SAN JOSE We touched on this topic a bit this morning on Sharks Talk, and Fridays practice offered the opportunity to follow up on defenseman Justin Brauns strong play. The 24-year-old has been getting close to 20 minutes a game lately, after not even making the opening night roster.
Braun spent most of Thursday nights win over the Wild paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. He played 19:23 in all, including 3:21 on the power play. To put that in perspective, prized offseason acquisition Brent Burns played 19:34, with 4:07 of that on the power play.
Nearly identical numbers. And thats not a knock on Burns, but a credit to Braun.
KURZ: Is Braun taking minutes from Burns?
I mentioned to McLellan that having Braun in the fold, adding to the teams defensive depth, must feel like a real luxury.
Isnt it nice? And its something we wanted, he said, somewhat emphatically. Just like Logan Couture did last year. Somebody to come in and take jobs, and steal time away. That push from underneath to the top is so valuable. It keeps everybody honest.
McLellan mentioned on Thursday that he sees a more confident Braun as compared with last season. I asked Braun what he himself thinks the difference is.
The comfort level, and just knowing what to expect every night, he said. Not wondering what other teams are going to bring, but just going out and playing my game.
Braun pointed out that the reason hes more confident is a two-way street. The coaching staff is showing him how secure they are in his ability, by upping his ice time which, in turn, makes him even more self-assured.
You want to be out there, and you feel like when youre playing those kind of minutes, theyre getting more confident in you which helps you on the ice, he said. If you maybe make a mistake, youre going to get a little bit more of a chance instead of getting sat down quickly.
His current partner, Vlasic, also sees a teammate improving before his very eyes.
Hes doing great. He got called up for a reason and is staying for the simple reason that hes playing well, said Vlasic. Hes even on the second power play, and sometimes the first one. Hes doing great things, hes getting pucks to the net, hes playing hard and playing well.
The flip side is that defensemen Jason Demers and Jim Vandermeer will have to wait to get back into the lineup. Demers has played in just two of the last nine games, while Vandermeer has sat for six of the previous seven.
McLellan admits he worries a bit about those players who are being forced to watch from the press box.
But, thats just the nature of the business.
Those guys, are very, very good players and they are very important, he said. But, until we have a bump in the road and until it falters, we like what were doing on the back end.