If you were asked who has registered a point in all three Sharks playoff games this season, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t know the correct answer. While obvious answers like Jonathan Cheechoo, Patrick Marleau
and Joe Thornton
are likely to come out of the mouths of many Sharks fans, none of those are correct. In fact, the lone person who has a three-game point streak in the playoffs is often overlooked. But to him, that’s just how he likes it.
Tom Preissing has very quietly become a staple on the Sharks blueline, providing solid defense throughout the entire season. But with big-time names on the Sharks like Cheechoo, Marleau and Thornton on offense, and Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren on defense garnering nearly all the media attention, Preissing has settled into his role with the Sharks very nicely.
“He’s had a great year for us,” said Hannan. “He’s that key defenseman that we’ve needed. In years past, we needed that big right handed shot on the power play. The way he sees the ice and moves the puck is great. He has probably been our steadiest defenseman from the beginning to the end.”
Not only does Preissing shut down the toughest NHL forwards with his stingy defense, the Rosemount, Minn. native also serves as one of the point men on the power play.
“I think people tend to overlook Tommy, but he’s basically the guy we look to on key offensive situations,” said Marleau. “He’s back there on the power play, moving the puck around. He’s scored some pretty big points for us throughout the year and we’ve seen him do that so far in the playoffs.”
“He’s a good puck moving defenseman who makes good outlet passes,” said Ville Nieminen. “He’s a key to our power play. With that good of a shot, if he’s not shooting, he’s cheating the rest of the team. He has a real good shot and he’s definitely a solid defenseman. His hockey sense is one of the best on our team.”
Preissing enjoyed a 2005-06 campaign in which he lead the team’s defensemen in points (43), goals (11), assists (32), plus-minus (plus-17), while ranking third in average ice time (20:29). His 43 points were also good for fifth on the Sharks.
“He’s had a terrific year,” said fellow defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. “He’s been under the radar and he’s probably one of the most underrated defensemen in the League. He’s at more than a half a point per game and he was our plus-minus leader on the blueline. He should get more credit for it and personally, I really like to play with him.”
With defensemen like Hannan and McLaren getting attention as being the rocks on the team’s blueline, and rookies Josh Gorges and Matt Carle getting praised for their standout play since joining the Sharks roster, guys like Preissing and Ehrhoff are left out of the picture a little bit.
“The way he’s contributed on the power play, the penalty kill when we need him and even strength, it’s been great,” said Preissing. “In a way it’s been really overlooked because of some of the attention the younger guys have gotten as a result of the quality play they’re putting in.”
The sophomore doesn’t crave the attention, however, and in fact, doesn’t mind the position he’s in.
“The guys that are getting the attention deserve it,” said Preissing. “I actually like being the guy behind the scenes. That’s always been a little bit of my personality. I have absolutely no problem with it and I enjoy it.”
Preissing did standout as a rookie, earning the 2003-04 PlayStation “Sharks Rookie of the Year Award.” But with the trade of defenseman Brad Stuart in the Joe Thornton
deal, the need for a defenseman to step up and take Stuart’s role was desperately needed. That’s where Preissing came in.
“When Stuart was traded, there was basically a need for someone to step into his role,” said Preissing. “I think with my history and kind of what they expect from me, I think I was the guy they were looking to at first. I was fortunate that when the opportunity came I was able to do some pretty good things.”
He certainly shined when it was his time to step up, as he played a huge factor in the power play, ranking fourth on the team with 22 points (two goals, 20 assists).
“When I’m out there on the power play with four forwards, I take more of a defensive role and just kind of let them run with it a little more,” added Preissing. “All those guys out there are paid to score goals and create offense, so I don’t mind taking a bit of the back seat and let them do their thing.”
In the 2003-04 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Preissing found himself in and out of the lineup after struggling a bit with his consistency. This year is completely different, however, as Preissing is looked upon as one of the unsung heroes on the team.
“When playoff time comes, you want to have your best hockey,” said Preissing. “When you don’t, like I didn’t two years ago, you’re not going to find yourself in the lineup. The fact that the team relies on me a little more and I play a greater role, it’s great and it’s a lot of fun.”
Preissing has not been overlooked by the Sharks coaching staff, as Coach Ron Wilson runs him out there in crucial situations with the utmost confidence.
“He plays all the important minutes – even strength, on the first power play unit and out there on the penalty kill,” said Wilson, who played on the blueline for two NHL teams. “He is starting to assert himself offensively and I love that, being a bit of an offensive defenseman in my day. You can’t be afraid to make mistakes and he isn’t. To score, you have to take risks.”
If you ask all the Sharks who’s the most underrated player on the team, there is no doubt the majority would say Preissing. But don’t be surprised if you see the defenseman climb his way up and become one of the League’s top defensemen in the near future.