Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing series in which Kevin Kurz will highlight a different Sharks player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp.
Name/Position: Justin Braun, D
Salary cap hit: $3.8 million, signed through 2019-20
2015-16 year in review: There isn’t a whole lot of flash to Justin Braun’s game, as his four goals and 23 points in 80 games placed him 10th on the Sharks in scoring last season. He added another seven points in 24 playoff games (2g, 5a). But Braun’s importance to the club went far beyond his point total, as he comprised half of the team’s shutdown defense pair with Marc-Edouard Vlasic while averaging more than 20 minutes a night in ice time (20:33). That pair was especially good in the postseason, shutting down some of the opposition's best players on Los Angeles, Nashville and St. Louis, in particular.
It was an important season for Braun, too, after he took a step backwards in 2014-15 in what was the first season of a sizable contract extension. While he likely benefits from playing with the ultra-steady Vlasic, who never seems to be out of position, Braun’s $3.8 million contract for the next four seasons now looks like a team-friendly deal. That wasn't the case a year ago.
2016-17 outlook: There’s no reason whatsoever to break up the Braun-Vlasic pair, as the Sharks have arguably the best defense corps one-through-six in the National Hockey League. That includes Braun, who is set to be with the Sharks for the foreseeable future. He’s a near lock to be one of the three defensemen the club protects in the expansion draft next summer so long as he maintains his level of play.
There’s a good chance that Braun increases his offense at some point, too, as the Minnesota native had just a 3.5 shooting percentage last season (and just 2.4 percent for his career). The law of averages would suggest that Braun should have had more than four goals after managing 114 shots, so perhaps he gets a little luckier in that regard moving forward.
The Minnesota native will rarely make headlines, but that seems to suit him just fine. Braun is content just going out there and doing his job for 20 minutes a night, and after doing it so well last season, there’s no reason to believe that will change this season.