The Sharks have been scrambling to find a temporary fourth line center since Tomas Hertl went down with a knee injury early in the season. Tommy Wingels has gotten the most play at center but head coach Pete DeBoer even gave Micheal Haley a look before Ryan Carpenter was finally given an opportunity.
He’s made the most of the brief looks he’s received. In five games the center has two goals; that’s only two fewer than Chris Tierney and three fewer than Tommy Wingels in far fewer games. It’s also two more than Haley has; though in fairness Carpenter isn’t really competing with Haley for the center job: he’s competing with Wingels.
The Florida native was signed as a free agent in the spring of 2014 by the Sharks and since then has 111 points in 181 regular season AHL contests. That’s not lighting up the scoreboard and at 25 his 20 points in 29 games are a fine total but don’t jump off the page.
Still, he’s been good in the fourth line center role with the Sharks so far on both ends of the ice. What I’ve found most notable is the chemistry he’s had with Haley. While the grinder didn’t play last night due to injury, check out the With Or Without You chart (WOWY) for Haley and Carpenter courtesy of HockeyViz.com. This is a small sample size, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one so severe before.
Just in case you’re not sure how to read this: Haley is a below-average possession player when Carpenter isn’t on the ice, and plays like an elite possession player when Carpenter is on the ice. This is way too small a sample size to draw conclusions from, but holy god is it wild.
Unfortunately for Carpenter, unless he keeps shooting at a 25 percent rate, I don’t see him sticking with the Sharks once Tomas Hertl rejoins the lineup. Chris Tierney is best used as a center and while I think he’s been fine as the third line center I’d be surprised if DeBoer keeps him there once Hertl comes back.
It’s possible, though. If Carpenter continues to play at a high level he might force DeBoer into a tough decision. If that’s the case, we might see Hertl go back to the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau play on the third line with Chris Tierney and Joel Ward while Ryan Carpenter plays with Melker Karlsson and Tommy Wingels — or perhaps even with Micheal Haley if DeBoer believes there’s real chemistry there.
This team has already been filled with surprises; perhaps Carpenter is another one.