Two young San Jose Sharks defensemen are about to get some recognition.
Both Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun will play for Team Canada and Team USA at the upcoming 2012 IIHF World Championships, which will be held from May 4-20 in Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden. Vlasic has had previous experience at the World Championships, but this will be Braun's first appearance as a member of the US National Team.
It's hard to think of Vlasic as a veteran player considering he's only 25 years old, but ever since cracking the Sharks roster at 19 years old in 2006-2007 he's made huge strides every single season in the defensive end of the ice. Commonly tasked against opposing team's top players and thrown into integral defensive situations, Vlasic has logged at least the second highest amount of ice time on the blueline since his second NHL season. Those trends stayed consistent this year where he led all players in even strength and shorthanded minutes. Furthermore, his advanced metrics have always proven that trust was well-placed and well-deserved, with this season being another extremely solid year for Vlasic by the advanced numbers.
Justin Braun's 2011-2012 campaign should garner just as much praise if not more, for the sole reason that Vlasic is a known commodity whose defensive brilliance is expected. Coming into this season however Braun was a relative unknown-- his talent and potential was readily apparent during 2010-2011 of course, with Todd McLellan deploying him heavily in defensive situations which Braun handled quite well, but as is the case with so many young players it was hard to gauge exactly where he would fit in.
The roster was filled with 7 defenseman with more NHL experience. His defensive game needed more work. And there was a need for him to get game action instead of sitting in the press box.
Following training camp he was sent down to Worcester for more seasoning.
Braun was recalled on October 22 and never looked back.
Three weeks after his recall we looked at his season to date and found some very encouraging signs-- he was leading the blueline in some important metrics and had effectively played his way up from the minors to a starting role on what was then a Sharks team that was on pace to compete for the Presidents' Trophy (ah yes, those blissful days filled with hope...). At the end of the season Braun had played the fourth-highest amount of games amongst Sharks defenseman and surpassed just about every conceivable expectation we had for him coming into the year.
Although quality of competition obviously has to be taken into account (an area where he finished 5th on the team), consider this-- Justin Braun led the team in relative CORSI this season and had the toughest defensive zone starts on the team. What this means is that he was able to push the play in the right direction without the benefit of starting soft minutes in the offensive zone.
It's a testament to his skating ability and his passing ability. It's a testament to the coaching staff's trust in him to do the things that win hockey games.
With a spot on Team USA's roster, it looks like Braun is getting the attention he deserves.
NBC Sports Network will carry every Team USA game at the World Championships. A full schedule can be found here.