SAN JOSE- It’s quite rare to come across a young NHL player setting career highs offensively while maintaining a defense first mentality.
But 25-year-old right wing Tommy Wingels has been doing exactly that for the San Jose Sharks.
The Chicago area native has already set career highs in goals (8), assists (9), and obviously points (17), playing in all 25 of San Jose’s games this season.
Wingels has managed to chip in offensively throughout the season, consistently picking up points on a number of different lines. The longest stretch he’s gone without a point was just three games, and it’s only happened once.
At the start of the season Wingels found success on a line with Joe Pavelski and Matt Nieto. He followed that up by filling in nicely for Brent Burns on the Joe Thornton line and has recently flourished as part of San Jose’s shut-down line with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture.
Yet despite all of his offensive success in what is actually his first full 82 game campaign (played just five games in 2010-11, 33 in 2011-12, and 42 last year in the lockout shortened season), Wingels has continued to play a team game.
On the very first shift of the contest in San Jose’s eventual 6-3 win over the St. Louis Blues on Friday, Wingels astutely came to the bench for a change after skating less than 25 seconds.
The puck was being controlled by his linemates in the offensive zone but Wingels decision to change was the correct move according to his coach.
“He came off at the right time” commented Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “We don’t want to be out there for 45 or 55 [seconds], he felt tired, he changed in the offensive zone and allowed us to jump on top of them. A lot of goals are scored off line changes. If you really look at it, that’s one area where you lose coverage, you’re not aware of where the man’s coming from and that was also one of the cases last night.”
“I think Patty and I were supposed to change there as well because they took their top line off” recalled Couture. “It was good, anytime you can change up on teams and get fresh guys out there ahead of them, you’re probably going to be successful.”
Mere seconds after making the change, Wingels’ replacement Brent Burns gave the Sharks an early 1-0 lead by slamming home a one-timer. Wingels didn’t get credit for an assist (although it’s fully possible to do so from the bench) but he contributed to the goal nonetheless.
Now why exactly did Wingels decide to change? Unfortunately, yours truly wasn’t able to catch up with him after Saturday’s morning skate. By the time I noticed Wingels walking by it was too late, didn’t want to run after him on his way out the door.
On the bright side hockey players like to talk more about their teammates than themselves.
So what did the goal scorer think of Wingels changing?
“That was the most shocking thing, changing 25 seconds in” Burns said with a smile. “We talk about trying to change down there and yeah it was a great change. We see guys do that more so in the second [period] but you do it in the first and third too it’s good.”
Along with the astute awareness to change at appropriate times, Wingels continues to do the things that go unnoticed like blocking shots, particularly on the penalty kill. He’s fourth amongst Sharks forwards for short-handed ice time (1:07) and third amongst forwards in blocked shots with 25. He’s almost always on the defensive side of the puck, hardly ever cheating towards the offensive end.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it a thousand times, if there is one Sharks player for fans to emulate their games after, there is no better choice than Tommy Wingels.
As always, for more on the Sharks follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch