SAN JOSE -– No single player on the Sharks received more scrutiny than defenseman Roman Polak in the team's Stanley Cup Final loss to Pittsburgh. The third defense pair of Polak and Brenden Dillon struggled mightily with the Penguins' speed – especially Polak – in a series that wasn't all that close.
While the feeling in the dressing room is that the beefy Polak was a huge aid to the Sharks down the stretch and in the first three rounds against bigger Western Conference clubs ("We don't get to the Final without Roman Polak's contribution and what he brought us," coach Pete DeBoer said on Friday), it was evident that the club would be looking for another option in the offseason to replace the unrestricted free agent.
Enter David Schlemko, who signed a four-year, $8.4 million contract on July 1, and was immediately paired with Dillon on the first day of camp on Friday. Expect those two to stay together right up until opening night on Oct. 12 against Los Angeles.
Schlemko, who had 19 points in 67 games in his only season with the Devils last year, is more fleet afoot and brings more offense than Polak.
"He's a puck mover. He gives us a little bit more mobility and speed," DeBoer said. "There's always give-and-take with every personnel decision, but we're excited to have him. I'm excited to work with him. I really like what I saw from him last year in New Jersey."
Schlemko said: "I thought I had a good year in [New] Jersey. I like to think I can touch every aspect of the game, play a little power play, a little penalty kill, and chip in on offense and play solid D, as well."
The defense core figures to be a strength of the Sharks this season, and on paper it may even be the best in the NHL. Last season, one of the reasons the Sharks were able to stay so fresh and have success throughout the regular season and in the playoffs was the luxury DeBoer had of spreading out the minutes among his three pairs. Polak and Dillon both averaged more than 15 minutes a night in the playoffs.
Not only do Dillon and Schlemko figure to get plenty of ice time, they should end up producing more on the scoresheet than the third pair did last year. At least that's what Dillon -– who had 11 points in 76 games last season -– hopes.
"I think for [Polak], his game was pretty black-and-white. People know what he brings to the table. I think with David, there's going to be a little bit more creativity, and little bit more offense," Dillon said.
"I'm excited about that, and I think that's something that coming into this year, I want to be able to chip in more and use my feet a little bit more getting up [in the play]. I don't think we get to the Cup Final without what [Polak] brought to the table, and I think [Schlemko] just brings a little bit of a different spin on things."
While several veteran players remain away due to the World Cup, Dillon and Schlemko have plenty of time to get used to one another. Perhaps the first thing they and the coaching staff have to figure out is which one of the left-handed shots will play on which side.
"I think we're both comfortable playing the right side," said Dillon, who was on the left on Friday. "We almost had to fight each other to say who wanted it more. I said I'll take it, [and] he goes, ‘no, I want it.' [I said], ‘alright, you can have it.'"