It's hard to criticize a player like Marc-Edourard Vlasic, especially considering how important he is to the Sharks at just 23 years old. Defensively, he's as solid as can be, playing top four minutes on a team which needs him desperately. And he does the job extremely well, given that he was the sixth best defensive defensemen last year according to the Globe and Mail's James Mirtle.
However, I've heard him criticized in some circles, based primarily on his declining offensive production over the past two seasons. Vlasic was never supposed to be a huge offensive talent, but his 36 point 2008-2009 campaign raised both eyebrows and expectations. Here's Vlasic's offensive numbers over the course of his career:
A quick glance at the stats tells me a couple things. First, I'm hoping he's a season off, season on type of guy. Second, his good offensive seasons have been bolstered by powerplay success... especially in 2008-2009 when Vlasic notched 21 points on the man advantage.
Last year, though, Vlasic notched just two points on the powerplay in 64 games. Was this an issue of declining skill? At just 23, that doesn't make any sense. And before you go disagreeing with me, let's take a look at his minutes played over the same time span.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Ice TIme per Game
|Even STrength||Power play||penalty kill||total|
First thing to notice: Even when Vlasic was a 19 year old rookie, the team relied on him heavily. In fact, he's only averaged less than 22:00 per game once in hist first four seasons. In two of those four seasons, the two seasons in which he averaged more than two minutes per game of powerplay time, he responded with points. In the two seasons where he didn't get significant time on the powerplay, well, you get the idea. But the point I'm trying to make is that it's not necessarily Vlasic's skill regressing, it's his minutes.
The Sharks coaching staff hasn't been kind to him even strength, either, as he had the second highest amount of defensive zone face off starts (5.9 per game). Only Dan Boyle had more, but he also led in offensive starts and power play minutes. After two regular season games, Vlasic hasn't received any time on the man advantage and leads the team in defensive zone starts. Although it's a small sample size, it looks like Vlasic will once again be relegated to focusing his skills on goal prevention.
Vlasic has always been the team's safety net, instructed to stick back while his partner (most recently Rob Blake) was allowed to take part in the offense. He's shone in that role, and people who criticize him for his statistical drop off should take a step back and realize how important Vlasic really is to the Sharks success, even if he's not scoring points.
There's not too much more to say about the situation. The Sharks need Vlasic to play top defensive minutes, and that's what he's going to do. Perhaps if Wilson were to make a move for another defensemen capable of playing sound, shutdown defensive minutes, it would alleviate some of the pressure on Vlasic defensively.
Maybe we could write an article about that, one of these days.