Justin Braun becomes the tenth Shark, and third San Jose defenseman, to sign overseas after inking a deal with the Finnish SM-liiga's Tappara club.
Justin Braun and Jason Demers are both young, right-shooting, two-way defensemen with puck skills, an offensive bent, and legitimate claims to the No. 5 spot on the San Jose Sharks' defense corps whenever there's NHL hockey again. You can now add that they're both spending the lockout in Finland's SM-liiga to the extensive list of their similarities. Braun signed with Tappara yesterday after Demers signed with Oulu Karpat back in September almost immediately after the work stoppage began in earnest.
Braun is coming off an impressive season in San Jose where he led all Sharks defensemen in Relative Corsi, meaning the team outshot their opponent at a more improved rate with Braun on the ice than with any other blueliner, despite the fact that he also started a greater percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone than any other San Jose d-man. Granted, Braun was mostly deployed against other teams' third- and fourth-liners but he also had the misfortune of skating most frequently behind the Michal Handzus line, by far the Sharks' worst. It's more than arguable that, for the 66 games he drew into the San Jose lineup, no third-pairing defenseman in the NHL was better than Braun.
In addition to the myriad similarities in their playing style, Braun and Demers also developed a symbiotic relationship of sorts when they were used as a pairing by Todd McLellan down the stretch. Demers performed substantially better skating alongside Braun than anyone else he was paired with during the 2011-12 season. While the temptation will be there for the Sharks' revamped coaching staff to partner Douglas Murray with either Demers or Braun on the team's bottom pair, and that probably is the way to go against more physically imposing clubs like Anaheim or Los Angeles, the success of the Demers/Braun pairing should give them pause. The dual threat of having two puck-movers manning the back end had the result we'd expect last season: the team spent relatively little time in their own zone when Demers and Braun were on the ice together.
San Jose sent more players to the 2010 Olympics than any other NHL club and it looks like they're in the running to have more players defect overseas during the 2012 lockout than anyone else. Seven of the Sharks' top nine forwards, three of their top seven defensemen and both of their goaltenders have signed with teams in other leagues since the lockout began. Braun joins fellow NHLers Jannik Hansen and Kurtis Foster in Tappara.