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Thrun Details What He’s Doing To Become Better Defenseman

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Rookie Henry Thrun matured and grew despite the San Jose Sharks’ grueling and tumultuous season.

The 23-year-old defenseman, who started the season with the San Jose Barracuda, eventually finished only behind Mario Ferraro in average time on ice, above veterans like Jan Rutta and Kyle Burroughs. Thrun became just the third Sharks rookie defensemen to play 50-or-more games and average 20-or-more minutes, joining Brad Stuart in 1999-00 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic in 2006-07. Thrun notched three goals and 11 points in 51 games and even became the team’s power play quarterback by end of season.

But Thrun’s got his sights set even higher next year.

In his exit interview, Thrun discussed in depth what he needs to improve this summer, his aspirations to be a top blueliner, and the adjustments he made jumping from college to the NHL.

Thrun, on the growth he made this season and what he wants to improve this summer:

I think the growth was a lot within game management. Just understanding how to be successful on a night-to-night basis. In college, you play Friday-Saturday, and you’re literally playing 30 games a year or 35. So, playing 82 is a little different and playing more frequently throughout the week is a challenge that I’m not used to. That was something that took me a little bit to figure that out, recognizing when you’re not at your best, how to not make it any worse.

Learning to have a ‘B’ game was important for me, because at the end of the day, everyone’s striving to be their best every night but avoiding ‘C’ games and nights that you just are average, sometimes that’s okay. So, I was happy with that growth.

I think in terms of improvement for me—I haven’t met with the staff yet, I’ll be curious to see what they say—but I think from a personal assessment, probably my strength and ability to hold on to pucks would be my two biggest things.

The strength aspect is a big thing. I felt that I’ve always been strong for my age, and I’ve always been pretty confident in my abilities with that, but the NHL is a different level. Being stronger is only gonna help and I feel like it’ll help me specifically with battles on the ice, being able to close plays a little harder, improve my D-zone. I think that’s something that the strength aspect will help facilitate.

In terms of holding on to pucks, I think that’s, that’s seen in a couple different areas. It helps on the breakout being more comfortable, being able to hold on to it, protect it, and then make a play if it’s there. Or if it’s not, being able to wait a second and find the next best play. Because, it’s a little different in college. You’re typically able to always find someone, coverage is a little bit softer, guys don’t close as quick.

It’s something that it’s never been necessary in my game, I’ve always been someone that moves the puck extremely quick. Never been a big skater of the puck, never been someone that likes to dance around within the O-zone. I’ve always been very efficient and quick with my puck movement.

So, I think holding on the pucks in every zone really will help a lot.

D-zone on the breakouts. Neutral [zone], sometimes there’s not lanes there and something as simple as being more comfortable rushing the puck, getting the red line, maybe make a play, maybe get it deep. O-zone, similar concepts. There’s no free offense in the NHL. Being able to be more comfortable just holding on to it, wait a second or two, and then make a play from there is probably the biggest thing for me.

Thrun, on how to measure adding strength:

That’s a great question: It’s something that I talked with the strength staff about. As I said, I’ve always been a pretty strong guy for my age and tested well. But at the end of the day, that doesn’t help you. Just because you test well, doesn’t mean you’re gonna outmuscle someone in the corner.

I truthfully think it will come with a little bit of time. The physical aspect of my game was probably the last thing that clicked for me in college. I’ve always been more of a defender with my stick and more of like a heavy defender than a ‘brute force’ guy. In college, that was probably the last thing–that took me some time to figure it out.

But my senior year of college, I was pretty confident with my physical ability and was really happy with  the physicality that I brought to our team. This year, it’s something that was non-existent in my game, which is very blunt. I wasn’t overly impressed with myself physically. Whether that was from an ability to do it or whether it was from a strength perspective, it just wasn’t there.

It’s something that I’d like it to be figured out right now, but I think will come with time. I can ask older defensemen about it, I can see the progression of other guys, and figure out how that timeline comes to be and how I can get there.

It took me a minute to figure it out in college and once I got there, I was barely happy with the physicality I could bring my team. But right now, I don’t think it’s there. It’s gonna be something to work on this summer.

Thrun, on his aspirations to be a top-pair, offensively-skilled defenseman:

It’s something that I’m striving to be. I’m striving to be the best player that I can be. I want to be a first pair d-man. I want to be a dominant player in this league, and I think that this year there were aspects of my game that I wasn’t fully able to display, particularly on the offensive side. The past couple of years [in college], I’ve produced at a pretty high clip and have always been really confident in my offensive game.

This year, I obviously didn’t expect to produce at the same rate that I did in college, but it was a little lower than I had hoped for. I think that’s a part of my game that I didn’t mention to you guys because it’s something that I know I have and with team success, that’ll come a little bit more.

It’s not something that I feel the need to necessarily work on that much, but as you’d said, I feel I have a lot to give to help a team win. I’m striving to be a No. 1 d-man, be able to play on first-pair. It’s something that excites me, I’ve always been pretty motivated like that and I’m just trying to be the best player I can be.

Thrun, on what he would tell Will Smith, Macklin Celebrini, or other college players about jumping to the NHL:

I talked to Collin [Graf] a little bit when he had gotten here, and ironically, the strength is the biggest thing. I remember last year, we played Colorado and Vegas a couple times [my] first few games. Going against a guy like [Jack] Eichel or [Mikko] Rantanen… It’s tough.

It’s tough to move them around. When people ask me, I say, “The big guys are too big to move, and the small guys are too fast to move.” It’s a challenge, and I’d say the strength is probably the biggest thing.

But at the end of the day, their skill sets are so high and are world-class. Part of their game should hopefully be able to drive success early in their careers, and then I imagine that they’re smart enough to figure out how to round out everything else.

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