SAN JOSE -- The Sharks' Justin Braun never realistically had a chance to be a part of Team USA's defensive corps for the Sochi Olympics. But with the way he's been playing this season, it's fair to say he wouldn't look out of place, either.
Going into Friday's contest against Columbus, Braun leads all Sharks defensemen with a plus-minus of plus-16 and is second behind Dan Boyle with 21 minutes, 23 seconds of ice time per game.
Braun's offensive numbers remain modest, with three goals and 11 assists in 58 games this season. But his improved skating ability has allowed him to join the rush more often and still be aware of his responsibilities on the defensive end, where he usually matches up with the opposing team's top line.
Braun, who turns 27 on Monday, wasn't invited to the Americans' Olympic orientation camp last summer and never really seemed to catch the full attention of those who chose the team, which features some of the best defensemen in the NHL. But he is quietly having the best season of his NHL career, which began with the Sharks in November 2010.
"He's an elite skater, but he's brought it to another level this year," Sharks assistant coach Jim Johnson said. "He spent time this summer working on it, and you can see that the effort he's put in over the course of the last year has really benefited him. He's been a real bright spot for us on the back end."
Johnson, who represented the U.S. as a player at four World Championships, said he was surprised Braun wasn't more in the mix for a spot on America's Olympic roster, adding that players on the West Coast do not get the same exposure as those in the east.
Braun, though, wasn't shocked he didn't figure into the Olympic conversation. He played for Team USA at the 2012 World Championships but was held without a point and was a minus-4 in eight games.
Few dispute that Braun is a better player now, though. He'll never be confused with some of the offensively gifted defensemen that made Team USA, such as St. Louis' Kevin Shattenkirk and Minnesota's Ryan Suter, who have 36 and 33 points each, respectively, but Braun has gained more experience and confidence in his offensive ability.
"Getting more shots through, and guys getting rebounds and tips have helped point production," Braun said. "Defensively, I just have to stay consistent and keep doing those little things."
Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic made for an effective pairing in the playoffs last season and at the start of this season. Recently, Braun has been paired with Brad Stuart.
"He's a strong skater, smart. I like playing with him," Stuart said. "You always know where he's going to be, which makes it easy as a partner."
"You think about it because of how much you hear about it, but you put a lot of trust into those other agencies to do their job," said Pavelski, whose wife will also be going to Sochi. "We expect a fun, exciting Olympics."
Vlasic said his wife and parents are traveling to Sochi and felt that everything that can be done is being done to protect athletes and spectators.
"My parents didn't want to pass it up and I didn't want my wife to pass it up," Vlasic said. "She's a huge hockey fan and a proud Canadian. ... She is worried about security, but she's staying at the NHLPA hotel and there's a lot of security at that hotel. They're doing the best they can to keep people safe."