It’s finally here. Hockey season is officially back as the San Jose Sharks kick off training camp after a long, tumultuous yet historic postseason. Sharks fans will never forget Game 7 against Vegas, down by three with 10 minutes to go. Pavelski’s gruesome injury, and the heroics from Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Kevin Labanc on the five minute power play which produced four goals. And lest we forget, one of the unlikeliest of scenes in Barclay Goodrow’s overtime goal to win that game at the ‘Tank. It was like nothing we’ve ever seen before in any sport.
The Sharks went on to win another seven game series against a young up and coming Colorado Avalanche squad, before succumbing to injury against the eventual Stanley Cup champ St. Louis Blues in the Western Finals. After what deemed to be so promising, almost divine, Sharks fans had to reconcile with a familiar result – another postseason without the sport’s most desired possession, the Stanley Cup.
However, like everything else in life, all things end, and all things have new beginnings. And FINALLY, we have yet another new beginning. Training camp begins again with a fairly new-look Sharks club as they try once again to achieve their place on the NHL’s mountain top. A feat in which they’ve yet to accomplish as a franchise.
This offseason has been an unusual one of sorts as the Sharks have seen several departures from key pieces like former captain Joe Pavelski to the Dallas Stars, Joonas Donskoi to the Colorado Avalanche and Justin Braun traded to Philadelphia among others.
The majority of the core is still in tact, as new team captain Logan Couture now takes over for the departed Pavelski, who donned the C for five seasons. Joe Thornton has returned for his 22nd year in the NHL, Erik Karlsson enters the year healthy and expects to be a full go, something that he was not last season. He and Brent Burns return to lead arguably the best blue-line in the NHL, and the often beleaguered Martin Jones will be in between the pipes again this season.
However, this team is entering camp with some serious questions. They have major vacancies on the right wing, and one spot on the blue line up for grabs due to Braun’s departure. Not to mention the volatile backup goalie position. These issues are something they haven’t had to deal with in some time under Doug Wilson’s tenure as GM.
Also unusual for this squad, the Sharks have a bevy of talent in the lower ranks. While none of them project as superstars, this front office expects some to contribute right away. Dylan Gambrell, new addition Johnny Brodzinski, and young players like Sasha Chmelevski and Alexander True are expected to see some NHL time. Lukas Radil and Antti Suomela, who we saw last season, also expect to contribute to the bottom six forward group.
The blue-line remains the biggest strength for the Sharks, and the same can be said for the AHL. The team’s two top prospects, defensemen Ryan Merkley and Mario Ferraro, are still extremely young players at 19 and 21 and while they don’t really expect to make a major contribution this season, will be some of the most talked about players during camp. Merkley is the Sharks top overall prospect and comps to Brent Burns, but is only 19 years of age, and has dealt with character issues in the Canadian Junior Hockey ranks.
Czech Defenseman Radim Simek returns from injury and should be penciled in next to Brent Burns as the first or second defense pairing as well.
The biggest story line however is the goalie position. The Sharks have the luxury of having five professional quality goaltenders in their ranks. Leaving out Jones and Dell, the Sharks have liked what they’ve seen from Barracuda Goaltenders Antoine Bibeau and Josef Korenar (KOR-EN-ASH). They both put up good numbers in what was almost a 1A-1B situation, with both goalies starting 35 and 34 games respectively. And the Sharks added record-setting NCAA goalie Andrew Shortridge in the offseason to further bolster that position.
The addition of Shortridge, who’s sure to at least see some time as an AHL goaltender, likely means that Dell’s position as the backup goalie is in jeopardy. Both Bibeau and Korenar had good seasons, and while it was only Korenar’s first professional season, he ended up usurping Bibeau in the starting lineup for the playoffs, as he started four out of five playoff games for the Barracuda. Dell also makes roughly $2 million going into this season, and with the Sharks being strapped for cash with only about $2 million in cap room left, Dell becomes a good candidate to either get waived or bought out at the end of camp.
Who will be the players to step up and make this team? Will Peter DeBoer and Doug Wilson give the younger, inexperienced guys a shot, or do the Sharks go out and get another vet to shore up the bottom six?
All of these will be answered come October 2nd. Happy hockey season folks!
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