Traditionally, the San Jose Sharks weakness has been on the blue-line. To quell that concern, General Manager Doug Wilson supplemented his defensive corps with All-Star Brent Burns, the consistent and experienced Colin White, and the physical Jim Vandermeer.
Now that the problem of defense has been solved, at least on paper, the discerning eye of the fan will find another area on which to focus.
The magnifying glass, for the time being, has settled on the third line.
Aside from Burns, it could be said that Michael Handzus was Wilson's biggest offseason addition. Handzus is an established NHL player who's skill revolves around the defensive aspects of the game. He was brought in to bring stability to a third line which was anchored by Joe Pavelski last year. With Pavelski headed to the first line, Handzus gets the nod.
Lining up to the right of Handzus is Torrey Mitchell. Mitchell, who has shown flashes of being a dependable forward between his many injuries, finally had a rehab-free offseason and will look to build on the foundation he laid next to Wellwood and Pavelski on the productive third line last season.
Wellwood, however, will not return to San Jose after waiting for a contract from the team for most of the offseason before eventually giving into his conservative instincts and signing with Winnipeg just a few weeks ago. Many fans were surprised by the move, feeling that not signing Wellwood left a hole on the third line before training camp began.
There are many players who could fit the bill; Benn Ferriero has shown flashes of high-level talent, while young prospects such as Cam MacIntyre and Brandon Mashinter are competing hard for a shot at the big time.
However, when the coach put out his lineup card at the start of training camp, it was Jamie McGinn whose name appeared next to Handzus and Mitchell. If the magnifying glass is focused on the third line, many players in McGinn's spot would be sweating.
As of this moment, he couldn't be more confident.
"I don't think I've ever been more excited for a season to get started," stated McGinn after his first day of camp. "I hope I get the opportunity. I'm ready, the body is in good shape and I feel fast out there. I feel like I'm going to have a lot better season than last year."
If the Sharks are going to be able to roll three lines with the same effect as last season, that feeling will have to become a reality.
Fear the Fin talked with McGinn about his disappointing 2010-2011 campaign, a campaign in which the young forward scored just one goal. It was a far cry from the ten goals McGinn potted in his rookie season, and the young forward attributes that drop off to increased expectations.
"I think last year, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to score," said McGinn. "Todd [McLellan] and I talked about it. The year before we didn't really have any expectations for me to score goals and I went out there and produced. Last year, there was a higher expectation and it didn't happen. I trained really hard on my shot again this summer, and the confidence issue, just to bear down on every opportunity. This year, we don't have expectations, we have things that I have to do game in and game out... and then the goals will come."
While the focus will be on goals scored, especially for a player who was billed as being gifted offensively throughout his development, McGinn's game has evolved as he's attempted to stick with the parent club. Last postseason, McGinn made a bit of a name for himself by leveling some big hits against Vancouver in the Western Conference Final. That physical edge didn't die with the Sharks playoff hopes last year.
"It's a part of my game that I will always have," argued McGinn. "I'm the kind of player that if the opportunity to make a hit is there I have to make it. The other team has to know that I'm a player who is coming in to get that puck. With those two players I'm playing with I can get in there first, take the body and get it back to them so that they can make some plays."
So far, McGinn is excited to bring his rediscovered scoring touch and physical style to the new-look third line. And while some players see the responsibility to just play a sound defensive game in that role, McGinn thinks he Handzus and Mitchell can bring more than that.
"The third line's job is to change the pace of the game, chip in here and there, and lift the boys. I think it's a good role for me."
Simply put? McGinn smirked.
"I think we can do a lot of damage."