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SAN JOSE – From a purely reputation standpoint, it was a breakthrough season last year for defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
The Sharks blueliner, already known in San Jose as one of the most underrated players in the NHL headed into 2013-14, Vlasic was named to the Canadian Olympic team and played in every game of his country’s dominant, gold medal-winning performance.
Suddenly, the NHL world realized what Sharks fans, the local media, and advanced stats gurus already knew - Vlasic is a world–class hockey player.
“It’s nice to be acknowledged that way. I think I belong amongst the top players,” Vlasic said on Thursday.
His performance in the Olympics surely contributed to the 27-year-old receiving a handful of votes for the Norris Trophy at the end of the NHL season, finishing 12th in voting.
As strong as he is in his own end, two statistical categories separate Vlasic from the true Norris candidates, though: points and ice time. Vlasic’s 24 points placed him 68th in the league among defensemen, and his 20:41 of ice time per game was just 81st among rearguards.
He could get a chance this season to grow both numbers.
Offensively, Vlasic’s point-production suffers from a lack of time on the power play. Last season, he was sixth on his own team in power play time by defensemen, averaging just 47 seconds per game with a man advantage. Only Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart played less.
Now that Dan Boyle has departed, there is an opportunity for Vlasic to get more of a chance there. In training camp, he’s been paired with Brent Burns on one of the Sharks’ power play units.
Along with offensive opportunity, more power play time also means more minutes, of course.
“Obviously, I’d like to have my opportunity on the power play,” Vlasic said. “I’ve been practicing it so far this year, and it’s been going well, been doing a lot of good things.”
Increasing his offensive game was on Vlasic’s mind in the offseason.
“I’ve improved my shot in the summer, and hopefully that helps out. … I’ll welcome more minutes. The more I play, the better I feel. Whatever it is, I’ll do the best I can, but power play is something I want to play more of.”
When asked to expand on what he did to improve his shot, Vlasic said: “Just shoot pucks, like [Mike] Ricci always says. Shoot 10,000 pucks. I’d shoot a lot of pucks, practice a quick release, just getting it off quick, changing the angle. Little things like that make a huge difference.”
Vlasic’s best offensive season came way back in 2008-09, when he was paired primarily with Rob Blake and tallied 36 points (6g, 30a). Not coincidentally, he averaged nearly three minutes a night with a man advantage that season, with 21 power play points.
Vlasic had three power play goals that season. Since then, he has just one power play goal in the last five seasons, and none in the previous four.
Todd McLellan is already giving him more of a look there in training camp.
“He’s taking reps every day on the power play here,” McLellan said. “We think he has that ability, and he’ll get that chance.”
A confident Vlasic said: “You take advantage of the opportunity, and prove to them that you can play the whole year on the power play, and that’s what I’ll do.”