CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz started a series on each of the San Jose Sharks with Justin Braun Monday, Aug. 25. The photo list summary of last season and the outlook for next showing the 27-year old to be key to the team's transition on the back end—not only for what he already provides but what he could—should be examined further.
Everyone knew Marc-Edouard Vlasic was the backbone of the blue line, though maybe not to the extent he was revealed to be in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Without the leaps of Braun and Jason Demers, San Jose may not have moved Brad Stuart or Dan Boyle.
That leap is key if the team is looking for someone new to step up and take charge as assistant coach Larry Robinson said per Pro Hockey Talk Friday in response to Joe Thornton losing the captaincy. Braun is a better blue-line candidate than Demers because defensive players are cut more of the blue-collar cloth that supports an "A" on the sweater.
Braun rated by far the highest for Sharks in Examiner's unique defensive quotient rating. His stick positioning is almost as good as Vlasic's, and he will be as good as any defender in the NHL if he can continue to grow until he rivals the leader in shot-blocking proficiency.
In the meantime, Braun would already be the best defensive player and ice-time leader on many NHL teams. He led San Jose because his skating, defensive responsibility and endurance are as good or better than Vlasic's, making coach Todd McLellan comfortable putting him on the ice a lot.
What he still lacks is offensive output. As Kurz pointed out, Braun will probably get more time on the power play with Boyle's departure to enable him to contribute more to the blue-line scoring. Even considering the more defensive role in the 2013-14 NHL season, his four goals and 13 assists playing in all 82 games was mediocre.
Braun has just eight goals and 38 assists in 217 career games, though he played through an injury to his hand in the lockout-condensed 2013 NHL season when he had just seven assists in 41 games. The Sharks need him to score over 20 points for the next phase of this blue-line transition to continue.
If he can push 30, this could be an elite unit. However, that might have bad long-term repercussions for San Jose because the last reason Braun is a key to the blue-line transition is that he is an unrestricted free agent next summer. The ability to keep him would ensure he, Vlasic, Brent Burns, Demers and Mirco Mueller can maintain that status for the start of the 2015-16 NHL season.