clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Could David Schlemko prove to be an effective partner for Shea Weber?

The puck-moving abilities of Schlemko could make him an interesting candidate for the position on the Canadiens’ first defence pairing.

San Jose Sharks v Edmonton Oilers - Game Five Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens will have a lot of internal competition on the left side of their blue line. Jakub Jerabek, Brandon Davidson, and Joe Morrow are players who still have a lot to prove. Karl Alzner and Jordie Benn are more established, and both in the mold of the prototypical shutdown defenceman.

The situation may yet change, but considering how it looks right now, David Schlemko may get a chance to prove he can be a stopgap on the first pair as he has both NHL experience and proven puck-moving abilities.

The 30-year-old defenceman has a history of being underestimated and beating the odds. He went undrafted. He played his first pro season in a now defunct league — the Central Hockey League — after being signed by the Arizona Coyotes. He cracked an AHL lineup the next season and got some NHL playing time later, but spent the following years bouncing between the Coyotes' affiliate and the main team.

He finally signed a more lucrative contract in 2013. He was injured for half of that contract's first season and was then waived the following year. He was claimed by Dallas, waived by Dallas, and claimed by Calgary, finishing the season with the Flames but not receiving an invitation to return.

He ended up getting another chance; another “prove it” contract with New Jersey in 2015-16, which led him to his current four-year deal. After playing one season with San Jose, where he thought he had finally found some stability, he got selected in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, and then traded to Montreal.

It has been a bizarre career. Only finding his footing in the NHL in the last two years, Schlemko is still very underrated. In recent seasons, he showed he could anchor a third unit, move up and down the lineup when needed, and quarterback a power play. Playing alongside Brenden Dillon, he was the puck-mover on a pairing that was very effective for the Sharks.

While Schlemko finished the 2017 playoffs playing next to Brent Burns, it remained an uncommon deployment; they were only placed together when in dire need of goals.

San Jose's top four going into last season was set from the start, with Schlemko only brought in as a complementary piece. Although he isn't as sound defensively as other experienced defenders, his abilities make him a great addition to a team hoping to contend.

What type of player is David Schlemko?

Defensive game

Schlemko was on the ice for an interesting shift last season, on which the Carolina Hurricanes managed to possess the puck for a full two minutes in the Sharks’ zone. Schlemko (and every other San Jose skater) was guilty of getting out of position and losing his coverage before getting too tired to clear the puck out.

Schlemko is Sharks player #5 in the clips below.

Schlemko has qualities that serve him well on the defensive side. He has an active stick and a determination to throw himself in front of shooters. It's hard to fault him alone for how the situation unfolded in the above clip.

However, he does have a tendency to be too aggressive. He sometimes anticipates and reacts in a way that drags him out of position and leaves a player open. In other words: he gets baited.

Instead of remaining in passing lanes, covering his man, he sees more opportunities than there really are in a game to take away the puck. It can become dangerous when he misses on his reads or hesitates on his choice of play.

In the defensive zone, he has some tendencies that remind you of hard-nosed shutdown defencemen of other eras. He blocks a ton of shots and, despite being only 6'0”, he sometimes looks like Hal Gill flopping around on the ice to cut passes. And he can be quite successful at it.

Transition game

Schlemko is confident with the puck and unafraid to try plays, and those attempts rarely result in turnovers. He has good timing, he's aware of his options, and he's deceptive enough to fool the opposition's coverage. He can draw opposing players in before moving around them or finding teammates.

On the breakout, even while under pressure, he often fakes the traditional D-to-D pass in order to get the puck to an open forward, and this helps the team get out of the zone a lot faster. He's an accurate passer who shows the patience to wait for better opportunities to present themselves — a teammate streaking though the neutral zone, for instance.

While Schlemko doesn't join the rush or carry the puck up the ice as often as other offensive defenceman, he can out-skate or dangle around his man, or hang a forechecker on the net before supporting the attack. When he has the chance, he doesn't hesitate to join his forwards beyond the offensive blue line.

“Of all Devils defensemen who played more than 200 minutes during the 2015 – 2016 season, no one contributed to [zone] entry assists more often than Schlemko.”

Redefining Defensemen based on Transitional Play - Hockey Graphs

Offensive game

Although he's not exceptionally quick, Schlemko has a knack for pinching at the right times to keep the play in the offensive zone. He also looks for chances to skate into the slot for a shot on net. When he does commit to playing the puck deeper in the zone, he doesn't look out of place. He's elusive enough to separate himself from defenders.

Schlemko is willing to challenge people one-on-one at the blue line, beating them with different moves while freeing teammates from coverage. This level of audacity is rare from defenders because the risk of a breakaway against should they fail to execute is very high. Yet, Schlemko seems to know what he can get away with.

Something that probably plays in his favour is how unexpected his decisions can sometimes be. Most blue-liners who are not known for great offensive abilities would choose to fire the puck along the boards or make a D-to-D pass when pressured in the same situations. Schlemko is adventurous enough to try, from time to time, a play that is a lot more exciting.

On the power play, he’s not shy about get the puck on net, betting on a net-front presence for a deflection or to have someone in position to bang in a rebound.

He can also open passing lanes to feed the puck to teammates in better shooting positions. While playing with Burns last season, he wasn't afraid to drive the net for the skirmish around the crease after the Norris Trophy winner launched a shot at goal.

Schlemko is comfortable using a selection of shots. Far from a goal-scorer, he's still accurate with his wrist shots. He knows to fire those when there is an effective screen in front of the goalie.

Where he fits

The Habs need to fill critical roles in the lineup with what they have, as a move for a top defenceman is unlikely this close to start of the season. Alzner remains the most probable partner for Weber as Claude Julien has a history of running a more defence-oriented pair as his top unit. That choice was often made because he didn't have other alternatives, that scenario is looking likely in Montreal this season, as well.

Schlemko can't manufacture scoring chances as effectively or as consistently as well- known offensive defencemen in the NHL. There are also concerns to be had about his play away from the puck, especially if he's asked to face stronger competition.

That said, he shows abilities that are not part of the everyday game of most Habs blue-liners. For this reason, he deserves to get his chance to play with Shea Weber.

After all, they’ve already gotten to known one another quite intimately.