San Jose Sharks: No Rob Blake? No Problem. Derek Joslin is Stepping Up
If there is one weakness on the league leading San Jose Sharks roster, most people would say it's their depth on defense.
After trading away veteran defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich over the offseason, San Jose fans in particular were worried about the inexperience on the defensive end.
Starting out this season, the top-six defensive corps included an unknown rookie in Jason Demers and an almost as equally unknown Kent Huskins.
Huskins, the former Anaheim Duck was acquired by the Sharks mid-season last year along with left-wing Travis Moen but due to injury never suited up for team teal. An NHL veteran of just 142 games over three years before the start of the 2009-10 season, Huskins had done little on the ice as a Duck to impress Sharks fans.
Even playing the entirety of his career with a division rival, injuries and much more talented defensemen around him made him go unnoticed by most of the Bay Area hockey followers.
But so far this season, Demers and Huskins have combined for 21 points and a plus-10 between them.
Despite some early season struggles, the top-six has played quite well as a cohesive unit.
However, unlike the Sharks forward lines which have demonstrated impressive depth throughout the season, their defensive depth was unknown up until early November.
When first-year Sharks captain and 20-year NHL defenseman Rob Blake went down with injury on November fourth against the Columbus Blue-Jackets, the Sharks were about to find out just how much depth they had on the blue-line.
Nine games later, the answer is clear. Derek Joslin, the seventh defenseman on the depth chart can play solid hockey at the NHL level.
The 22-year-old Ontario native was drafted in the fifth round by the Sharks (149th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
After spending most of the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons with the famous Ottawa-67s of the Ontario Hockey League, Joslin played the entirety of the 2007-08 season with the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League. In the middle of previous season Joslin had signed an entry level deal with San Jose and making the transition to the AHL was a natural step.
However, in just his second full season with San Jose's minor league affiliate, Joslin was called up to the NHL for his first career game last January.
In total Joslin played in 12 games with the big club last year. During those 12 games he registered zero points, owned a minus-three plus/minus rating, committed three minor penalties and recorded nine shots on goal.
With hardly any mention of his name on the score-sheet, it was difficult for even the coaches to get a read on his level of play, much less us fans.
But so far this season, Joslin has played in almost as many games as he did last year (11), has a plus-two plus/minus rating, posted his first career point and now has three assists on the year.
Although he may seem like a defensive defenseman, Joslin led the Ottawa 67 defenseman in scoring in his final year with the club, posting 11 goals and 49 points.
Clearly the offensive ability is there and will come in due time at the NHL level but as he continues to get his feet wet the play in his own zone is what will be of more importance and so far he has been quite impressive in that area.
Despite looking like the rookie that he is in his first game replacing Blake on November fifth against the Red Wings, Joslin has rarely been noticed on the ice by both broadcasters and fans.
Even the most die-hard of die hards would find it odd that I'm praising Joslin, a guy who hardly shows up in the highlights.
But having experience playing the game and having respect for guys who can play defense (I myself, cannot) it is easy to give credit to a young defenseman performing at the highest level despite little experience.
The biggest evidence of Joslin's impressive play has been the fact that local fans watching the games on TV will rarely hear commentators Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda call Joslin's name.
As a defenseman focused on nothing but playing well in his own end, going unnoticed is exactly what you want. Joslin's quiet but superb performance is even showing that he may be deserving of a top-six spot on the Sharks defense.
Unfortunately, since Blake is the captain this year, the Sharks may not have the wherewithal to use him sparingly. But in reality, letting Blake play split time with Joslin upon his return is a viable option.
Last season Blake clearly declined during the post-season and fatigue seemed to be an issue.
Splitting time between Joslin and Blake down the stretch would offer two advantages. Come playoff time Blake will be much more fresh than he was last season and Joslin will have gained much more experience, allowing the coaching staff and fan base more confidence in him if they need him during the post-season.
During the playoffs, Blake's leadership and bomb of a point shot are going to be incredibly important, especially on the power-play. But if he shows the same inability to keep up with younger forwards like he did last post-season, the Sharks will be in trouble.
Allowing Joslin to be at the very least rotated into the lineup on a regular basis, instead of returning to Worcester upon Blake's is return, should be how the Sharks handle their current defensive set-up.
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