Sharks

Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

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AP

Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

It was late in the lockout-shortened 2013 season when Sharks general manager Doug Wilson really started to prepare for the future. Douglas Murray was dealt to Pittsburgh for a pair of second round selections. Ryane Clowe packed his bags for Broadway, in exchange for a second and a third round pick from the Rangers. Michal Handzus went to Chicago for a fourth rounder.

Wilson’s logic was sound, as it typically takes two-to-four years before draft picks have a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. The general manager figured that by then, players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau either wouldn’t be a part of the team anymore or would be slowing down. Restocking the cupboards was essential.

From 2013-15, the Sharks made 24 selections over the next three NHL entry drafts, including seven total picks in the top two rounds. Some players have shown promise. Others haven’t. A few aren’t in the organization anymore. That’s the nature of the business.

The way the 2017-18 opening night roster is shaping up, though, now is the time that some of these young players in the system simply have to step up. Marleau and his 27 goals last season are gone, Thornton’s numbers are down and he’s coming off of major knee surgery, Joe Pavelski is now 33 years old, and the team’s offense depth is suspect at best. There have been no notable additions in the offseason.

Frankly, this season could be viewed as a referendum on the team’s amateur scouting staff, including longtime director Tim Burke. Wilson handed Burke and his staff a wonderful opportunity to provide the organization with fresh talent with the team approaching an organizational crossroads.

What has transpired so far is a bit concerning, as already two of the team’s first round picks from that span ended up being nothing more than trade bait.

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Mirco Mueller, chosen 18th overall in 2013, was a huge disappointment in San Jose. It’s been well documented that he was mishandled by the organization when he was rushed to the league in 2014-15, but even this past season, regular observers of the Barracuda had Mueller as nothing more than the AHL team’s fourth-best defenseman. He’s now in New Jersey, swapped for a pair of draft picks.

The scouting staff was so high on Mueller on draft day that Wilson traded a valuable second round pick to Detroit to move up just two places to select him. With those acquired picks, the Red Wings took Anthony Mantha 20th overall and Tyler Bertuzzi 58th overall – two forwards that have shown a whole lot more NHL potential than Mueller (especially Mantha, who has 39 points in 70 career NHL games so far).

Perhaps more concerning, though, is that the Sharks 2013 draft class as a whole is looking like a dud. Second round pick Gabryel Boudreau suffered a wrist injury and is no longer in the organization anymore, but he was trending downward even before he got hurt. None of the remaining players selected from rounds four-through-seven look to be NHL quality, either.

The next year brought Nikolay Goldobin, chosen 27th overall after the Sharks traded down in the first round, and he ended up being the key piece in the Jannik Hansen acquisition from Vancouver. Goldobin showed some flashes of offensive talent during his time in the organization, but his lack of hockey sense and on-ice work ethic helped lead to his exit. Whether Goldobin becomes an NHL regular, even with a fresh start in Vancouver, is highly uncertain.

Had the Sharks stayed at 20th overall, they could have selected Nick Schmaltz (20th overall), Robby Fabbri (21st overall), or David Pastrnak (25th overall). Instead, they moved down and took Goldobin, making it back-to-back first round failures.

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Still, unlike 2013, other players from Goldobin’s draft class have shown some promise. Second rounder Julius Bergman was a steady blueliner for a good Barracuda team last season, and although he’s probably not NHL-ready yet, he could be on the right track. Late in the draft the team found Kevin Labanc in the sixth round with the 171st overall selection, and Labanc had some nice moments with the Sharks last season. His shot and his hands make him a solid prospect, although Labanc still probably has to get a bit bigger and stronger to play in the NHL full-time.

Noah Rod (second round, 53rd overall) and Rourke Chartier (fifth round, 149th overall) are also still developing, with Rod playing against men in the Swiss league the past few seasons and Chartier a valuable player for the Barracuda last year.

In 2015, the draft provided the Sharks with Timo Meier at ninth overall, as the club drafted in the top 10 for the first time since 2007. At this point, Meier is far and away the best prospect in the organization, and he’ll likely be relied upon to play a top nine (or even a top six) role for the Sharks this season.

The 2015 draft brought other decent prospects, too. Defenseman Jeremy Roy was selected 31st overall, and after suffering a serious knee injury in juniors this year, he’ll get a chance to play for the Barracuda this year. Fourth rounder Adam Helewka and fifth rounder Rudolfs Balcers have also developed nicely since draft day. It’s still a bit too early to evaluate that draft as a whole.

It should also be mentioned that while their draft day record may be suspect the past few seasons, the Sharks have brought in European free agents like Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen. Karlsson has developed into a versatile, hard-working forward; Donskoi has shown flashes of offensive brilliance despite a disappointing second year in the NHL last season; and Sorensen looks primed to make the opening night roster after his speed and tenacity shined through during the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.

The Sharks scouting staff has helped to keep the team competitive for a long time, and they’re as big a reason as any that the team has missed the playoffs just once in the past 11 seasons. But this is also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and now is the time that the Sharks need to see some results from players that were chosen by Burke and company.

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

SAN JOSE -- Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer thought Tomas Hertl’s series-clinching goal on Wednesday, in the midst of the best season of his five-year NHL career, was a long time coming.

“He would’ve gotten to this level earlier than this year if he had been healthy,” DeBoer said after San Jose swept the Anaheim Ducks out of the first round with a 2-1 win in Game 4. “He’s had some really bad luck with some really bad injuries. He’s healthy and he’s playing at another level, and I still think he’s got another level he can get to, too.”

