Mar 26, 2014, 2:33 PM EDT
Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s been very good for the Sharks this year, though it’s not entirely fair to call this a “breakthrough” campaign. He probably won’t eclipse his career-high in points (36, set in 2008-09) and he’s actually averaging the fewest minutes per game (21:47) of his seven-year career.
To hear Sharks GM Doug Wilson explain it, the man they call “Pickles” has always been great — it’s just that this year, people are finally starting to notice.
“A lot of people don’t see our guys play, but you really appreciate them when you see them day-to-day,” Wilson said, per Sportsnet’s Fan 590. “[Vlasic] might be one of the most fundamentally strong defensemen I’ve seen, probably, in the last 20 years.
“The Olympic team, when they did all their research, when you look at this guy — he was at the top of their list right out of the gate.”
Wilson knows of what he speaks when it comes to playing defense. An eight-time All-Star, Wilson won the 1982 Norris Trophy and, that same year, set Chicago’s still-standing franchise record for goals (39) and points (85) by a blueliner.
Vlasic’s play is a big reason why the Sharks head into tonight’s action atop the Pacific Division with 103 points, two back of NHL-leading St. Louis. His advanced possession statistics rank him among the best in the league (in the case of Corsi Relative, a possession metric relative to the rest of his team, Vlasic’s the best.)
With Canada at the Olympics, Vlasic proved his mettle on a team many considered to be one of the best defensive squads ever. He averaged over 16 minutes a game, provided the perfect foil for partner Drew Doughty and earned high praise from head coach Mike Babcock in the process.
“I just told somebody [Monday] morning that Vlasic is way better than everybody knows,” Babcock said. “He’s a really, really good player; [Drew] Doughty gets to do anything he wants and Vlasic is always in a great spot.
“He’s a good defender, he’s become harder. He used to be a thin kid, now he’s a thick man. He’s hard, he’s smart, he skates, he moves the puck and he’s safe.”
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