Milan Michalek (n): An ice hockey player with an affinity for speed and shooting; not known for his physical play.
Looks like we're going to have to update our 07-08 version of the Webster's Sharks dictionary.
One thing that has caught my eye this year is Michalek's willingness to drive to the front of the net in the offensive zone, lay on the body, and appreciation for the oh-so-enticing job of blocking shots.
Last season Michalek seemed to be adverse to physical play, which seemed slightly strange considering his size (6'2, 225 pounds). This season has seen Michalek take a new approach to his role on the team. I'm pleasantly surprised, and as I'll note later, Todd McLellan seems to have taken notice.
So what do we take away from this? A couple of things:
1) Michalek has improved immensely in both hits and blocked shots. An 82 game projection has Michalek due for 10 more hits and 20 more blocked shots. In the grand scheme of things this is amazing, considering the biggest knock against him was that he didn't have enough grit compared to level of talent.
Note that he is only behind Joe Pavelski in blocked shots for forwards- a significant improvement from his standing last year (tied for fifth).
2) Michalek's penalty kill time has jumped drastically. With Brown and Rismiller let go (and Torrey Mitchell injured), it was obvious more guys had to step up this season; but Michalek? I don't think anyone saw him logging enough shorthanded time to crack the top six on the team this season.
McLellan has either a) taken note of Michalek's sudden affinity for defense b) molded him into a more defensive minded player or c) a combination of the two. Either way, the turnaround is impressive.
3) Michalek's six year contract worth 4.33 million per suddenly has me sleeping a whole lot sounder. Coming into this season we knew Todd McLellan was going to emphasize speed. That has never been a problem for Milan. We knew he was going to encourage shots on net. Once again, no issues.
The big hangup was just how willing Michalek would be able to fight to the front of the net. He's been a perimeter player for the entirety of his career in San Jose; it was hard to foresee him adapting. The first couple games didn't do anything to help any preconceived notions. He looked lost with the system, unwilling and unable to change. Then about five games in you started noticing little things- grinding in the corners, driving middle off the rush, setting up screens in the low slot. Becoming a well rounded hockey player.
Michalek has bought into both ends of the ice. And it sure as hell looks good.
So what's the cause for this turnaround? On Thanksgiving weekend, it would be only fitting to attribute this to family. Zbynek Michalek (Milan's older brother) currently leads the NHL with 75 blocked shots.
Family matters. Don't forget it.