Nothing about the 2021 season is usual, but the San Jose Sharks are doing something they haven’t done in recent years: they’re letting the kids play.
Well, sort of. We’ve already seen John Leonard sent down to the San Jose Barracuda (though he was recalled to the taxi squad yesterday) and head coach Bob Boughner is perhaps overly cautious of having too many green players in the line up at once, but it still feels like a departure for the team to fill in the margins with their own talent.
It’s also coming at a time when that’s just about the team’s only options when it comes to depth.
Fans are more than a little bit concerned about what this means for the Sharks, especially in a season that necessitates strong depth.
You are reading that correctly — 94 percent of our readers who responded are concerned about the Sharks’ depth and rightfully so.
Though the forward group still has top-end talent in the likes of Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, and Evander Kane, years of late draft picks have also supplied them with an abundance of middle-six forward talent, in the most optimistic terms. There hasn’t been a clear-cut future star come up through the team’s farm system perhaps since Meier.
The players who out-play their draft position — such as John Leonard and Sasha Chmelevski — still need time to adjust not only to the level of play in the NHL, but the demands of a tightly scheduled season. There are bound to be missteps and growing pains along the way, which are only further highlighted by the larger role they’re expected to play on this particular Sharks roster.
Defense and goaltending depth are even scarier, as the Sharks barely seem to have an NHL calibre squad on the backend. Ryan Merkley is the most exciting defensive prospect, but is unlikely to see NHL time this season, putting that responsibility on the likes of Jacob Middleton and Fredrik Claesson.
As far as goaltending, well ... even if Josef Korenar or Alexei Melnichuk hack it at the NHL level, it won’t matter for a season where the starter and backup are being paid around $8 million combined and aren’t going anywhere before season’s end. Trading for goaltenders is more difficult than ever and the Sharks are behind when it comes to drafting elite talent in goal.
For this reason and more, it makes sense that fan confidence is at an all-time low:
We’re 11 games into the 2021 season and the Sharks have just one regulation win, giving out loser points like candy in their four other victories. Despite the constant repetition of that elusive “fourth overall spot” in the standings that would earn the Sharks a playoff berth, they’re nowhere near competing for that spot, and depth is just one of many factors keeping them out of the running.
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