Editor's note: This article is Part 2 of a three-part feature series in which Insider Kevin Kurz grades each player by position.
Sharks midseason grades: The Defense
Stats: 1g, 18a, +4 in 47 games
With a five-year, $19 million contract extension set to kick in next year, Braun has regressed a bit from his breakthrough 2013-14 season, but still remains one of the team’s most valuable blueliners. Braun hasn’t been strong enough in front of the Sharks’ net, or as reliable in terms of defensive positioning since he was split up from partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic in early January, but the Sharks will miss him over the next four-to-six weeks while he recovers from a right hand injury. Braun's 19 points are already two more than he had all of last season and a new career-high.
Stats: 11g, 24a, -6 in 48 games
Burns has been a force offensively, and his 35 points from the blue line and contributions to the power play in place of Dan Boyle can’t be overlooked. In terms of raw talent, Burns may be second on the Sharks only to Joe Thornton. Still, Burns hasn’t developed into a shutdown defenseman in any sense, and on far too many nights displays the troubling characteristic of avoiding physical contact or blocking shots. At age 29, and years working under Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson, there’s no reason to think Burns will ever become Drew Doughty. Still, when Burns plays a physical game and uses his vast skill set in the offensive end, the Sharks are tough to beat. When he’s not engaged or willing to pay the price, it shows. The Sharks’ fortunes may very well be tied to All-Star Burns’ second-half performance.
Stats: 1g, 6a, -6 rating in 26 games
The Sharks improved their blue line when they acquired Dillon for Jason Demers, and he was a big reason the team was playing so well before Christmas. His play dropped off a bit after the holiday break, and Dillon started making some errors that he wasn’t making when he was first acquired, but the 24-year-old is one of the hardest working Sharks in terms of practicing and keeping in shape. He should get better as he gets more used to his surroundings.
Stats: 0g, 1a, even rating in 36 games
Hannan isn’t an everyday player anymore, and evidenced by his frequently coming out of the lineup, and if he hadn’t signed in San Jose over the summer there’s a good chance he would be out of the league by now. Still, although he’s slowed down, Hannan is a well-liked veteran in the dressing room and some of the younger players like Matt Tennyson have credited him with helping them adjust to the NHL. That was the plan when he signed a one-year deal.
Stats: 2g, 4a, -10 rating in 23 games
It can’t be easy for Irwin to play on such an infrequent basis, but the 26-year-old still looks like he has trouble keeping up with the pace of NHL play when he’s in. Depending on the progression of Mirco Mueller, Irwin may have a tough time holding down his roster spot if the team gets fully healthy. Unless he dramatically improves, the pending unrestricted free agent may be playing out his final season with the Sharks.
Stats: 1g, 2a, -2 rating in 24 games
Mueller started the season looking good, but as the first month progressed, it became clear that he might not be ready for a full-time position. A strong case can be made, too, that Mueller would have been better off returning to his junior club. Still, his practicing with NHL players and working with the team’s coaching staff could benefit Mueller in the long run, even if he’s not quite ready for the show just yet.
Stats: 1g, 2a, -1 rating in 17 games
Tennyson is getting his chance to prove he’s an NHL player, playing in 16 of the last 18 games. His offensive output is a little disappointing, considering that is supposed to be one of his strengths, but Tennyson should rightfully be concentrating on his defense first. Perhaps he can take that next step on the other end in the second half, and generate more than the approximately one shot per game he’s currently averaging.
Stats: 6g, 10a, +13 rating in 47 games
Still the Sharks’ most valuable defenseman, and his team-best +13 rating is reflective of that. Responsible, hard working, rarely out of position, and now assuming more of a leadership role, Vlasic continues to be one of the better defensive blueliners in the entire NHL (stop us if you’ve heard any of this before). The 27-year-old has also already tied his career high in goals, set in 2008-09.