Flying Under the Radar - Derek Joslin

There has been a good amount of discussion has gone about the emergence of Jason Demers and Kent Huskins as a very solid third lining d-man pairing, who are also giving the Sharks good PP mins - and rightfully so. Defensive depth was a major concern for most of us coming into the season and watching those two strike up such a reliable partnership is another feather in our coaching staff's hat.

However, I was more then a little concerned when Blake went down. We were already stretched relatively thin when our full compliment of d-men were healthy, and to lose one of our dynamic players and leaders only further shook the confidence of some of us who were still weary that the defense might not be as for real as our start had indicated. Worcester had four or five names who feasibly replace Rob (Derek Joslin, Mike Moore, Joe Callahan, Danny Groulx and, somewhat of pipe dream, Nick Petrecki). Moore has struggled with injury, Callahan and Groulx have both been good for the WorSharks (Groulx is their current points leader), Petrecki's early professional struggles have been noted, and then there was Joslin. Callahan's previous NHL experience, size, and ability to give you something on both ends of the ice surely seemed to lock him in for at least some games. I figured it would come down to either Callahan or Joslin, with them perhaps splitting time the way our AHL forwards have. And maybe it would've happened like that if Joslin had not come and taken the position by the horns.

Jos' offensive prowess has been his most notable quality, including making the AHL all-star game last year on the back of his numbers and winning the hardest shot award. However, what's been so impressive to me is his accountability in his own zone. Has he been perfect? No, but who has other then a small handful of elites? He's averaging about 15 mins a night of good quality hockey. In fact, the only place he's not seeing any real time has been on the PP, which would seem like his most suitable situation. His near seamless transition into Rob Blake's 'spot' on the roster has allowed our two other defensive pairings to remain together and keep building on their generally good play - not to mention that Nabokov guy is making a strong case for a well-deserved Vezina.

Barring a remarkable return by the Captain, Joslin will make his 12th appearance of the season tomorrow night - which matches his total games played last year. When you lose an important player like a top 4 d-man or top 6 forward and have to bring up a rookie, you usually ask that he be solid if not unspectacular. You want him to be accountable in his role, and only then, after proving solid in said role, do you maybe allow him a bit more freedom to bring out his game. This is what we're seeing with Derek Joslin. The kid has done pretty much everything that's asked of him. Furthermore, the last 6 games he's averaging over that 15 minute ATOI, and has points in 3 of the last 4 games (his first three NHL points). What is even more remarkable is that two of those are shorthanded assists. I think the play that stands out most for me was on the Heatley shorthanded goal when he battled the hell out of a couple Flyers (a team noted for their grinding) for a good 10 or 15 seconds until Jumbo was able to get the puck free and the rest is history. It's also important to note that the game isn't flying by him too fast as he's only taken 3 minor penalties in 11 games.

I won't guess exactly what his recent plays says about his long-term future in the NHL, but I will say that his maturation and understanding of the game this season is very encouraging for a team that will battle the cap all season and may not necessarily be able to add any extra defensive depth - something many pundits think might be the Sharks only weakness. He may not be doing anything spectacular, but Joslin has to be given a ton of credit (and the coaching staff) for his work effort and the ability to allow Blake to fully heal without feeling like we're desperately lacking anything.

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