Whale's Emma Vlasic Proving Herself Elite on the Dot
By Mike Murphy
The first few months of the 2019-20 NWHL season have been filled with memorable performances from a new wave of rookie skaters and goaltenders. Connecticut Whale newcomer Emma Vlasic is one of the newcomers who has wasted little time in making a big impression.
Vlasic has been a bright spot on a resilient Whale team that is still searching for its first win. There aren’t many rookies who could step into the role of being a first line center in their first season of professional hockey, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that Vlasic is not like most rookies. The former captain of the Yale Bulldogs has fit right in lining up against the best centers in the NWHL.
It would be easy for a casual observer to confuse Vlasic for a seasoned veteran because of her consistent, two-way play. The Whale, as a team, have a -11 even strength goal differential; Vlasic has a -5 on-ice goal differential at 5-on-5 despite frequently being on the ice against the other team's best skaters. In other words, things rarely go awry for Connecticut when their rookie center is on the ice.
Vlasic’s steady two-way game made her a key cog in the machine for the Yale Bulldogs throughout her collegiate career. In her senior season in 2018-19, Vlasic tied for the team lead in blocked shots (28) among forwards while also leading the team in power play production (7 points). She also showed a knack for producing when it mattered most, scoring a team-high eight of her 17 points when the score was tied.
The Illinois native’s strong skating ability – which might be her greatest strength – served her well at Yale and is serving her well in her post-collegiate career. She’s a relentless back-checker and penalty killer and might already be the Whale’s best defensive forward. “It's a heavier game in the NWHL,” Vlasic said. “So, adjusting to a more physical game is probably the biggest adjustment I've had to make coming from the NCAA.”
Of course, we can’t talk about Vlasic without talking about her prowess on the faceoff dot. In her senior year, Vlasic ranked 10th among skaters in the ECAC who took at least 400 faceoffs with a 53.9 FO% — a significant improvement from her solid 50.5 FO% as a junior. Through her first seven games of NWHL hockey, Vlasic has established herself as one of the league’s elite players on the dot with a 58.3 FO%. She ranks third in the league in faceoff percentage among forwards who have taken at least 20 draws.
“Hockey is a game of possession, so faceoffs are really important,” Vlasic said. “When you win a draw, you give your team a chance to start a play with puck possession. The key for me has been to use my quickness and positioning to win draws.”
With a success rate of 58.3% on 151 faceoffs, it’s safe to say that Vlasic has some of the quickest hands in the league. For a team that is searching for ways to create offense like the Whale, faceoffs and particularly set plays from faceoffs in the offensive zone and on the power play will prove to be extremely valuable. Vlasic’s ability to win the puck on the dot in the offensive zone has and will continue to lead to scoring chances for her teammates, especially with a big gun like Shannon Doyle ready and waiting on the blue line.
“Well I think it starts with the center making sure everyone else is on the same page and knows what play we are running before stepping in to take the draw,” Vlasic shared. “Everyone plays a role and it's important everyone takes pride in doing that role. My first goal was a great point shot by Doyle and I was able to get a stick on it and tip it into the net. I didn't grab the puck but one of my teammates did, it was a special moment for me.”
With two Whale home games on the schedule this weekend, there’s no mystery about Vlasic’s role or if she takes pride in it. Each game, her teammates count on her to do whatever she can to slow down or shut down the opposition’s top line. On Saturday at 4:30 p.m. she’ll cross sticks with two-time Isobel Cup Champion Corinne Buie and fellow promising rookie Cassidy MacPherson. On Sunday at 4:10 p.m. she’ll test herself against a pair of Riveters’ rookie centers: Cailey Hutchison and Kendall Cornine. You can watch both of this weekend's Whale games on twitch.tv/nwhl and can get tickets for all Whale home games at whale.nwhl.zone/tickets.
All data courtesy of NWHL.zone, hockeyeastonline.com, and the author's own tracking.
Photo Credits: Bryan Johnson