Group breakdowns provide clarity on defense pairings, less so on line combos
Just like a year ago, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun will begin camp as the team's top defense pairing.
A breakdown of the training camp roster into two groups provides an interesting early glimpse into how forward lines and defense pairings stack up heading into training camp. Obviously these things tend to be incredibly fluid—Tyler Kennedy, for example, started camp on the team's first line with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns last year before being bumped down by Tomas Hertl—but the group configurations usually provide an idea of what the coaching staff thinks of their roster at this early stage. Here's what Groups A and B will look like when camp gets underway tomorrow, via Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area:
Here is the breakdown of the two groups for training camp #SJSharks pic.twitter.com/v8jS1RHPya— Kevin Kurz (@KKurzCSN) September 19, 2014
What's immediately clear are the defense pairings. Just like last year, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun will begin camp as the team's top defense pairing. Matt Irwin and Brent Burns likely comprise the second pair while Scott Hannan and Jason Demers will play on the third to start. This is somewhat interesting in that it suggests whoever grabs the open spot on the blueline will do so as a 7th defenseman although that certainly isn't set in stone; if Mirco Mueller significantly outperforms Hannan in camp he'll probably slot in on opening night but if he's merely the best of the non-NHL defensemen on the camp roster the Sharks probably won't keep him with the big club merely to sit in the press box.
What's significantly more muddled for now are the forward lines. The top two are likely to be Tomas Hertl, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski from Group B and Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Matt Nieto from Group A, although there's the potential for a surprise like Tommy Wingels sliding into the second line in Nieto's spot or someone like Tyler Kennedy or even Nikolay Goldobin skating with Hertl and Thornton. But assuming that isn't the case, the bottom six is anyone's guess. The only established NHLers in Group A outside of Marleau, Couture and Nieto are Mike Brown, Adam Burish and Tommy Wingels...with James Sheppard injured to start camp, is that really the team's third line? Do Kennedy, Andrew Desjardins and John Scott from Group B comprise the fourth? I have no idea but we'll find out soon enough when the groups scrimmage against each other twice this weekend.