitzgerald & Jeremy Roy

Arguably the Sharks’ best defensive prospects are both in the QMJHL, and both are currently out of the lineup. Jeremy Roy had his first healthy summer since the Sharks moved up to draft him with the 31st pick in the 2015 Entry Draft. He will be out the rest of the 2016-17 season and miss out on a chance to participate in the World Junior Championship for Team Canada.

Cavan Fitzgerald got off to a blistering start with the Shawinigan Cataractes but has been sidelined as well. Both defenders were impressive in summer viewings and find themselves at the top of the prospect list. Fitzgerald was available to start the season in the AHL but was sent back to the Cataractes to play an important role and receive as much ice time as possible. The upper-body injury is not ideal but he should return to that role upon getting back to the ice around the start of 2017. Ironically, as with nearly every pairing mentioned here, Fitzgerald is left-handed and Roy is right-handed. Even the Sharks’ two top prospects play on their natural side if paired together.

Well-Stocked for Years to Come

The San Jose organization looks well-stocked for years to come on the blue line. Burns is under contract until 2024, and Vlasic, Braun, Schlemko and Dillon are all in their prime years. DeMelo, Heed, Ryan, Mueller, and Bergman are all under 25 years of age and even the veteran of the group, Paul Martin, remains serviceable. General manager Doug Wilson has done well to continually find defensive value in the latter stages of the draft and via free agency. But proper cultivation is needed and the Sharks would do well to continue to add to this talented group this coming summer, which features a number of strong defenders.