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Development Camp Update: Justin Braun

by Alison High / San Jose Sharks
Justin Braun will never forget his first National Hockey League goal. Ottawa Senators fans probably won’t either.

The date was Dec. 2, 2010. The big news of the day in Canada’s capital was Dany Heatley’s first game at Scotiabank Place since he was traded to the Sharks before the 2009-10 season. Braun was playing in his fourth NHL game, but as far as the hometown fans were concerned, there was only one player out on the ice. Every time Heatley touched the puck, they booed. Anytime he took a shift, they jeered.

In the second period, Braun was out on the power play when Heatley (who was traded to Minnesota on July 3) fed him a pass that he wristed past Senators goaltender Pascal Leclaire. It was his first NHL goal which was assisted by the most hated man in Ottawa.

When he looks back on that play, Braun says it was the most memorable moment of his rookie year –and rightfully so. The 24-year-old’s tally stunned an entire city.

“It was pretty exciting to hear all the boos and be a part of that,” said Braun about scoring in Heatley’s first game back in Ottawa. “That was really fun.”

Buffalo Sabres' Tyler Ennis (63) collides with San Jose Sharks' Justin Braun (61) in front of Sharks goalie Antti Niemi of Finland, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
The game ended in a 4-0 win for San Jose and Braun finished with 18:09 of ice time and a plus-2 rating. The native of Vadnais Heights, Minn. played 28 games with the big club last season while notching 11 points (two goals, nine assists). He also earned a spot in the Sharks lineup for Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Los Angeles Kings.

When he wasn’t in San Jose, Braun was putting in time with the Sharks American Hockey League affiliate in Worcester. In 34 games, he had 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) and was named to the 2011 AHL All-Star Team.

Braun hopes to be a more permanent fixture in San Jose next season.

“I’d like to be an everyday guy and contribute,” said Braun while attending Sharks Development Camp. “That would be my main goal. I can do that by working hard all summer and be ready to go for camp.”

Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson believes that could happen.

Justin Braun is going to be 25 next year and he’s an important piece to us,” Wilson said the local media before this year’s NHL Entry Draft. “We expect both of those guys (Jason Demers and Braun), who didn’t play in the final series, to be very important to us next year.”

Braun’s road to the pros included four years - and a handful of accolades – at the University of Massachusetts. From 2006-10, Braun played 150 games for the Minutemen – which tied a school record – and steadily improved his point production each year.

A practice puck sits on edge on the ice as San Jose Sharks' Justin Braun skates during an optional team practice in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Monday, May 16, 2011. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
In his freshman season, Braun recorded four goals and 10 assists in 39 games and was named UMass and Hockey East’s Rookie of the Year. That summer he was drafted by the Sharks (seventh round, 201st overall) and went on to register four multi-point games in his sophomore season – finishing with four goals and 16 assists in 36 games.

After two years in which he registered 20 penalty minutes a season, Braun took 50 as a junior. His point total also increased as the assistant captain scored 23 points (four goals and 16 assists) and led all UMass defensemen in scoring. He was named team co-Most Valuable Player alongside James Marcou (who was signed by San Jose as a free agent in 2010) and earned second team Hockey East All-Star honors.

By the end of his senior season, Braun had set a career high in goals (eight), assists (23) and points (31 – second amongst HE defensemen). He became a more disciplined player as well – finishing the year with a plus-3 rating while taking just 15 penalties for 30 PIMs. Those stats earned him a spot on the Reebok All-America Second Team, Hockey East All-Star First Team and the New England Hockey Writers All-Star Team. He was also named Hockey East’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Enough with the awards. You get it – he’s good.

In March of 2010, Braun was offered an entry- level contract by the Sharks and headed to Worcester to assist in their Calder Cup playoff run. He had three assists in 11 postseason appearances.

If his future is to be anything like his past, Braun will just continue to improve his game. He put up impressive numbers last season for a guy who didn’t have a consistent spot in the lineup. Come 2010-11, he could be among the Sharks top-six defensemen.

“Brauner will get a good look next year,” said defenseman Dan Boyle after the Sharks were eliminated in the Western Conference Final.

As the defensive core shapes up through free agency, the Sharks currently have four right-handed blueliners (Boyle, Braun, Brent Burns and Jason Demers) and three lefties (Douglas Murray, Jim Vandermeer and Marc-Edouard Vlasic).

How Braun will fit into that group will be up to him when training camp begins in September.

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