Editor's note: This article is the final part of an ongoing series in which Kevin Kurz will highlight a different Sharks player every day leading up to the start of training camp.
Name/Position: Justin Braun, D
2015-16 cap hit/contract: $3.8 million, signed through 2019-20
2014-15 year in review: If you’ve been following along with our player outlook series (and today is the last one, by the way), you’d know that none of the Sharks’ defensemen had particularly strong seasons last year based on expectations. That includes Justin Braun, who tallied one goal and 22 assists and a +8 rating in 70 games.
That’s not to say that Braun had a terrible year – after all, he had six more points in 12 fewer games – but the six-foot-two, 205-pounder wasn’t able to replicate his breakthrough season of 2013-14 from a defensive standpoint. For some reason he looked half a step slower on many nights, got beat to the outside on a fairly regular basis, and was demoted from top defense pairing with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Braun also missed about one month in the second half of the season with a hand injury.
2015-16 outlook: Considering that Braun’s five-year, $19 million extension kicks in this year, there may a measure of concern in the front office. The Sharks are counting on Braun to be a steady top four defenseman, and he wasn’t able to stay in that role for the entirety of last season as the team’s goals-against average continually ballooned. From an advance stats perspective, Braun went from a +209 in shot attempts in 2013-14 to just a +22 last season.
It’s very likely that Braun will start training camp again with Vlasic, especially considering that Brent Burns and Paul Martin are expected to comprise the second pair. The Sharks are thin when it comes to right-handed defensemen, too, so Braun isn’t in any danger of losing his spot in the active lineup even if he struggles.
Braun is also a guy that could benefit from having someone like Martin - also a big, Minnesota-born blueliner – around for direction. We’ve already mentioned the lack of internal leadership among the defensemen last season, and if Martin can help fill that void left by Dan Boyle, it would be a huge boost to the group – and perhaps Braun in particular.