Yet another Vlasic article. Man, I don't think I've ever fallen in hockey love so quickly. I guess it was watching him play 4 times in 5 days at the rookie tournament that started it all, but to see him perform in the NHL is so wonderful. I like how Ron Wilson basically admitted that he was trying to break him and kind of throwing him to the wolves. :P And I like how the team is kind of surprised by him but accept him. *sighs happily*
Vlasic, 19, earns respect, lineup spot
DEFENSEMAN ISN'T PLAYING LIKE A ROOKIE
By Victor Chi
DETROIT - The official verdict from Sharks management to keep teenage defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the roster was somewhat anticlimactic.
Vlasic had played so well that it was obvious he wouldn't be shipped back to juniors. He had already aced the most important part of his test -- acceptance from his teammates.
``All you do is watch how your players respond to him,'' Coach Ron Wilson said. ``That's more important than anything. If he's only playing because I like him, but they're sitting there going, `What the hell is this guy doing in the lineup?' you'd see that right away. But there is none of that.''
At the start of the season when Wilson sent Vlasic to kill a two-man disadvantage along with Scott Hannan and Curtis Brown, nobody thought twice about the 19-year-old getting the call.
``When you get put on the ice, none of us has our age printed on our jerseys,'' Brown said. ``We only care about having the best chance in any situation. Right from Day One, Vlass has played like he belongs here.''
Vlasic is the first Sharks defenseman to earn a roster spot as a 19-year-old since Brad Stuart in 1999. Through nine games, he is averaging nearly 20 minutes, which puts him third among the club's defensemen behind veterans Kyle McLaren and Hannan.
By winning a job in training camp, Vlasic has kept Doug Murray and Rob Davison from cracking the lineup.
``If there's one night I don't play well, I could sit out the next game,'' said Vlasic, 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. ``There's people fighting for jobs. There's two guys who haven't played yet and they're fighting to get in the lineup, so I'm coming here every day to work hard.''
Until recently, Vlasic was known mostly for being the second-round draft pick the Sharks received from Calgary in the Miikka Kiprusoff trade. Then he started to turn heads in training camp.
``I only had him in a couple exhibitions in the beginning and we were going to send him back to juniors after 10 days,'' Wilson said. ``Then, boom, he's the best defenseman you have in the first two or three exhibitions.
``OK, now we're going to play him every single night to see if we can poop him out or flunk him, and only play him against the better guys on the other team. If we were playing Calgary, he was going to play against Jarome Iginla. Let's see how he fares against Jarome or Teemu Selanne coming full steam ahead.''
Last week TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie listed his top five noteworthy developments in the new season. Vlasic was No. 2.
``The most impressive rookie performance to date has been by the totally unheralded and -- to many -- unknown Marc-Edouard Vlasic in San Jose,'' McKenzie noted. ``The second-round pick in 2005 from the Quebec Remparts has been playing 20 minutes a night for a very good Sharks team and looking mature beyond his 19 years, even though he has yet to register a single point.''
Vlasic, though, got on the scoresheet for the first time Monday with the primary assist on Marcel Goc's goal.
Mark Smith started the play by carrying the puck up the right side. He dropped it off for Vlasic, who launched a shot from the top of the circle. Goc cleaned up the rebound.
``It's about time,'' said Vlasic, who had 73 points in 66 games last season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. ``I'm working hard, and if I keep working hard, it'll pay off. I'm glad to get that first one out of the way. Hopefully I'll have more to come. But I'm worried about my performance on the ice.''
Wilson said he doubts Vlasic will downshift into complacency mode now that his roster spot is secure.
``You tell a junior he's going to stay here for the whole year, and you wonder that first game, is he just going to say, `Ahh, I made it,' ?'' Wilson said. ``But I don't sense that in him at all.
``He's one of those guys who won't ever be a problem. You know, you have coach-killers and coach-savers, and he's a coach-saver.''