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Frozen Frames: David Schlemko was Claude Julien’s best defenceman versus Washington

David Schlemko had a rough first season with the Montreal Canadiens. He was touted as a potential partner for Shea Weber, but never came close to fulfilling such a role at the top of the lineup due not only to his own multiple injuries and the team’s, but also because of his fluctuating performances.

Schlemko was often a contributor to the disorganized showings the Habs had in 2017-18. His play in his own end was lacking most nights and he caused some costly turnovers. It’s clear that the organization saw more in him than what the defenceman managed to show in his first season for the bleu-blanc-rouge.

He was acquired because of his proficiency in possession and his ability as a puck-mover, one who can handle the forechecking pressure and find clean zone exits for his team. On the offensive side, he was also playing well on the point for San Jose in 2016-17, displaying  good vision and pulling off the occasional move on defenders to find his teammates in the slot. Those abilities garnered him some power-play time, and saw him paired with Brent Burns when the Sharks were in need of goals late in the third period.

Schlemko will have to rekindle those elements of his game with the Habs. He can’t be the same disappointing player coming into this season as he was in his last. Claude Julien said that his defender was left playing catch-up for most of last year, and never really felt comfortable coming back from the Injured Reserve.

Schlemko’s pre-season game on Thursday was a step in the right direction according to his coach, who called him his best defenceman. He wasn’t overly flashy, but he did a lot of things right, showing his puck-moving skills and being generally in the right place at the right time.

He was also acting like the veteran that he is on an otherwise young team for most of the night, covering and supporting his partner all over the ice and breaking opposing rushes at their inception.

Schlemko is at his best when he is not stuck in his zone playing defence. He is an aggressive defenceman in transition, both with and without the puck, and even if those have their load of risk, it’s important for a skater to play to his strengths. When he has his head up and remains one step ahead of the play, pinching on the right occasions and passing the puck through the middle of the ice to his forwards, he can have his team play on the attack for the majority of his shifts.

Analyzing Schlemko’s play on Thursday night.

After injuring his hand in last year’s training camp, Schlemko now has the chance to use those preliminary games as a building block to a better season. The first steps are good, but he has to continue to show solid play if he wants to establish his spot in the lineup with the internal competition of the Habs roster.

Suggestions are welcome to improve this new analysis format that may become an ongoing series of articles.

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