Analysis: DeBoer masterful at integrating young Sharks players

Analysis: DeBoer masterful at integrating young Sharks players

When Pete DeBoer was cleaning out his office in New Jersey after getting fired from the Devils on Christmas 2014, one of the biggest criticisms of him at that time was that he wasn’t giving the younger players enough of an opportunity. The Devils were an aging team that had lost star forwards Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk in recent seasons, but had some high round draft picks waiting to make the jump and help fill that void.

DeBoer, though, didn’t give them enough of an opportunity, according to many Devils supporters. Guys like Mattias Tedenby (first round, 2008), Jacob Josefson (first round, 2009), Stefan Matteau (first round, 2012), and Eric Gelinas (second round, 2009) were spending most of their time in the minors, while the NHL club had a miserable 12-17-7 record at the time of his dismissal.

Heard much from those guys lately? 

Tedenby is in the Swedish league, a first round bust. Matteau is still in the minors, having moved on to the Canadiens organization. Josefson has just one goal in 27 games this season for New Jersey, and Gelinas has one assist in 27 games as a defenseman for a the worst team in the league, Colorado.

When he was introduced as the Sharks’ head coach on May 28, 2015, one of the first questions I asked DeBoer was what he learned from his experience in New Jersey regarding young players, and the keys to successfully integrating them into an NHL lineup. The Sharks were coming off of a playoff-less season in which one of their biggest problems was rushing players rather than letting them develop.

“The first thing is, this is the toughest league in the world. It’s the best league in the world, and it’s awfully hard for young players to step into this league and make an immediate impact,” DeBoer said that day. “At the same time, it’s critical that they do, because you see that the teams that are playing [in the playoffs], all are getting contributions from those guys.”

DeBoer pointed out that some young players did make the leap under his watch, including Adam Henrique, Jon Merrill and Damon Severson. All are still key contributors in New Jersey’s lineup.

Still, “some other young players, sometimes it doesn’t come as quickly, or sometimes they need some different approaches, whether it’s tough love, or a step back. It’s situational, and individual to every player.”

Or, sometimes they just aren’t good enough.

The way he’s handled the Sharks in his season-and-a-half, it’s evident that DeBoer knows what he’s doing when it comes to recognizing when a player is absolutely ready for the NHL on a full-time basis. In the first half of the 2015-16 season, he quickly discerned that some players that were leftover from Todd McLellan’s final season simply weren’t NHL-caliber. 

Barclay Goodrow, Mirco Mueller and Nikolay Goldobin were replaced with veterans like Dainius Zubrus, Nick Spaling and Roman Polak – not the sexiest names, but guys that DeBoer knew were experienced and responsible. All played key roles in the Sharks capturing their first Western Conference championship.

But beyond those obvious moves, there have been some subtle decisions that the coach has made that have also paid dividends. In a third period on Nov. 25, 2015, for example, Tomas Hertl rode the bench for the final 20 minutes against Chicago. The next game against Calgary, he scored his first goal in 19 games and added an assist. In early January last year Chris Tierney was reassigned to the Barracuda, and was a different player upon his return. It took Dylan DeMelo months to prove to the coach that he belonged in the NHL, making some trips back and forth between the Sharks and Barracuda.

This season, rookie Kevin Labanc came up and had an impressive stretch, but as soon as he started to go cold with no goals in 16 games, he was reassigned to the Barracuda while Marcus Sorensen was recalled and notched an assist in his debut on Tuesday in Buffalo. Ryan Carpenter scored a goal against the Kings on Dec. 18, and was reassigned to the Barracuda the very next day. Carpenter has returned, but has been a healthy scratch lately despite some production as the fourth line center.

Those kinds of decisions don’t always sit well with fans, some of which fail to see the big picture. They’ll spot a guy like the relatively unskilled Micheal Haley in the lineup and wonder why he’s getting minutes over players like Carpenter, Labanc, or even Goldobin, the skilled former first rounder who hasn’t yet gotten in an NHL game this season.

DeBoer, though, has shown to be a master at knowing when a player is ready for the NHL. The track record proves it. He’s stayed true to his word that first day he was introduced, and it’s working out wonderfully so far. 

After a perfect week, Sharks have playoff breathing room with three weeks to go


After a perfect week, Sharks have playoff breathing room with three weeks to go

The Sharks’ playoff outlook is a lot rosier after winning all four of their games last week. They are now four points clear of the Los Angeles Kings in the second Wild Card spot, and three points up the Anaheim Ducks, who are third place in the Pacific Division.

Those are four-point and three-point improvements, respectively, over those same spots last week. The Sharks even picked up ground on the first-place Vegas Golden Knights, and are eight points back of the Pacific’s leaders, with two head-to-head matchups remaining.

That’s not quite close enough to warrant inclusion in a look at the playoff picture headed into the week, but could be next week if San Jose continues to make up ground. Otherwise, it’s still worth examining where the Sharks stand in regards to the Pacific and the Wild Card.

San Jose Sharks (Second in the Pacific, 89 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket:  3/20 vs New Jersey, 3/22 vs Vegas, 3/24 vs Calgary

Outlook: Over the next two weeks, the schedule really starts to become difficult. San Jose has only two games remaining against teams on the outside looking in, and is just 2-6-2 in its last 10 against teams currently in a playoff spot. If that trend continues, the newfound breathing room could start to disappear rather quickly.

Anaheim Ducks (Third in the Pacific, 86 points)

Games Remaining: Nine

On the Docket: 3/21 at Calgary, 3/23 at Winnipeg, 3/25 at Edmonton

Outlook: The Ducks have now won three in a row, including next Sunday against the red-hot New Jersey Devils. They’ll play four of their final five road games in the next nine days, and all but one of their opponents is not in playoff position. Anaheim’s just 15-14-7 away from the Honda Center, though. With the fewest games remaining of any playoff team, the Ducks will help to move up any further.

