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2016-2017 Season




DAVID SCHLEMKO: An All-Around Good Addition to the Sharks D Corps


By Paul Freeman

David Schlemko

DAVID SCHLEMKO:
An All-Around Good Addition to the Sharks D Corps

By Paul Freeman

The Sharks came close to winning it all last season. A little roster tinkering in the off-season may very well be enough to push them past the last hurdle. The addition of defenseman David Schlemko might not have been a headline-grabbing free agent signing, but, for San Jose, it could hold huge significance.

In 2015-2016 with the Devils, Schlemko, quick and smart, had 19 points and took 104 shots. But it’s his all-around game that appealed to the Sharks’ brain trust. He had a Relative Corsi-For percentage of 3.7, meaning he can drive possession.

“His versatility is really important,” said Sharks GM Doug Wilson after inking Schlemko to a four-year pact.

Schlemko, a 29-year-old native of Edmonton, played junior hockey with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, winning a championship with them in 2007. He went undrafted, but was signed by the Coyotes and assigned to the Central Hockey League’s Arizona Sundogs and later the AHL San Antonio Rampage. He made his NHL debut with the Coyotes during the 2008-09 season. In January, 2015, Schlemko was claimed off waivers by the Dallas Stars, but played only five games with them before being put on waivers again, where he was claimed by the Calgary Flames. As a free agent, he signed a one-year deal with New Jersey, where he notched six goals in 67 games, turning in an impressively solid season.

As this season got underway, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said of the Schlemko-Brenden Dillon D-pairing, “I’ve liked what I’ve seen out of Schlemko and his ability to move pucks and his composure. It looks like they’ll be really effective for us.”

In March, 2015, while still with the Flames, Schlemko, in the eighth round of a shootout, delivered a jaw-dropping, Peter Forsberg-like goal to win the game. He’s not going to wow onlookers very often, but, in many less noticeable ways, he’s going help the Sharks soar.

Check out our David Schlemko Photo Gallery from the Sharks vs. Montreal Canadiens game on December 2nd, 2016.

TOP SHELF:
What went into your decision to sign with Sharks?

DAVID SCHLEMKO:
I had a good phone call with Doug [Wilson] and Pete [DeBoer] in the week leading up to July 1st. And I’ve always liked the way the team played. I always liked playing in the building. It’s such a good team. They had a good run last year. It’s a chance to win.

TOP SHELF:
How has the adjustment been?

SCHLEMKO:
It’s been pretty seamless, I think, so far. I think the way they play fits my game pretty well. I felt pretty good in the first few games here.

TOP SHELF:
What do you like about the Sharks on the ice, the style of play, and in the room, the composition of the roster?

SCHLEMKO:
Oh, you know, the room is great. A lot of great guys. It starts from the top with guys like Jumbo [Joe Thornton] and Pat [Marleau]. And on the ice, we like to play fast. We’re a puck-moving team. We play with pace and come on the forecheck with five guys. And that’s kind of the way I like to play. So it’s been pretty good so far.

TOP SHELF:
You’ve mentioned keeping the game simple, has that always been a key for you?

SCHLEMKO:
Yeah, I think so. I want to start that way, thinking of making the simple play. And if there’s a chance to create something, you can make a play off your instincts. But if you’re always looking for the pretty play, I think that’s when you get into trouble. So, if the play’s there, make it. We’re a pretty straight-ahead team. We want to come with speed and play in the O-zone. And I think we do a pretty good job of that.

TOP SHELF:
You had the opportunity for a pretty play on that shootout goal with the Flames. That got a lot of internet attention. Had you practiced that move a lot?

SCHLEMKO:
[Laughs] Yeah. I used to do that all the time, when I was a junior, in the shootout. So I thought I’d give it a go. It was actually my first game in Calgary. So I think that surprised some of my teammates. They didn’t see it coming. So it was pretty funny.

TOP SHELF:
After the signing, Doug Wilson talked about your versatility. Do you see that as your strength?

