By Shane Malloy | NHL.com correspondent
Finally, the San Jose Sharks' secret is out.
Now, the hockey world knows that defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic
is a force to be reckoned with. In the not-too-distant future, everyone will admit that Vlasic was the steal of the 2005 Entry Draft when the Sharks picked him 35th overall.
The cerebral 6-foot-1, 190-pound defenseman from Montreal is a big part of the corps of smart, puck-moving blueliners coming out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
For those of you who do not follow the QMJHL closely, Vlasic was a sensation for the Quebec Remparts last season. In 66 regular-season games he had 73 points along with an impressive plus-41 and only 57 penalty minutes while averaging 30 to 35 minutes a game. He said the main reason for his quick development was the opportunity to play in every situation and learn from his coach, Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy.
His playoff performance was equally impressive as Vlasic notched 29 points in 23 games and was plus-7 with three game-winning goals. In the Memorial Cup, he had three points in four games with a plus-7 against the best junior teams in the CHL.
"I think I played over 30 minutes a game, even in the Memorial Cup," Vlasic said. "Looking back, it was tremendous for my game because I played in all situations under pressure.
"The experience of (playing for) coach Roy was crucial for me since he has been in big situations before and he brought that to the room," Vlasic said. "He has won four Stanley Cups and he knows what it takes to win. I think he is an excellent coach and he is easy to talk to and I like him a lot."
Sharks assistant coach Rob Zettler, a former NHL defenseman, said the quality of Vlasic's experience and the pressure he's dealt with certainly quickened his development.
"He is a young kid with a lot of quality experience and what I mean by that is he did play in front of huge crowds in Quebec the last couple years and won a Memorial Cup playing huge minutes," Zettler said. "He played against the other teams' top lines the whole time and scored a ton of points along the way."
The quality of game has not escaped Sharks head coach Ron Wilson, who thought Vlasic's play last season speaks for itself.
"He was one of the best defenseman in the Memorial Cup last year and anybody who watched that understood how good he could be," Wilson said. "I know he was playing 30 to 35 minutes with Patrick Roy most of last season and that's an endorsement right there coming from a Hall of Fame goaltender who has probably a great appreciation for good defenseman."
Considering Vlasic is only 19 and has been averaging 20 minutes a game in the NHL thus far against the best players in the world is certainly an eye opener. He seemed at ease and confident about his quick progression to the NHL.
"It has been great, going real well and I have been having a lot of fun out there," Vlasic said. "I came into camp wanting to make the team and did not think I would be here at this point, but my hard work is paying off and I could not ask for anything better than playing in the NHL, which was a dream I had every since I was a little kid.
"It helps my confidence a lot playing 20 minutes a game in the NHL," he said. "I feel like one of the guys up here and feel I fit in."
Both Wilson and Zettler were pleased with his progress through training camp and not surprised he is still in the NHL.
"To outsiders, he may seem like a surprise, but we knew how good he was," Wilson said. "He was excellent in training camp last year and he has continued to improve."
"He showed a lot of poise and we tested him a little bit and played him against other team's top lines on five-on-five, penalty kills and he continued to do things the right way and was real steady," Zettler said. "Nothing seemed to really faze him too much and that is why he is still here right now."
For Vlasic, he took the praise in stride and was humble in his thoughts about his time thus far with San Jose.
"I thought I would be here during camp and then they would send me back to junior," Vlasic said. "I did not think I would be here right now, but as the camp went on I was doing well. As long as I work hard and do well, the coach will keep me here and it has been going great for me."
If Vlasic continues on this pace, would the Sharks let him go for a month and play at the World Junior Championship? The fact he did not make the Canadian squad last year was a disappointment for Vlasic and a shock to Zettler.
"I think I should have been on the team last year, but stuff happens," Vlasic said. "Life goes on. I have another chance this year to make the team."
"In his first NHL training camp there were signs of a lot of poise," Zettler said. "Nothing gets by him and when he did not make the team I was surprised. But to his credit, he used that as a driving force and worked tremendously hard this summer. He went into rookie camp and played very well and went into training camp and played very well. We have another defenseman, Scottie Hannan, who got snubbed by Team Canada for the WJC and he turned into a pretty good defenseman also. If (Vlasic) uses that as an incentive, great!"