The Sharks will hit the road for their final two preseason games this weekend before the real season begins on Wednesday against Los Angeles. Here are a few observations after two full weeks of training camp…
1 – I’ve seen a fair amount of consternation on social media and elsewhere that Chris Tierney will likely start the season as the third line center, while Tomas Hertl returns to the top line. I don’t understand why. Hertl was not only great in that spot in the second half of last season, but he’s coming off of a knee injury. Putting him with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski should allow him to reestablish his confidence quickly.
As for Tierney, I understand that perhaps his possession and faceoff numbers aren’t spectacular. But, here’s the thing, and let’s be clear – he’s 22 YEARS OLD, and he keeps GETTING BETTER. To those that are irrationally upset at these line combinations, stop analyzing it with a calculator, folks. They are only a starting point, they are always fluid, and it’s a long season. Tierney has earned a chance for more responsibility, and that’s a good message to all the young players in the system, too.
2 – There’s no question in my mind that Dylan DeMelo is higher on the depth chart than Mirco Mueller. That’s not to say Mueller is having a bad camp, but DeMelo is a guy that already proved himself as an NHL player to coach Pete DeBoer. The coach has been highly complimentary DeMelo while suggesting that Mueller still needs to find that game-by-game consistency. If it’s Mueller that ends up going on the Sharks’ first long road trip instead of DeMelo, my guess is it will be for purely cosmetic purposes, and would lead me to believe that they might be shopping him.
3 – The Sharks obviously mishandled Mueller the year after they drafted him, keeping him around the NHL team in 2014-15. Having him play nearly a full season in the AHL for almost the entirety of last season was the right thing to do, and Mueller finished the year playing very well. That’s why it was so surprising to see his locker stall in the Sharks’ main NHL dressing room at the start of camp, while DeMelo was relegated to dressing with the prospects. It may seem like a minor detail, but how will Mueller take it when all his equipment is likely relocated to the Barracuda side after he’s been with the NHL guys for so long?
4 – I remember thinking that when the Sharks signed Mikkel Boedker that at least one regular forward would be jettisoned, either for salary cap reasons or a young player would earn a place instead. Timo Meier’s illness makes it less likely that someone like Matt Nieto or Tommy Wingels will lose his job, though. After all the offseason and training camp talk that the best players would make the team regardless of past experience there is still a slight chance that one of those two – or maybe even Melker Karlsson, who hasn’t done much in the preseason – is headed for the waiver wire after the weekend and won’t be in the lineup on opening night. But probably not.
5 – Defenseman Tim Heed is an interesting case, and one NHL scout not affiliated with the Sharks mentioned him to me as looking good (that was before Heed was dangled by Joe Cramarossa for a Ducks goal in Wednesday’s game). Heed signed a one-year deal in the offseason after a couple strong years in the Swedish league (he’s a former Ducks fifth round draft pick in 2010), and the 25-year-old has shown to be a smooth skater with a quick release and a hard shot from the point. If San Jose is in need of an offensive defenseman at some point, don’t be surprised if Heed makes an appearance in a Sharks sweater.
6 – I was a little surprised Marcus Sorensen didn’t get a longer look before he was reassigned on Oct. 3. DeBoer suggested the speedy winger needs a little more time on the smaller ice surface, and he’ll get that with the Barracuda.
“You like his speed and the work ethic, the tenacity. All those things are there. But, it’s in an adjustment," DeBoer said. "You’ve played your whole life on big rinks and it’s a different style of hockey. Things happen quicker, there’s less room, the guys are bigger. … It’s nothing that we didn’t anticipate. It’s nice that he’s close here and can get that experience right next door.”
Sorensen is off to a good start, scoring a hat trick in the Barracuda’s 4-2 preseason win on Thursday.
7 – Brent Burns was paying attention to Colorado’s head coaching vacancy in August, when Sharks assistant Bob Boughner was being considered for the gig. Burns is always quick to point out how much Boughner helped him during his phenomenal 2015-16 season, so Sharks fans should feel a sense of relief that Boughner is still here to guide the Wookiee.
“I texted [Boughner in August] and said you better not be leaving,” Burns said Thursday, tongue-in-cheek. “But, obviously it’s for a good reason. He’s a great coach, and he deserves that, but selfishly that would be tough to lose him after one year. I think he made a big difference in my game. … You want him to do well and stuff, but selfishly I know how much he did for me, and it would have been tough to have to go through another [coaching] change.”
8 – Joe Pavelski said that the loss in the Stanley Cup Final was something that he might not ever get over. Joe Thornton, though, moved on fairly quickly.
“We didn’t win the Cup. It sucked. It stung for a while. But, I’m really excited for this year. I had a good offseason.”
It was a short offseason, though. As is his yearly routine, Thornton went back to Switzerland over the summer but was only able to stay for five weeks due to his daughter starting first grade in mid-August. He started skating abroad mid-July.
“I just did my regular little routine that I do. … Nothing really changes, it was just a couple weeks later this year.”
9 – On paper, the Sharks have one of the best defense groups in the NHL. It may even be the top unit in the league, one-through-six. Marc-Edouard Vlasic thinks so, too, but believes they may not get the credit they deserve.
“If you asked me, I’d say we’re up there,” Vlasic said. “If you asked anybody else that’s not in this locker room, we’re not up there.”
I’m not sure that’s the case, as the Sharks have a higher profile after their run to the Stanley Cup Final, but Vlasic pointed out that the Sharks really only have “one offensive defenseman” in Burns. Is the Sharks’ defense as sexy as, say, the Predators, who feature both P.K. Subban and Roman Josi? Or the Blackhawks, with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook? Maybe not. But this is plainly one of the best blue lines in the NHL, starting with Team Canada representatives Vlasic and Burns.
10 – Finally, one final note about Dan Boyle. This is the first one of these retirement press conferences in San Jose that I’ve witnessed in which it was a player that I actually covered here, and I can safely say that in five seasons, Boyle was my favorite post-game interview. Yes, he had a tendency to snap at reporters on occasion, and I was disappointed by his final press availability in New York. But Boyle could always be counted on for an honest assessment of what was going on, and no one on the team in the three years that I covered him wanted to win more than he did. Although he doesn’t have any post-playing career plans yet, he would seem to be a natural for media work, in my opinion. (You hear that, CSN/NBC bosses?)