Nico Sturm 2023 player review: Settling into his role nicely
Nico Sturm won't blow you away offensively, but he does the little things right and that makes a difference on a team struggling to find its way.
When the Sharks brought Nico Sturm onto the team in the offseason, management was looking for a center that could kill penalties, take tough minutes and add to the scoring depth of the team. Sturm filled that role.
As our good friend JD said of Sturm in the 2022-23 season preview, "The fourth-line pivot revolving door over the past few seasons has been solved. Sturm can play up in a pinch, but is better suited as a fourth-liner. He doesn’t provide much in terms of offense, but is a perfectly cromulent NHL player. Although he is considered one of the placeholders that the young players need to leap-frog, it would be a shock if Sturm is a healthy scratch. He is one of those coach’s dream players who does all the little things right and provides consistency every game."
Sturm's 2022 - 23 production
Fans saw that consistency play out throughout this season. The 28-year-old set career highs in goals, assists and ice time, averaging two minutes more per game than he had in previous seasons.
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14 goals and 26 points is a strong showing for a fourth-line center. The trouble is, Sturm was asked to move up and play a larger role later in the season. With Luke Kunin injured after 31 games and Nick Bonino traded at the deadline, Sturm played tougher competition as the season wore on, which may have impacted his effectiveness as a depth forward.
Sturm is strong on the penalty kill
Aside from the career highs in goals and assists, Sturm's defense is what Sharks' fans should focus on. He was an integral part of a penalty kill that finished seventh overall in the NHL this season.
That's a good showing considering that the Sharks also finished at the bottom of the league standings. Other than the Calgary Flames (fifth in penalty kill percentage), all the other teams with a better penalty kill than the Sharks made the playoffs.
Sturm averaged 1:54 per game in ice time on the penalty kill.
In early December, when the Sharks' penalty kill was the best in the league, Sturm was among the players credited by Sharks' Assistant Coach Ryan Warsofsky for his blue collar work ethic.
"Nico's been good, he's got a long stick," Warsofsky told Sheng Peng of San Jose Hockey now in December. "Obviously, was good in Colorado on the penalty kill. I think he was the first over the boards there at times in the playoffs...A little bit different system that they ran, but he's a guy that's got a good motor. Well-conditioned athlete that can go pressure down ice, got a long stick."
Sturm responsible with the puck
As JD attested to at the start of the season, Sturm does the little things right.
This season, he drew just as many penalties as he took – nine on both accounts. He was also responsible with the puck. According to Evolving-Hockey, Sturm was credited with 19 giveaways this season to his 40 takeaways.
Sturm's numbers will not blow you away. His Evolving-Hockey RAPM (the plus/minus stat adjusted for things out of his control, such as zone starts, opponents, etc.) shows that Sturm is league average at best.
In this instance, that's not a bad thing. Sturm was not brought in to be a top-six forward. He was and is supposed to work those tough minutes. The fact that he's holding his own is a good thing.
Sturm's future with the Sharks
Sturm was brought in to bring experience and stability to the bottom six. He did that. He is responsible with the puck and he can be trusted on the penalty kill. At 28, Sturm is in his prime, which is why the four-year, $2 million deal that he signed in the offseason is a great asset for the Sharks. Much like the Matt Benning deal that we explored earlier, Sturm's contract (which expires in 2024-25) could be an asset to the Sharks down the road.
Remember, while Sturm did not factor in a ton on the scoreboard during the playoffs last season, he was still an integral part of the Colorado Avalanche's Stanley Cup run. He's a penalty killer, something that teams in the postseason need and are willing to trade for at the deadline. With a price tag of just $2 million, Sturm will be an easy piece to move down the road if it comes to that.
If, however, the Sharks make the playoffs, Sturm is the kind of third/fourth liner that helps you win a series. Provided he continues to offer 25-30 points per season while maintaining his strong work on the penalty kill, Sturm is an asset to the Sharks as the team works its way back into contention.
Editor's Note: Over the next few weeks, we will be rolling out the player reviews for the San Jose Sharks. We realize there were a lot of guys rotating into and out of the lineup and some of the key depth players were traded. As a result, Fear the Fin plans to focus on the players that are 1) still with the Sharks and 2) played 20 or more games for San Jose this season.