The 2009-10 San Jose Sharks undoubtedly have more fire-power at the forward position than they had last year, but the offense from the defense that head coach Todd McLellan preaches to his club has been on a major decline.
While San Jose's offensive stalwart on the blue-line, Dan Boyle, is on pace for a better season than a year ago, the rest of the defensemen who the Sharks rely upon for offense have not produced at the level one would have expected at the beginning of the season.
Rob Blake has just eight points in 24 games so far this season, which puts him on pace for just a season total of 24 if he were to finish the rest of the year healthy. However, the 20-year veteran posted 45 points last year.
Furthermore, those who were expecting improved offense from Marc-Edouard Vlasic this season have got to be wondering what is going on with No. 44, who registered a career high 36 points last season. With the departure of Christian Ehrhoff over the offseason, fans expected an increased offensive role from Vlasic, but the fourth-year defenseman is on pace for just 23 points this season.
Considering the combined pace of Vlasic and Blake in terms of points this year is 47, which is 80 points short of the 127 points between Blake, Vlasic and Ehrhoff had last season, somebody is going to have step up their offensive game.
The man for that job is none other than rookie defenseman Jason Demers.
While broadcasters and reporters raved about his impressive offensive showing in his first stint in the NHL earlier this season, Demers' defensive miscues proved to be too frequent come late November and he was sent down the minors.
However, before being sent down to the AHL, Demers had accumulated 13 points, (one goal, 12 assists) in his first 27 games. This puts him at a pace close to Rob Blake's 45 points from last season.
While I was of the opinion that Demers was the benefactor of picking up secondary assists to pad his statistics, one play in particular did show his Dan Boyle-like vision.
Against the Colorado Avalanche on October 30th, Demers set up Dany Heatley with a sweet tap in on a shot-pass from the point that made even Heatley mouth the words "Wow, what a pass."
However, besides that one play, the numerous defensive lapses by the rookie made any offensive contributions a moot point. Perhaps being forced to play with a not so defensively aware Kent Huskins hasn't helped the rookie defender, but nonetheless numerous unforced mistakes were killing his team.
Prior to Thursday's win over Anaheim, Demers had spent the past seven Sharks games working on his game with the Worcester Sharks. But with fellow rookie defenseman Derek Joslin and the rest of the big club struggling, Demers was called back up to help get the Sharks out of their funk.
While he didn't register a point in the 4-1 win over the Ducks, Demers played excellent hockey in his own zone and played with an impressive physical presence as well. If Demers can continue to improve his defensive play, his offensive abilities are going to do wonders to make up for the absence of a Christian Ehrhoff.
Unfortunately, his turnovers are reminiscent of those that made Ehrhoff anything but a fan favorite. Regardless of those turnovers, Ehrhoff brought superb offensive capabilities to the Sharks blue-line and those points need to be made up somewhere and Demers should play a major role in doing just that.
In order for the rookie to be able make his offensive capabilities shine for the big Sharks this year and not for the minor league Sharks down in Worcester, it is his defensive play that is going to determine whether he can stay here on the West Coast.
Hopefully for the Sharks, Demers can pickup the slack in his own end because they need his extra offense ability from the blue-line considering the current make-up on the back end.
The aforementioned Blake appears to have aged five years since last season, Vlasic hasn't been jumping up in the play nearly as much as last year, and neither Murray nor Huskins have much upside offensively. But so far, so good for Demers in his return to the NHL level as the Sharks are back in the win column after a five game win-less streak.
It's only a matter of time before the rookie gets back on the score-sheet.
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