On paper, Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson's smooth-skating game seemed like a natural fit alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic's shutdown skill set when the Sharks acquired the former in a blockbuster trade with the Ottawa Senators in 2018.
It hasn't been quite so seamless on the ice.
The duo dominated everywhere but the scoreboard in limited 5-on-5 together in 2018-19. They were outscored 13-9 at full strength, according to Natural Stat Trick, despite controlling puck possession and creating a higher share of quality chances than their opponents. Karlsson and Vlasic played three times as many 5-on-5 minutes together in 2019-20 and the Sharks outscored opponents 26-25 in the pair's minutes, but the territorial edge was slighter.
Will the third season together be the charm for Karlsson and Vlasic?
"It's gone well," Vlasic said of his time with Karlsson in training camp during a video conference with reporters Monday. "We know each other pretty well. We get along on the ice, get along off the ice. I think we can both help each other's game offensively and defensively. So if we get off to a good start, I think we can be a very dangerous pair out there."
The Sharks will need them to be in order to avoid their first multi-season playoff drought this century, and they're hoping new systems can bring the best out of the pair and the rest of their defense corps. Coach Bob Boughner and assistant Rocky Thompson, who's overseeing the defensemen, want the blueliners to be more active and aggressive in the offensive zone.
That should play to Karlsson and Brent Burns' abilities, especially following a season in which both players generated 5-on-5 shots, attempts and scoring chances at some of the lowest rates of their careers. But Vlasic sees an opportunity, too.
"With the new system, I think I can create more offensively," Vlasic said. "I've had many years with 30-plus points. I had a year with 11 goals [in 2017-18], so I can contribute offensively and I think playing with [Karlsson will] help my game offensively."
Vlasic scored just 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) last season, his fewest in the last decade outside of the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. His rate of 5-on-5 attempts and shots on goal has declined in each of the last three seasons, which is a worrisome trend with five years (and a $7 million cap hit) remaining on his contract.
Although Vlasic's offense won't be mistaken for Burns, Karlsson or even top prospect Ryan Merkley's, the Sharks nonetheless need Vlasic to contribute more in the opposing end. Burns and Karlsson were the only defensemen to cross the 20-point threshold last season, and San Jose scored fewer goals than all but four teams.
Karlsson and Vlasic finally clicking would go a long way toward improving on both marks in 2021.