SAN JOSE-To say that the situation regarding San Jose Sharks forward James Sheppard is quite fishy would be an understatement. It’s downright perplexing.
The second year Shark appeared in all 11 of San Jose’s playoff games last year. However, over the past couple months of this season, Sheppard has ceded ice time to longtime AHL veterans like John McCarthy who didn’t play in a single NHL game a year ago.
A first round pick (9th overall) back in 2006 by the Minnesota Wild, most agree that Sheppard’s development was hindered by being rushed to the NHL by a bad Minnesota team. He only managed 49 points over 224 regular season games in his first three years in the league (2007-08 trough 2009-10). Shortly thereafter Sheppard injured his knee in an offseason ATV accident and missed the entirety of the next two seasons.
While rehabbing, Sheppard was shipped out to San Jose by the Wild for a third round draft choice.
It was certainly a long, arduous road for Sheppard to get back to the NHL. So it is hard to criticize his performance in limited action after missing that much time. He managed just four points in 32 regular season games in 2012-13 but he played a strong two-way game.
This season he has just six points in 42 games but has again played tremendously well at both ends of the ice. You can’t really come down on him for his minus-4 rating when he’s frequently playing with AHLers and tough guys on the Sharks fourth line.
Unfortunately, Sheppard’s strong play doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, and for whatever reason the Sharks coaching staff has at times made him a healthy scratch this season.
Now the Sharks and Sheppard recently admitted there was a recent stretch of games where he missed time due to his grandfather passing away. But he has also been inexplicably in and out of the lineup well before and after that particular stretch.
Some pundits out there tend to believe there is a nagging injury that has caused Sheppard to miss games here and there but that’s hard for me to believe.
With the way he has played lately and for most of the season, it certainly doesn’t appear like Sheppard has been hindered by any particular ailment.
Against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, Sheppard had arguably his strongest effort of the season. Not only was he once again excellent at building the wall and protecting pucks, he also made some beautiful passes setting up a couple of grade-A scoring chances.
“I’m trying to contribute any way I can” commented Sheppard after San Jose’s 2-1 shootout win over the Hawks. “By having a big body and trying to protect the puck and give opportunities to my teammates.”
“He used his body, his size to drive pucks to the net” responded Sharks head coach Todd McLellan when asked about Sheppard’s performance. “We need that from him.”
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