Signing Patrick Marleau wasn’t Plan A for the San Jose Sharks, that much is clear.
During the summer, Doug Wilson, in need of reliable depth at wing after Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi’s departures, chose to give younger players like Jonny Brodzinski and Dylan Gambrell and Sasha Chmelevski the first crack over the 40-year-old UFA winger.
Not to pick on Brodzinski and company, but this wasn’t a murderer’s row of wingers, to say the least.
The 26-year-old Brodzinski — armed with a lethal shot, but perhaps not much else — had potted just six goals over parts of three seasons in Los Angeles. Gambrell, Chmelevski, Alexander True, Ivan Chekhovich, Joachim Blichfeld, Antti Suomela, Danil Yurtaykin and Lean Bergmann, while all promising prospects, weren’t exactly blue-chippers.
Yet, San Jose gambled on the questionable upside of this cadre of wingers over Marleau.
This was a telling statement on how the organization viewed Marleau’s upside, despite his 551 career goals.
Now a 0-4 start to the season later — and with Brodzinski waived, Gambrell and Yurtaykin and Bergmann not yet able to provide consistent NHL minutes, Marcus Sorensen injured and all other comers assigned to the AHL — Wilson has turned back the clock, inking Marleau to a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract.
But what does the Sharks legend have left in the tank?
According to four NHL scouts, not a lot — but enough to still be useful to Peter DeBoer.
“Do believe he’s an upgrade,” Scout #1 said. “Think they need his voice and leadership with Pavelski in Dallas.”
But an upgrade on what? Marleau clearly isn’t an upper-echeleon winger anymore.
“Character depth guy. Like [Corey] Perry,” offered Scout #2.
“He has a solid bottom-six game. He works hard. Skating isn’t nearly the same, but still smart and strong on his stick,” Scout #3 asserted. “He can still play.”
To this scout’s points, Marleau should be able to give DeBoer solid work in all three zones.
Here are examples from last year of Marleau’s still-present strength and smarts.
As Morgan Rielly (44) breaks out, Marleau (12) sets a subtle stick pick on Marcus Johansson (90). This buys Rielly an extra split-second for a zone exit pass.
Off the draw, Marleau is able to beat David Pastrnak (88) to the loose puck, helping the Leafs win the faceoff.
These are small one-on-one battles that Sharks youngsters have lost with regularity so far this season.
However, as Scout #3 noted, Marleau’s skating will be a shadow of what San Jose fans remember. Marleau simply couldn’t get to his spots as much last season, suffering decade-low shot attempts and shots at 5-on-5 rates last year:
“It was tougher for him to get to spots to shoot,” agreed the scout. “He was then pushed further down in lines.”
But this scout added, “He still has good hands and can shoot when he gets to his spots. He can play PP2 for San Jose.”
Marleau might prove to be an okay high slot or net-front presence on the Sharks’ man advantage. While he’s no Pavelski, Marleau tied for fifth in the league over the last two years with 11 goals from tips — tied, actually, with Pavelski.
However, Scout #2 wasn’t so sure that Marleau could still pull regular third-line and secondary power play duties.
“Some nights, he can. Back-to-backs will be tough,” the scout said of the 40-year-old. “If he scores eight goals this year, you’re happy.”
Scout #4 emphasized the big picture, “That’s not what they need.”
Beggars can’t be choosers though. While Marleau isn’t an impact winger anymore, he could still have a positive effect on a shallow San Jose forward group.