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Sharks Preseason Notebook: Roster in question with big win over Vegas

Weatherby, Hatakka and Eklund continue to impress, and the roster gets more competitive every day. Who will make the opening night roster?

The San Jose Sharks celebrate after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on September 26, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

Well, we’ve made it. The final preseason game for the San Jose Sharks has passed. The Sharks play their home opener and first regular season game on Oct. 16 against the Winnipeg Jets, which means that we have around a week to wait.

The roster is still a big question mark, so we’ll be watching the waiver wire and Sharks practices closely to make sure we don’t miss anything. With Evander Kane still listed on the Sharks training camp roster and with no real idea of when or what the resolution on the new investigation will be, the Sharks now have to balance two possibilities; a roster with Kane, and a roster without.

It’s not as simple as slotting in one player in place of another. If you’ve read my analysis on chemistry, then you’ll know how much of a science it is. Bob Boughner mentioned ahead of the Oct. 9 game that the most important thing he focused on is chemistry. Rather than evaluate players in a one-on-one setting, he was looking for line combinations; who’s passes connected crisper, etc.

That means the Sharks are going to have to essentially prepare for two rosters, which gets even more complicated with the slew of young talent champing at the bit to get into the final line up.

It’s no question that there’s a host of San Jose Barracuda players who deserve a shot at the big club. The most recent moves by the Sharks have had Meloche and Gambrell put on waivers, and Raska sent down and then recalled in the matter of 24 hours. Jasper Weatherby, Santeri Hatakka and William Eklund continue to impress, and the roster gets more and more competitive every day.

It’s still a question mark over if Eklund makes the opening night roster (I think he does), but he certainly made a case for himself in the last preseason game against the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Sharks were buzzing from the moment the puck hit the ice. They were everything an opening night roster would hope to be — quick off the jump, full of contagious energy and physical without playing out of position. The first goal of the night came at 18:33 from none other than Jonathan Dahlen. Dahlen’s journey to the NHL hasn’t always been easy, so it’s especially heart-warming to see him get on the scoreboard so quickly. Timo Meier and Erik Karlsson assisted on his wrist shot.

The period continued the way all Vegas/Sharks games are wont to do, trading hits until Alec Martinez (VGS) was called for tripping on Logan Couture at the 14:36 minute mark, sending the Sharks to their first successful power play of the night. At 13:23, Kevin Labanc shot it in from Weatherby and Tomas Hertl, making the score 2-0 Sharks less than halfway through the first.

A few things to note here: while the Sharks were previewing some potential lines, the Knights went with a decidedly younger line up out on the ice. That’s not to take away from the Sharks; they still effectively shut down Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault and Keagan Kolesar, but more a note that Vegas won’t look so disorganized on the ice come regular season.

Who might look disorganized however is goaltender Robin Lehner, who looked shaky in net. He clearly struggled to focus and control rebounds throughout the game, and this was only the start of the Shark’s takeover.

The second period began and already the Sharks’ confidence was riding high. The rookies, Weatherby, Hatakka and Eklund had been noticeable on the ice from puck drop, and they continued to prove their worth to Boughner in the second, too. At 16:28, Eklund and Rudolfs Balcers got a breakout that lead to a give-and-go goal between the two, and from a set of pretty passes Eklund lifted the puck up and over Lehner to bring the Sharks to a 3-0 lead. Karlsson was later credited with an assist on the goal along with Balcers.

Then came the third period. The Sharks were energized, and despite a few moments where it looked like Vegas might break Hill’s shutout bid, any attempt at a comeback was quashed by Brent Burn’s goal from Labanc and Matt Nieto at 10:24. To end their training camp and final preseason game, the Sharks won 4-0 (complete with an Adin Hill shutout).

It’s not just the kids who performed with a maturity and presence beyond their years; other newcomers like Adin Hill and Jonathan Dahlen were excellent. For these players, this was their last, big opportunity to prove that they deserve a spot on the Sharks’ opening night roster. For the coaching staff, this is just the beginning to their difficult decision-making about who will be the right fit for the Sharks going forward.

Will Adin Hill be the starter? Will Eklund, Weatherby and Hatakka stay up with the Sharks or will they be sent down to develop further? Will Dahlen find his place among the teal and white?

This final preseason game showcased the Sharks we’ve been looking for. Physical, yet not unnecessarily so, energized, and, most importantly, cohesive. The team chemistry is beginning to percolate; let’s just hope that whatever final roster changes that are made ahead of Oct. 16 improve upon the first look the Sharks gave us on Oct. 9.