SAN JOSE – The Sharks’ brain trust was already confident that Jannik Hansen would be a good fit on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, but that impulse was reinforced shortly after a trade with Vancouver brought the 30-year-old forward to San Jose.
According Pete DeBoer, assistant Johan Hedberg “got a note from one of the Sedins” that Hansen “would be a real good fit with those two guys. That just reinforced it,” said the coach.
The Sedins are obviously aware of the type of player that Hansen is, as he was frequently on the wing with brothers Henrik and Daniel. It was that familiarity and experience with those two players that seem to have a sixth sense with one another that’s allowed Hansen to transition so seamlessly to the Thornton-Pavelski line – two other players that can also display that type of chemistry, even if they’re not blood related.
And, it has been seamless. The Sharks’ top line has generated one even strength goal in each of the four games Hansen has been in the lineup, winning three of them. The season-long quest to find a fit for the two Joes looks like it’s finally over, and it’s happened at just the right time with only four weeks to go before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“Joe and Joe play the same way as a couple guys in Vancouver,” Hansen said, referring to the twins. “They want the puck, they want to hold on to it, they want to make the plays. For me, it’s fairly simple as to how I’m playing. It’s the same thing – digging pucks out, going to the net, getting pucks back for them.”
Pavelski can see how playing with the Sedins could be similar to playing with himself and Thornton.
“Obviously those guys are on a [high] level passing and knowing where each other are,” he said.
You and Thornton are too, though, right?
“Yeah, we’ve always got an idea of what we want to do,” Pavelski said. “Over the last few years we’ve been able to figure that out even more. [Hansen] just compliments it well. He gets in there, he’s around the puck, if something’s loose he’s right there. He’s not out waiting for anything, he’s right in the mix.”
The instant chemistry has been a bit surprising to both of them. There aren’t a whole lot of off-ice meetings happening, because they just haven’t been necessary.
“The system is the system. There’s [only] so much you can do, and then after that it’s about winning some one-on-one battles, getting pucks back and making plays in tight areas with each other,” Pavelski said. “That’s actually been one of the nice things, is we haven’t had to talk much.”
Make no mistake, the Sharks were searching for a top line left wing ahead of the March 1 trade deadline. There were other names out there, like Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Tomas Vanek or Patrick Sharp (before it was revealed he was hurt), but Hansen was a player that the Sharks already knew could have success skating on a line with top offensive talent.
It was “absolutely” the plan to put Hansen on the top line to start, according to DeBoer. But if that didn’t work out, the coach was confident Hansen could play somewhere else, too.
“When you’re looking at that list of who can help you, there’s guys that were available that if we had acquired it was feast or famine,” DeBoer said. “They either fit [on the top line], or they might not fit anywhere else. This guy, the attractive part about him was we were real comfortable that he would fit somewhere for us.”
Based on his first week, though, it doesn’t look like Hansen will be moving down the lineup anytime soon. In his first experience changing teams, Hansen said the transition has been “a lot easier” than he expected.
“Obviously it’s a team that knows what they want, what direction they’re going,” he said. “I don’t need to come in and do anything special, just play my game and the rest will take care of itself.”