The Sharks’ forward group is one of the best in the league, and has the potential to be very versatile this season. While Pete DeBoer’s lines don’t deviate too much from what he used last season, the positional flexibility of players like Tomas Hertl, Patrick Marleau, Chris Tierney, and Tommy Wingels, as well as the Sharks’ depth on and beyond the NHL roster gives DeBoer plenty of options up front.
Tomas Hertl, Joe Thornton, & Joe Pavelski
To start the year, head coach Pete DeBoer reunites what was arguably the NHL’s best line in the second half of the regular season and the playoffs and with good reason. Hertl scored a career-high 21 goals last year and Pavelski potted 38, the second-most of his career, playing alongside Joe Thornton in the midst of a season worthy of Hart Trophy consideration.
Thanks to the World Cup of Hockey, Thornton and Pavelski will have practiced with the Sharks for a little over a week. So, it makes sense DeBoer will keep that line together to start the season. If they’re even close to playing as well as they did last year, he’ll have a tough time breaking them up.
Mikkel Boedker, Logan Couture, & Joonas Donskoi
Doug Wilson signed Boedker to inject some much-needed speed into the Sharks’ lineup, and DeBoer penciled in the acquisition to play alongside Couture and Donskoi this fall. Boedker’s not been a strong possession player in his career, but has never played on a team as good as the Sharks should be this season.
Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi would likely be two of the best linemates he’s ever played with, too. Couture’s season last year was injury-shortened, but led all players in scoring in the postseason. Donskoi, too, had a very strong postseason, and improved as the season went along in his rookie campaign. It’s not likely Couture will score at a point-per-game pace as he did in the playoffs, but having him healthy to start the season gives the Sharks one of the best one-two punches in the league.
Patrick Marleau, Chris Tierney, & Joel Ward
Patrick Marleau’s point totals declined for the second consecutive season last year, and the percentage of points that came on the power play increased. But, he still managed to score 25 goals, the fifth time in the last seven seasons he’s done that. Joel Ward, meanwhile, is coming off of the second-best season of his career, as he cracked the 40-point plateau for just the second time in his career.
Their success will depend in part on the play of Chris Tierney. Tierney caught fire in the postseason, but was not a strong possession player in his second NHL season. At even-strength, he did start 35.65% of his shifts in the defensive zone, eighth among players that played at least 300 minutes last season. But, that percentage was nearly seven percent lower (42.09%) than in his rookie campaign. DeBoer said Tierney’s earned a shot centering the third line, and playing alongside Marleau and Ward should help him improve. In limited minutes last year, the trio posted a 56.36 CF% and a 60.26 FF% together.
Matt Nieto, Tommy Wingels, & Melker Karlsson
Coming into training camp, all three of these players were speculated to have been in danger of losing a roster spot. If the Sharks’ second-to-last preseason game was any indication, though, they may all be safe. All three players are looking to bounce back this season, as all three failed to crack the 20 point mark a year ago.
Wingels, as of this writing, will be centering this line after doing so this preseason. He and Karlsson have demonstrated decent chemistry this postseason, and Nieto’s speed could complement their skillsets well. All three players are decent bets to rebound from their efforts a season ago, particularly Wingels, whose shooting percentage (6.3%) was the lowest in a season in which he played 40 games. Returns to form for Nieto, Wingels, and Karlsson would greatly help the Sharks’ depth. If they are unable to do so, there are options waiting to take their place.
Knocking on the Door
Had he not succumbed to mononucleosis, 2015 first round pick Timo Meier would have gotten a long look this preseason. As it stands, though, it’s likely he’ll begin the year with the Barracuda when he’s fully healthy, but could get a shot with the big club shortly after. Barclay Goodrow and Nikolay Goldobin remain on the Sharks’ roster as of this writing, and both possess skillsets the Sharks don’t otherwise really have in the lineup. Goodrow’s play along the wall and below the goal line stood out to me this preseason, and his cycle game meshed well alongside Tierney and Karlsson. Plus, he can play the penalty kill, too, and Pete DeBoer loves being able to utilize versatile forwards. Goldobin’s two-way game is not as strong as Goodrow’s, but he’d bring high-end offensive ability and creativity. He’s had a decent preseason, but likely will be best-served starting the season with the Barracuda.
Kevin Labanc is now with the Barracuda, according to his Instagram, but turned some heads this preseason. He adjusted to the pro game a lot quicker than expected, and will likely get some kind of a look this season. Micheal Haley could make the team as an enforcer and an extra forward, and filled in for Joel Ward for the Sharks’ second-to-last preseason game in a lineup which consisted entirely of NHL regulars. DeBoer has said that Haley’s role remains important in the NHL, and it’s likely he’ll play at least a handful of games for the Sharks this preseason. Marcus Sorensen and Ryan Carpenter are names to look out for as well. Sorensen is still adjusting to the North American game after playing his career in Europe, but his speed would be a welcome addition to the Sharks’ lineup. Carpenter led the Barracuda in scoring last season, and as a center, may get a look if Wingels falters.