2019-20 San Jose Sharks Need More From Their Young Players

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 11: Kevin LeBanc (62) of the San Jose Sharks skies with the puck during a game between the New York Rangers and the San Jose Sharks on October 11, 2018 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. (Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 2019-20 San Jose Sharks captain Logan Couture made headlines Wednesday due to the comments he made following the Sharks 4-3 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres. In response to a bad line change that gave Jack Eichel the game-winning goal, Couture said “it’s an inexcusable change. Two guys stayed out too long looking for offense. It’s a selfish play.” Former Sharks captain and teammate Joe Thornton also echoed his comments.

The two players on the change were Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, two 23-year-olds whom the Sharks extended this past off-season. Both have been looked to be leaders on the team following the departure of Joe Pavelski but have been just average to begin the year.

2019-20 San Jose Sharks Youth Needs To Step Up

Season Start

The 2019-20 San Jose Sharks are off to a rough start so far, stumbling out of the gate with just three wins in their first nine games. They currently sit in last in the Pacific Division. They need to stabilize soon if they hope to get back into playoff contention early in the season. San Jose has only missed the playoffs once since 2003 and was one of the West’s best team just a season ago.

Just a few months removed from being a Stanley Cup contender, the Sharks are shaking. This is an uncharacteristic showing from the Sharks who typically reload rather than rebuild. However, they need more from the players they kept around this summer. It may still be early, but the Sharks youngsters need to step up.

Couture’s Comments From a Place of Frustration

When you look at the career of Couture, he’s had success through almost the entire thing. First, he was a rookie of the year nominee. He has also been to the Stanley Cup Finals, and led the playoffs in scoring. A two-way forward like himself has worked hard for what he’s accomplished. So, losing six of their first nine games cannot bode well for him. Couture is a player known for the all-out effort he gives every night, continually putting his body on the line. However, it’s not so long ago that he was in a similar place to Meier and Labanc.

As hard as replacing Pavelski is, he and Couture were the two that took the reigns from Thornton and Patrick Marleau over the past half-decade. The combination of Thornton and Marleau were two of the biggest stars for the Sharks. This was for over a decade, but like all players, they began to show their age into their mid-30s. Marleau’s last 60+ point season came in 2014 while Thornton hasn’t eclipsed his 51 points from 2016-17 over the last two seasons. It was no surprise when Pavelski was handed captaincy in 2015. The other two former-captains on the team began to enter the twilight of their careers.

Now at 30 years old, Couture is a player that others must look to for inspiration. He’s been through a lot with the Sharks franchise and needs to set an on-ice example. Just like Thornton and Marleau did for him. However, he also needs to hold his teammates accountable when they aren’t at their best. Having a leader like Thornton back-up his comments is further evidence.

Meier and Labanc Are Young Leaders

Despite the fact that both still quite young, both Meier and Labanc are slowly becoming the faces of the Sharks franchise. It’s hard to pin a loss solely on just one play. But when that play is from two of your marquee players, special notice needs to be directed at it. The NHL is trending younger-and-younger every year and the Sharks need their young guns to assume large roles as soon as possible.

Meier is coming off of a season where he was one of the NHL’s breakout stars. He finished with a career-high 66 points and his first 30 goal season. Following the season, the restricted free agent was awarded a fairly lucrative four year(s)/$24,000,000 deal. This was the third-highest AAV amongst Sharks forwards. Labanc was also a restricted free agent last off-season following his big 56 point 2018-19 campaign. However, his salary situation was a bit different as he was handed a one year/$1,000,000 ‘prove it’ deal. Though his payday was not that of Meier’s, both deals have similar implications. That being go out and assert yourself as important members of the team.

That does not include making a horrible line change after staying on too long and trying to do too much.

So far on the season, that is what the duo is known for. They both have only registered four points in their nine games. The Sharks rank 21st in goals per game as a team. San Jose has always been known for their prolific scoring and Meier and Labanc need to lead by example going forward.

Looking For the Next Breakout Star

Like all of the players listed above, the Sharks seem to find players that can chip in on offence in different ways. Labanc is probably the most recent example, going from sixth-round pick to key contributor and a top-six forward in just four years. The Sharks typically don’t hold onto their early picks so finding diamonds in the rough is the best way to stay competitive over a long period of time. Many players have shown up in the organization and gone from late-round picks to important parts of the lineup.

That player may not appear to be on the roster yet, but general manager Doug Wilson is likely looking for someone to fill another bottom-six role. If not for the whole year, then at least showing potential to in the future.

As of now, Noah Gregor looks like he will get his chance to be that guy. A fourth-round pick in 2016, Gregor has gotten into two games of NHL action so far in 2019. He has been skating on a line with Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl. Both Hertl and Labanc went through similar integration processes when getting their first taste of NHL action. Gregor is not the biggest guy but has a knack for scoring. He registered over a point per game and scored 27+ goals in each of his past four Western Hockey League seasons.

Head coach Peter DeBoer is not a fan of continually rotating his depth players. So, the stage is set for someone to seize an everyday role on the Sharks. With the lack of scoring and depth at centre likely set for the year, the Sharks are looking for that next unknown impact scorer to emerge like so many have before.

Final Thoughts on 2019-20 San Jose Sharks

The season is still young for the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks. There’s a good chance they can find a way out of the cellar in the Pacific Division. A lot of teams are still figuring themselves out and the Sharks typically play good hockey when the push for the playoffs begins in early March.

With the core they have, it may be tougher for the Sharks to be as competitive as previous years, but Wilson has always found a way to get scoring out of the players he drafts. San Jose typically has a good blend of veterans and youth and this year will likely be no different.

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