SCHLEMKO:
Yeah, I think so. I think I can kind of touch a lot of areas of the game. Both special teams, if needed. And I’m able to play my off-side. So yeah, that’s kind of what you’ve got to do, if you want to stick around in the league [laughs]. You’ve got to find a way to touch different areas of the game.

TOP SHELF:
You have been seeing some power play time. That must be fun.

SCHLEMKO:
Yeah, of course. You ask any player, they’re not going to ask for less ice time. So the more I can get in there and contribute, the better it is, the more fun you’re going to have.

TOP SHELF:
You’re originally from Edmonton. So you grew up an Oilers fan?

SCHLEMKO:
I did, yeah. Pretty much everybody from Edmonton does. It’s been hard to be an Oiler fan the last 10 years or so. But everybody back home is pretty excited now.

TOP SHELF:
Who were your hockey heroes?

SCHLEMKO:
Well, obviously Gretzky and Messier, Paul Coffey. I really kind of idolized Nic Lidstrom, when I got a little older, as a defenseman. I liked Eric Brewer, when he was with the Oilers. I liked his game.

TOP SHELF:
So were you focused on defense early on?

SCHLEMKO:
Well, I was more like an offensive guy, when I was a kid, playing on D. I’d go back and get the puck, wind it up. I seemed to have the puck more on D, as a kid.

TOP SHELF:
Winning a WHL championship with Medicine Hat, that must have been a valuable experience.

SCHLEMKO:
That was great. When you win, it’s kind of a like a lifelong friendship. All the other years, they seem to blend into one. But when you win a championship, you always remember those guys. I still see a lot of those guys, play against some of them. So it’s something I’ll never forget, for sure.

TOP SHELF:
At what point did you think you had a real shot at making the NHL?

SCHLEMKO:
Oh, that last year of junior, when we went all the way. I was offered contracts with two different teams and ended up playing in Phoenix.

TOP SHELF:
Going undrafted did that faze you at all? Did you still feel you could make it to the NHL?

SCHLEMKO:
Back then there were a lot of big-bodied D-men getting drafted [Schlemko is even now a not immense 6’0”, 190 pounds]. You think you’re having a pretty good year in junior and you’re thinking, ‘Well, I’m better than these guys.’ So you go out and prove it.

TOP SHELF:
Did you see signing with Arizona as a golden opportunity?

SCHLEMKO:
Yeah, we were talking with a few different teams. I actually thought my junior coach, Willie Desjardins, was going to be coaching in San Antonio, for their minor league team. That was kind of one of the main reasons i ended up picking Phoenix. But then he ended up not going there [chuckles]. It didn’t exactly work out as planned, but it’s all for the best in the end.

TOP SHELF:
Was the Central League helpful in terms of your development?

SCHLEMKO:
Yeah, I think so. I wasn’t really excited to go there, as a 20-year-old. I think I kind of wanted to go back to junior and play my overage year. But Brad Treliving [then assistant general manager with the Coyotes, now GM of the Flames] said, “You’ve done enough in junior and you’ve got to learn to play with the men.” But it was fun. It was not the best league, but we had a pretty good team. And we ended up winning another championship there. So it was a lot of fun. And yeah, it was a learning experience, for sure.

TOP SHELF:
Phoenix had a number of top D-men - Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle while you were there. Was it difficult to show what you could do?

SCHLEMKO:
Yeah, I mean, me and Ekman-Larsson came in, we were like first-year guys together. I think he was only 19. I was maybe 23. I ended up playing over him that first year, but you could see he was just raw talent and it was only a matter of time before he was going to be really good. And yeah, after that, it was kind of tough to get into that offensive role. I ended up playing more like a shutdown role, my second season there. And that was going really well and it taught me to touch on another area of the game and made me more of an all-around player. But I had a lot of injury trouble after that. And I don’t know if it stunted my development a little bit, but I was kind of stuck in my role there. So it was nice to finally get an opportunity last year in Jersey to play some bigger minutes and kind of show what I can do a little bit.

