|Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, left, works in the corner against San Jose Sharks' Jason Demers (60) in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011. The Sharks won 3-2 in overtime. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) |
During his rookie campaign last year, Jason Demers
skated in 51 games for San Jose. He also was with Worcester, San Jose’s American Hockey League affiliate, for 25 games.
Sure, his freshman year had a lot of up-and-down movement. However, Demers gave himself a great jump start to this year by playing in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
“It’s a lot better this year,” Demers said. “I’m not always wondering if I’m going to play or going to get sent down. I pretty much have the security to go out and do the things that make me who I am as a player. From that aspect, it’s been pretty positive.”
There has been the odd exception, but Demers has been a lineup staple for most of the year, having skated in 68 contests, with seven still remaining on the docket. Demers participated in 51 games last season. This year, he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder.
“It’s a good confidence booster to be in the lineup every night,” Demers said.
The more Demers played, the more he felt at ease with his teammates. The same can be said of them with him.
“Just always being around the guys, you get to mesh with them. The same thing with the coaches,” Demers said. “They know what type of player and person you are on a daily basis.”
|San Jose Sharks' Jason Demers (60) and Florida Panthers' Christopher Higgins (21) battle for control of the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Steve Mitchell) |
Demers scored 21 points last year and has 23 points right now, so the offensive production is in the same ballpark. It’s the defensive part of the game where Demers has made the biggest strides. Like the entire Sharks roster, they’ve sacrificed a few points for the betterment of team defense.
“I’ve taken a little bit of risk out of my game,” Demers said. “For the most part, I’ve eliminated that because in this League, you’ve got to be steady and you can’t be a wild card. It’s been an adjustment. At times I want to take that risk, but the other side of me is saying, ‘Pick your spots.’”
In addition to being more reliable, Demers has been steadier in every sector of the rink.
“I may have less points (per game) than last year, but I’m a lot more consistent,” Demers said.
Demers arrived in San Jose with a talented offensive pedigree (64 points in 67 junior games during one season), but he now knows being prepared at both ends of the ice is what will keep him in the National Hockey League for the long haul.
“I want to be a two-way defenseman and I want to be a defenseman that plays against the top lines,” Demers said. “Those are my personal goals so I have to have that consistency that those great defensemen have.”
|San Jose Sharks right wing Dany Heatley (15) celebrates his goal with teammate Jason Demers (60) during the third period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011. San Jose won 4-2. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) |
His commitment to stopping the opposition is a big factor in the L’Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec blueliner ranks second on the Sharks, and first among Sharks defensemen, with his plus-14 plus/minus rating. Demers defers to the talent around him for the numbers, but his role can’t be underestimated.
“I’ve had a lot of good players with me this year and it helps a lot that we have a great D corps. It’s even better than last year,” Demers said.
Demers can see where the improved level of defense will eventually help propel his offensive attack.
“Taking the risk out of my game, I’m not giving up the same scoring chances that I had last year. It’s turning into more offensive time for me and more chances for me on their net,” Demers said.
The Sharks have pushed for defensive excellence for Demers, but it doesn’t mean they want to curtail his offensive instincts. They want Demers to drive for points, but stay defensively combative and only take the educated risks, as Dan Boyle
“They know what I’m capable of offensively and they aren’t trying to take that out of my game,” Demers said. “They want me more responsible on the other side of the puck and that’s understandable. I’ve got to learn these things early and not have bad habits. I think in the long run, it’s going to help me out more. The points will come because I’m capable of handling the puck and getting into the rush. If I’m strong defensively those things will fall into place.”
|San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, right, and Jason Demers smile as they celebrate after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 5-3 during an NHL hockey game in Chicago, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) |
There aren’t a lot of 22-year-olds with two years of NHL experience under their belt who have been deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Demers knows the learning tools in front of him.
“It’s only going to help me when I’m older and it shows I have a lot of room to mature and see my game evolve,” Demers said. “I know what I can do, so it’s a matter of me putting in the time. I think they’ve done a good job of developing me the past couple of years. It’s a long process and it will be going on for many years.”
The development may go on for years, but Demers is handing the Sharks some well-deserved results for two years now.VLASIC REPORT
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic
practiced with the club on Friday and is listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury.NEXT GAME
San Jose will visit Phoenix Saturday at 6 p.m. and first place in the Pacific Division could be on the line. The game will be on CSN California, 98.5/102.1 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.