The departure of David Schlemko this off-season has given San Jose a rare opening in their blueline. The logjam that kept Mirco Mueller from getting a real shot with the Sharks could finally see some relief.
While Dylan DeMelo has the confidence of the organization, spending last year as a seventh defender, the open sixth spot is still his to lose. Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed are looking to slot into the Sharks’ blueline and one of them may well beat DeMelo out for the role.
Despite a limited role with the Sharks last year, DeMelo doubled his point total from 2015-16 (four points in 45 games) in 20 fewer games. There’s a lot to be said about his growth. But in the preseason game against the Golden Knights on Thursday, he was outplayed by Ryan, who got matched with Brent Burns.
Ryan is used to being the defensive anchor to an offensive defenseman. Paired with Heed in the Barracuda, he was a true two-way defender, having to sit back for the defense at times and driving play to rack up 49 points in 65 games.
Alternatively, Heed is a Brent Burns type. Just like Burns, Heed is a former forward, who now plays as a defenseman with an scoring touch. He put up 56 points in 55 games with the Barracuda - a scoring rate that would translate to 39 points in a full NHL season.
As far as organizational needs go, Ryan might be the best fit. But he faces two disadvantages: Ryan is a left hand shot, and neither DeMelo or Heed are waivers exempt. Additionally, Ryan and DeMelo are both 24 years old, while Heed is 26. There’s more pressure for Heed to make the leap this year.
It would seem likely that DeMelo and Heed will be some combination of the sixth and seventh defenders, at least to start the season. Doug Wilson hasn’t shied away from the possibility of trades, and a young, NHL ready defenseman could make or break a deal.
No matter who ends up on the blueline, the Sharks’ defense won’t look too shabby this year.