TOP SHELF:
Your time in Dallas, you didn’t really get a chance there at all.

SCHLEMKO:
No, no. I’m not sure why they picked me up [laughs].

TOP SHELF:
And then, being claimed by the Flames, playing in Alberta, was that fun? Or, as an OIler fan, was that playing for the hated enemy?

SCHLEMKO:
Yeah, you know, there was a little bit of that at first, probably more for my dad than anything. He came down to the playoffs and bought a Flames hat [laughs]. That was a big step for him. It was great. I loved Calgary. We were kind of an over-achieving team and we played in the playoffs in Canada, which was great. Great atmosphere every night. The city was buzzing. And I was close to home, friends and family. So I definitely enjoyed my time there.

TOP SHELF:
Then signing in New Jersey, the good year there allowed you to get some long overdue recognition.

SCHLEMKO:
Yeah, it was a tough summer for the free agents a couple of years ago. It seemed like nobody was getting a deal. So I ended up signing a deal for pretty low money, but trying to pick somewhere that you can maybe have that opportunity to stand out a little more and take on a bigger role.

TOP SHELF:
You had really good Corsi numbers. Do you believe in the relevance of Corsi?

SCHLEMKO:
I’m not a big analytics guy. I don’t really know what it all means [chuckles]. But I apparently they liked me, so I guess I like it.

TOP SHELF:
What are you expecting from yourself this year?

SCHLEMKO:
I just want to come in and contribute wherever I can. I’d like to put up some more numbers than I have so far. I’ve had a lot of chances. I’ve been creating. It just hasn’t been going in the back of the net. But I’ve liked my starts, just getting back and moving pucks quick. I think me and Dilly [D-partner Brenden Dillon] have done a pretty good job of breaking out of our end quickly, not playing in our own end too much. And that’s kind of the name of the game with our team, just get out of our end quick, speed and compete, and playing in the O-zone. And for me, I’m just trying to contribute wherever I can. We’ve got such a deep team. I want to come in and create where I can, get pucks on the net, move the puck up to our talented forwards.

TOP SHELF:
Now with a four-year deal, do you feel some sense of security? Or do you feel you still have something to prove?

SCHLEMKO:
I think you’re always thinking you have something to prove. Getting a four-year deal is nice, but I’ve been around long enough to know that there’s not really ever that much security in this job. You have to go out and earn it every night. That’s all I’m trying to do.

TOP SHELF:
What kept you going through those tough years, not knowing if you’d ever get a chance to establish yourself? Did you always maintain confidence?

SCHLEMKO:
Two years ago things weren’t going well in Arizona for our whole team. They were starting to blow it up. And I kind of knew I was going to be on the move. I had my agent telling me, “All these teams are trying to trade for you, but they don’t want to take on any salaries.” So to go on waivers, kind of embarrassing [laughs]. Then getting picked up by Dallas and they didn’t really seem to have any plans on using me. So I go on waivers again. That was probably my toughest time - my time with Dallas. Once I got to Calgary, I got an opportunity to play there and played well, finished the year and played well in the playoffs. I figured, “Well, I know I can play. I know I can still be a good player in this league.” Kind of went into last year with something to prove in Jersey and thought I did a pretty good job of that.

TOP SHELF:
At this point, what are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of your life in pro hockey?

SCHLEMKO:
Most rewarding is just getting to go to the rink every day, doing what you love. Challenging is bringing it for 82 games. And juggling the family life, with all of the travel and trying to explain to your kids [two daughters, ages four and 11 months] why you’re gone all the time. But that could easily happen with a job that you hate. So I’m not complaining [laughs].

TOP SHELF:
Hopefully you’ll keep things going way past the 82-game mark this year. Maybe you can experience a Cup Final with the Sharks.

SCHLEMKO:
That’s the plan.




   
 



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