SAN JOSE- A couple days ago it was brought to the attention of San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan that his roster doesn’t have many spots open for competition. McLellan acknowledged that due to veteran contracts that his team may have less available slots than others but that there are still opportunities to be earned and taken away.
This got me thinking, where do the Sharks players fit in as the regular season approaches? Everyone has their guesses, and McLellan doesn’t always make the common sense move (sitting Scott Gomez one night last year in favor of Matt Pelech was peculiar, as was moving Brent Burns to forward).
First and foremost, yours truly (like a lot of Sharks prognosticators) expects the following forward lines to open the season.
Tomas Hertl–Joe Thornton–Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau–Logan Couture–Raffi Torres
Tyler Kennedy–Joe Pavelski–Tommy Wingels
James Sheppard–Andrew Desjardins–Adam Burish
Hertl, San Jose’s first round pick from 2012, and Kennedy (acquired in a draft day trade in June), have been the two players seeing time with Thornton and Burns during training camp. While Kennedy is capable of contributing offensively, he’s more of an energy guy that seems better fit for the third line. Furthermore, in order to best take advantage of Hertl’s offensive skill set, it would be wise to play him with two of the best offensive threats on the Sharks roster.
Personally, if it were up to me, Wingels and Torres would be flip flopped. Torres has chemistry with Marleau and Couture but I think he works even better with Pavelski. Plus, with the Couture line being San Jose’s shut down unit, Wingels’ skill set might be a better fit there.
Outside Hertl, San Jose’s young forwards don’t jump out at you. The one player that seems most likely to push Sheppard or Desjardins for fourth line minutes would be veteran Anthony Stewart who is in camp on a professional tryout.
Any way you slice it though, Thornton, Couture, and Pavelski down the middle is one heck of a forward group.
Dan Boyle–Matt Irwin
Marc-Edouard Vlasic–Justin Braun
Brad Stuart–Scott Hannan
Broken down numerically, the Sharks defense corps works like this: 1. Boyle 2. Vlasic 3. Stuart 4. Braun 5. Irwin 6. Scott Hannan 7. Jason Demers.
Boyle and Irwin complement each other well, and Vlasic and Braun became San Jose’s shut down pair last season. Stuart and Hannan played well against mediocre opposing forwards in last year’s playoffs but on paper they don’t look great together. If Demers can find his game for the first time in a couple years, he would be the better partner for Stuart because of his puck moving capabilities.
Overall the Sharks blue-line may not stand out on paper, but it’s certainly a solid core.
This fivesome has manned San Jose’s top power-play unit for pretty much the entirety of the past couple seasons. Ever since San Jose shipped out Dany Heatley after the 2010-11 season, this has been the main unit. They’re as dangerous of a No. 1 power-play as there is in the league and they prove it time and time again.
The main question when it comes to the Sharks power-play is who will be able to step up on the second unit? San Jose’s second power-play group struggled for the most part last season especially when Scott Gomez wasn’t in the lineup.
Without Gomez, the Sharks second unit lacked a true center. At times McLellan would be forced to through out a group of Torres, T. J. Galiardi and Martin Havlat/Wingels up front. This season things are a bit more clear with Hertl being a slam dunk at the center position.
With all four of San Jose’s top centers on the No. 1 unit, Hertl will almost certainly take over that role on the second unit. An obvious choice to join Hertl up front is Torres. However after Torres, McLellan has a bunch of different options. The obvious choices for the other forward spot are either Kennedy or Wingels with Irwin and Burns manning the points.
If I were to guess, Hertl, Torres, Kennedy, Irwin, and Burns will be the group opening night. That said, since both Kennedy and Wingels are often used on defensive minded lines and on the penalty kill, McLellan might consider throwing Sheppard onto that second unit. While penciled in as a fourth liner, Sheppard was originally drafted as a scoring line winger (first round, 9th overall to Minnesota in 2006) and has a more natural offensive skill set. Sheppard, Hertl, Torres, Irwin, and Burns is an option. If McLellan chooses to get creative, another possible unit comes to mind. Both Justin Braun and Jason Demers could play the point on the second unit and thus push Burns up front to forward. Torres, Hertl, Burns, Irwin, Braun/Demers would have improved firepower up front, but Braun/Demers don’t have the lethal shot from the point that Burns features.
On defense, Stuart, Vlasic, and Braun will get the bulk of the work load while shorthanded. Hannan will certainly see a lot of time when he’s in the lineup and Demers will fill in as well. Boyle and Irwin will probably be the least utilized defenseman.
As for the forward pairs, Desjardins and Burish were together most of last season while Pavelski remains a shorthanded stalwart. Chances are Pavelski will once again be paired with Marleau and Couture with Wingels. Those will probably be the primary six forwards on the penalty kill with Thornton, Sheppard and Torres as further possibilities. Ideally San Jose will look to save the miles of Marleau and Thornton by limiting their time spent killing penalties.
As a whole the Sharks penalty kill should once again be amongst the tops in the league. After all, with hall of fame defenseman and nine time Stanley Cup Champion Larry Robinson in charge, hard to envision this penalty kill not being in the top third of the league.
Antti Niemi, ‘nough said.
But if you really need to know, Alex Stalock will probably be out Harri Sateri for the glorified role of clipboard holder and face-off charter.
As always for more on the Sharks follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch