Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word on Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks.
2019-20 San Jose Sharks Preview
The Sharks had an undeniably emotional and successful season last year. They had a consistent regular season, finishing second in the Pacific Division with a 46-27-9 record, translating to 101 points. Despite a poor season goaltending-wise from both Martin Jones and Aaron Dell and new acquisition Erik Karlsson being limited to 53 games, strong seasons from Brent Burns and Logan Couture in addition to breakout seasons from Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier saw the Sharks break the 100-point plateau once again.
Come playoff time, though, the Sharks found themselves embattled in a tight playoff series with the Vegas Golden Knights for the second season in a row. Trying not to lose in six games again, the aforementioned Hertl scored a shorthanded goal in overtime to send the series back to San Jose for a Game Seven. That Game Seven included one of the more memorable comeback stories in recent history, and San Jose found themselves in the second round against the Colorado Avalanche.
But after another long seven-game series against Colorado, the Sharks entered the Western Conference Final out of gas. Injuries began to take a toll, and the Sharks were dismantled by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues in six games. After a deep playoff run yet again, the Sharks entered the offseason knowing that their team would probably look a lot different once the season resumed in October.
The Sharks made their first big splash of the offseason by retaining Karlsson on defence, inking him to a monster eight-year, $92 million dollar pact. That notability didn’t carry over into the draft, however, as the Sharks were fairly quiet. The Sharks only had five picks, all falling in the second, fourth, and sixth rounds, with only their sixth-round pick being their own.
As many expected, since the Sharks didn’t have the salary-cap flexibility to retain all of their core pieces, something had to give. While the Sharks were able to re-sign Karlsson, Meier, Kevin Labanc, and Joe Thornton among others, they had to say goodbye to some core pieces. Justin Braun, Joonas Donskoi, Micheal Haley, Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Ryan, and most importantly, captain Joe Pavelski are no longer with the team.
The Sharks instead turned their focus to depth signings, bringing in names like Dalton Prout and Jonny Brodzinski to help fill out their losses, while also counting on some youth to step in this year. This will be a year of opportunity for many prospects on the team, and it will be very interesting to see how it all shakes out.
The Sharks still have a very decent centre corps and a few very good wingers. Their depth, proven or unproven, will be the difference for this team this year. There’s a lot of uncertainty, and Coach Peter DeBoer will have plenty of toys to play with between prospects and veterans to determine who fills out the lineup.
Couture will undoubtedly centre the team’s top line, as he is now the team’s best forward following the departure of Pavelski. With him being one of the more experienced players on the team, he’ll provide a solid pivot for young stars Meier and Labanc. Meier and Labanc are also the best wingers that the Sharks roster has to offer, and they’ll be put to the test with no more opportunity for shelter.
The second line is where things start to become a bit shaky. While Kane and Hertl will undeniably fill the left-wing and centre spots, the right-wing spot is a bit of a question mark following the departure of players like Nyquist and Donskoi. This is a spot where a prospect could make themselves known, and Chmelevski seems like a great fit. A hometown boy born in Huntington Beach, he tallied 75 points in 56 games with Ottawa of the OHL last year, giving him an NHL projection of 35 points over 82 games. He also had seven points in seven games at the World Junior Championships for the US. While not expected to be an impact player, the 2017 6th round pick has made impressive strides and could be serviced well by being put next to two upper-echelon players in Hertl and Kane.
The third line should be filled with all returning players. Sorensen and Thornton played extremely well with each other last year, and Melker Karlsson provides a solid addition to a good two-way checking/scoring line. Thornton returns after a season in which he recovered quite nicely from a series of knee injuries, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that he’s 40 years old now and due for regression. However, if he comes close to the campaign he had last year, this is a more-than-competent third line with the prowess of Thornton and the speed game of Sorensen with the two-way game of the “Melk Man.”
The fourth line is a similar story. Goodrow has developed into a solid bottom anchor for this forward group, and is definitely ready for full-time NHL duty. Dylan Gambrell has been unimpressive in his brief action with the big club with no points in 11 games, but was impressive last year with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda (45 points in 51 games). That’s an NHL equivalent of 35 points, same as Chmelevski. While that’s way over expectation for Gambrell even if he plays all 82 games, expect him to be more effective than he has.
Brodzinski is an interesting case as well, being limited to 13 NHL games and 3 AHL games last year due to injury. In 2017-18, however, he netted 30 points in 29 games with Ontario of the AHL. He has the potential to be a good fourth-line guy, with the ability to win puck battles and has a good shot as well.
The Sharks will likely go with one extra forward and two extra defensemen, and that extra forward will likely be Lukas Radil. He was extremely impressive in a limited role last year, posting 11 points in 36 games with no expectation. He’s big, aggressive, and shoots the puck. He’s probably at his peak at 29 years old, but serves as good additional depth for the Sharks.
While it’s not ideal to partner Vlasic and Burns, concentrating the talent on one line, the Sharks no longer have the luxury to spread things out, a result of Braun’s departure. There are worse issues to have, though. Vlasic is certainly a defensive stalwart and can help support Burns’ crazy style of play, but expect Vlasic’s offense to take a hit as he’ll have less offensive freedom himself.
Any analytics geek will tell you that Dillon and Karlsson had insane chemistry together last year. If that carries into this season, having them paired together for a full year might provide needed relief for their struggling goaltending. Dillon-Karlsson could function as a top pair on many other teams, giving the Sharks truly one of the best top-fours in the League.
The third pair sees two young, relatively inexperienced defencemen step into the limelight. Simek put up nine points in 41 games, and is a good positional defender. He’s not impressive, though, and serves as a nice bottom-pairing complement. Nothing to write home about. Middleton is in a similar position, just with far less experience with only three NHL games to his name. Again, he’s sound in his own end but not much of an offensive threat. Simek and Middleton should provide solid defense, but nothing more.
Dalton Prout and Tim Heed should slot in as the extra guys for the Sharks on the back end. Prout is a sizeable player with a decent amount of NHL experience, but his lack of offense and upside should keep him relegated to the press box most of the time. Heed is a different story. He has quietly put up some decent offencive totals, but isn’t a coach’s favorite in San Jose. He’s offensively effective when put into the lineup, but has some deficiencies that keep DeBoer from putting him in the lineup every night.
Both these players were really, really poor during the regular season. Jones had a .896 save percentage, his worst ever by far. Dell fared even worse with an .886 save percentage. These marks are both well below their career numbers, and they have both been reliable goalies at points. Hopefully, both can rebound to at least close to their career average, in which case, goaltending won’t have to be a worry for the Sharks.
Players to Watch
With the departure of Pavelski, Couture is now this team’s star forward. While Couture is known for his clutch abilities in the playoffs, he’ll have to bring some of that energy to the regular season to really blossom as a number one centreman. He’s often regarded as one of the most underrated players in the League, a label that will hopefully be removed this year as he turns 30 years old. He netted 70 points in 81 games last year, a number that will hopefully stay the same or increase if the Sharks perform well.
Jones was regarded as a bona fide starting goaltender and one of the best in the position after taking the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. That all changed last year. While the team performed well in front of him, Jones put up one of the worst save percentages in the League with an .896. Him and Dell were the only thing holding the Sharks back from becoming a true powerhouse in the regular season.
With the Sharks taking serious hits to their offense, Jones will have to step up and get back to his old ways if San Jose is serious about still making the playoffs. He certainly has the ability, but last season certainly put a doubt in many fans’ minds.
The Pacific Division has two guaranteed powerhouses in the Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames. After that is anybody’s guess. The Sharks have the potential to surely win that third-place spot but with the recent improvements of the Vancouver Canucks, and the uncertainty around the Arizona Coyotes, it’s hard to clearly predict anything.
That’s where the Sharks slot in. While taking many steps back, the Sharks are still a playoff team with a strong centre core and a stellar top four on defence. While there’s no expectation of a deep playoff run, there should still be a considerable amount of hockey in April in the Bay Area.