Colorado Avalanche (First Wild Card, 86 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket: 3/20 at Chicago, 3/22 vs Los Angeles, 3/24 vs Vegas

Outlook: Give it up for surefire Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche, winners of three of four last week. Other than a slip-up on the second night of a back-to-back in Nashville, Colorado was outright dominant, outscoring opponents 16-7. A midweek matchup against Los Angeles could create some Wild Card separation.

Los Angeles Kings (Second Wild Card, 84 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket: 3/19 at Minnesota, 3/20 at Winnipeg, 3/22 at Colorado, 3/24 at Edmonton

Outlook: The Kings picked up points in three of four, including on both nights of a back-to-back. Their schedule really picks up this week, as they’ll face three playoff-bound teams from the Central on the road. The struggling Stars remain on their heels, although the Kings have a game in hand.

Dallas Stars (Ninth in the West, 84 points)

Games Remaining: Nine

On the Docket: 3/20 at Washington, 3/23 vs Boston. 3/25 vs Vancouver

Outlook: Is Dallas in the middle of a Lone Star letdown? We wrote last week that a difficult schedule could create openings for the teams chasing them and boy, did it ever. The Stars went 0-2-2 on the week, and picked up just one point against the lottery-bound Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. They’ll surely relish a matchup against the Canucks in six days, as it’s their only remaining game against a non-playoff team.

St. Louis Blues (10th in the West, 83 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket: 3/21 vs Boston, 3/23 vs Vancouver, 3/24 at Columbus

Outlook: For the second straight season, it’s not quite time to stick a fork in the St. Louis Blues. Yes, they are once again in the playoff hunt after trading one of their best players at the trade deadline, and won three out of four to move with in a point of the final Wild Card spot. The Blues have now won four of five, and still have an uphill climb ahead. After last season, is it ever safe to rule them out?

The Departed: Calgary Flames (11th in the West, 80 points)

This section is reserved for teams that have fallen out of the playoff picture since our last look at the playoff picture, and the Calgary Flames have earned(?) the inaugural (dis)honor. The Flames failed to keep the door to the playoffs ajar thanks to a 7-4 loss to the Sharks on Friday, and it slammed shut after a 4-0 loss in Sin City on Sunday. They have to jump three teams and cover four points of ground to earn a Wild Card spot. The latest stretch stings, but the Flames will likely look on a four-game, post-trade deadline losing streak as when their playoff hopes burned out.

Sharks overcome early deficit, injuries to finish road trip with third straight win


Sharks overcome early deficit, injuries to finish road trip with third straight win

VANCOUVER --Timo Meier's second goal of the game snapped a third-period tie and the San Jose Sharks beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-3 on Saturday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Logan Couture and Kevin Labanc each had a goal and an assist, and Tomas Hertl scored into an empty net with 25 seconds remaining for the Sharks, who are 7-2-0 in their last nine games.

Nikolay Goldobin, Alex Edler and Bo Horvat scored power-play goals and Sam Gagner had two assists for the Canucks, who lost their sixth consecutive game - their longest losing streak of the season.

Goldobin's goal at 10:48 of the first period snapped a scoreless streak of 222 minutes, 57 minutes for the Canucks, who had been shut out in three consecutive losses.

The Sharks had allowed just two power-play goals in their previous 17 games, but gave up three against Vancouver. The only other time San Jose allowed three power-play goals in a game was in an opening-night loss to Philadelphia.

Aaron Dell, making his first start since Feb. 22, made 28 saves for the Sharks. Vancouver's Jacob Markstrom stopped 25 shots.

Meier put the Sharks ahead at 6:07 of the third with a shot from the faceoff circle that went under Markstrom's blocker. The Canucks came close with just over six minutes left, but Hertl scooped a loose puck off the goal line.

Vancouver scored twice with the man-advantage in the second period to tie the game at 3.

The Sharks took a 3-1 lead just 1:47 into the period when Meier tipped in Brenden Dillion's shot from the point.

Horvat started Vancouver's comeback, scoring just 6 seconds into a power play. Dell stopped Gagner's slap shot but Horvat jammed home the rebound. Edler tied it with a blast from the point at 11:48. It was his first power-play goal in 88 games dating to Feb. 17, 2017.

The Sharks scored 1:10 apart in the first period to erase a 1-0 deficit.

Goldobin opened the scoring when he took a pass from defenseman Derrick Pouilot and snapped a shot from the face-off circle that sailed over Dell's shoulder. The San Jose goalie was screened by Jake Virtanen.

Labanc tied it on a power play at 14:48. Joe Pavelski's shot was stopped by Markstrom, but he managed to get his own rebound and passed it to Labanc at the side of the net.

The Sharks went ahead on Couture's 29th of the season at 16:08. He took a feed from Hertl, fought off a check by Virtanen and chipped the puck past Markstrom.

NOTES: Defenseman Chris Tanev returned to Vancouver lineup for his first game since breaking his leg Feb. 8 against Tampa Bay ... San Jose center Melker Karlsson went to the dressing favoring his right leg early in the first period after blocking a shot. ... San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic left in the second period after being hit in the chest by a puck. ... The Canucks' franchise record for a scoring drought is 234 minutes, 52 seconds, set March 16-24, 2016. ... The longest goal drought by a team in the expansion era is 262 minutes, 3 seconds, set by the Minnesota North Stars from Jan. 28-Feb. 6, 1988.


Sharks: vs. New Jersey on Tuesday night.

Canucks: at Vegas on Tuesday night.