If there's one area in which the Sharks are set for the forseeable future, regardless of how some of their more important players age, it's on the blueline. With defensemen like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns and Jason Demers on the roster and Taylor Doherty, Nick Petrecki and Konrad Abeltshauser in the pipeline, San Jose boasts a solid collection of d-men with either NHL experience or big-league potential under team control for years to come. This season, Justin Braun emphatically asserted his place among the upper echelon of those players. No Sharks defenseman posted a better Relative Corsi rate or started a greater percentage of their even-strength shifts in the defensive zone than Justin Braun in 2011-12, an impressive combination of leaderboards for the young blueliner to sit atop in his first full NHL season, demonstrating that no member of the Sharks' defense corps improved the Sharks' 5v5 possession game by stepping on the ice to a greater extent than Braun despite the fact that they all had the advantage of beginning more of their shifts in the right end of the rink.
It's easy to be skeptical about Justin Braun's impressive first full season in the NHL. After all, another defenseman who was a seventh-round pick of the Sharks, boasts a right-handed shot and the ability to move the puck north had a standout 2010-11 campaign in his first full year in teal and we all know how this past season turned out for Jason Demers. Despite that, I think there's reason to be optimistic about Braun heading into next year. He's likely to see more icetime as the result of having a solidifed roster spot on the Sharks' third pairing in 2012-13 that he didn't have earlier this season when he rode the Worcester shuttle and was one of four options, along with Demers, Colin White and Jim Vandermeer, for two spots on the San Jose blueline. Like most of the Sharks, he was also a PDO casualty, with he and his teammates combining for just over a 6% 5v5 shooting percentage when Braun was on the ice. That's likely to improve and Braun should post better counting stats at evens.
Justin Braun Statistical Overview
|Season||GP||TOI/60||Corsi Rel QoC||DZone%|
|Corsi Rel||Corsi On||PDO||+/-/60||P/60|
FTF Grade: A-. Braun still needs to improve his own-zone coverage in order to be trusted against tougher competition than he was this year and that's unlikely to be an improvement he's able to make in a single offseason. Therefore it's likely Braun won't play more significant of a role than that of third-pairing defenseman in San Jose next season. Still it's hard to ask for a better player to ice on the Sharks' third pairing than a cost-controlled defenseman who was likely one of the best bottom-pairing guys in the league over the second half of the season. Braun will be a restricted free agent on July 1st and it's virtually a certainty he'll be qualified and re-signed, likely to a contract similar to the one Demers currently has a year remaining on.