Source: Fear The Fin
As much press as Joe Thornton has received for his evolution as a player the last two seasons (including from this very site), another of the Sharks' elder statesmen has also seen his role radically transformed over the same span of time. When he first arrived from Tampa Bay, Dan Boyle played with fellow ex-Bolt Brad Lukowich on what was essentially the team's third pairing from a matchups perspective, with Boyle heavily sheltered to the tune of a negative quality of competition rating (meaning he almost exclusively faced opposing bottom-six forwards) and a 56% offensive zone start rate.
As Rob Blake aged and finally retired, Boyle was increasingly used with Douglas Murray as the team's shutdown pairing, a role the two were used in for pretty much the entirety of the 2010-11 season, before finally being paired with Vlasic this year as both defensemen finished top 30 league-wide in quality of competition among blueliners. It's impressive that a d-man in his thirties was willing and able to go from a power play specialist with a protected role at evens to playing some of the toughest minutes in the league. It's even more impressive that he's, for the most part, kicked ass in those minutes. Major kudos are due to Todd McLellan for assessing that Boyle would be capable of handling an increased role on the blueline, even if his hand was forced a bit by Blake's retirement and Christian Ehrhoff's departure.
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