Hertl deflected Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s point shot through Ducks goaltender John Gibson’s legs for the game-winner with 10:51 remaining in regulation, and just over a minute after Anaheim tied the game. As NBC Sports California statistician Darin Stephens noted, it was the Czech forward’s second career game-winning goal in the postseason.

Since entering the league in 2013-14, Hertl’s tied for 37th with 22 game-winning goals in the regular season and playoffs, according to STATS. Only Joe Pavelski (32) and Logan Couture (23) have more during that time, and Hertl’s played 85 fewer games than Pavelski, and 26 than Couture.

Were it not for recurring right knee issues that caused him to miss 45 games his rookie season, cut short his Stanley Cup Final in 2016, and forced him to miss another 33 last year, he’d almost certainly be higher on the list.

Five-on-five, only 11 players that played a minimum of 500 minutes have generated expected goals (xG), or shot attempts that account for quality, at a higher rate than Hertl (0.95 xG/60, according to Corsica Hockey) since he entered the league. If you include the postseason, he jumps into the top 10.

DeBoer’s right to think Hertl can reach another level, too. The 25-year-old’s 21 non-empty-net goals matched a career-high, no player underperformed their expected goals total across all situations more than Hertl, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic pointed out.

With health back on Hertl’s side, DeBoer doesn’t see this as the young forward finally maximizing his potential. Instead, the head coach thinks Hertl is just beginning to reach it.

“This wasn’t about anyone pushing him…[He’s] been healthy and he’s starting to find the level that he’s capable of being at, I think, for a long career.”

Five things to ponder when thinking about the Sharks' sweep of the Ducks

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AP

Five things to ponder when thinking about the Sharks' sweep of the Ducks

Round 1 can be summed up this simply for San Jose: The Sharks generally got better as the series progressed, while the Ducks further unraveled with each outing.

The biggest exception to that was Game 4, where in spurts, you could see Anaheim start to play the style they should have presented all along.  Skating the puck into the offensive zone instead dumping, getting possession established behind San Jose’s cage to set up scoring opportunities in front of Martin Jones, and most importantly - showing defensive discipline and taking far less penalties.  

But as the saying goes, “too little, too late." San Jose answered with a clutch coach’s challenge, and series clinching goal from Tomas Hertl.

In true Las Vegas fashion, I’m doubling down on my motto entering the playoffs: Expect the unexpected.

1) Martin Jones stopped 128 of the 132 Ducks shots he faced.

I could conclude my observations right here.  When you allow just four goals in four games, you’re probably getting three wins at the minimum.  However with the Sharks offense pouring in 16 goals over 12 periods, there was plenty of “run support” for Jones.  I’ll take it a step further and remind you that two of the four Ducks scores came on the power play, and I generally let the goalie off the hook for those.  Hard to pick an MVP with such wide-ranging contributions in this first round, but nobody would deny it going to Martin.

2) San Jose’s 4th line was the x-factor in the series, and Marcus Sorensen was a standout.

The smallest player on the Sharks ended the round on a three-game goal streak.  Whether it was his early equalizer in Game 2, his momentum gaining breakaway finisher in Game 3, or his tone-setting conversion in Game 4 — Sorensen scored some incredibly timely tallies for the club.  And it wasn’t just him, there were important contributions from Eric Fehr and Melker Karlsson over the course of the series, too.  Pete DeBoer has found incredible chemistry with his forward lines into the first few playoff games, top to bottom.  And this established depth is something we remember being very critical to that Cup Final run of two seasons ago.

3) The Sharks coaching staff should be credited with a goal in Game 4.

It was a rough second period for the Sharks.  They got out-shot 14-7, and took three minor penalties.  The last one came with a minute left, meaning that Anaheim would get about 60 seconds of advantage to end the period, then another 60 seconds with fresh legs and fresh ice to begin the 3rd period.  With time ticking down before 2nd intermission, Ryan Getzlaf buried a puck about one second after the clock had expired.  No goal.  Then at :27 seconds into the 3rd period, Rickard Rakell blasted one past Jones, except - Pete DeBoer challenged Anaheim’s entry into the zone, which turned out to be offside.  No goal again.  My math tells me preventing a goal is equally important to scoring one.  So in a 2-1 final score, the Sharks bench and coaching staff should be credited for catching what they saw.  And making the bold move (risking a minor penalty) to issue the challenge.

4) Pacing for the playoff marathon, not a sprint.

The best thing about San Jose sweeping is not even handing four straight losses to a SoCal rival.  Although wow, nobody is complaining about the bragging rights it brings.  It’s actually the efficiency of exerting yourself as few times as possible while advancing to the next round.  One thing we learned in the run of 2016, was the physical and mental toll an extra 24 games brough.  If it took San Jose 6 to eliminate Anaheim, that’s 6 more periods of risk, wear, and tear.  When you put yourself in position to end rounds quickly, you MUST capitalize.  Playing into mid-June becomes a battle against physical attrition.  Might as well play your cards well early.

5) Who is the underdog between San Jose and Las Vegas in Round 2?

Here’s a fancy fact: This will be (only) the eighth time that two teams have met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs while each sweeping their prior opponent to advance.  On the Sharks side, it’s a group that has generally been together for years of playoff runs.  They have tons of experiences, both wining and losing as a group.  A total of 89 playoff games since 2010 alone.  With Las Vegas, you have many individuals with postseason experiences, but, certainly nowhere near the same level of experience (four games) together under the Golden Knights banner.  Naturally, you’d have to expect the pundits to favor the Golden Knights.  They won the division.  They are a storybook team.  Who are the Sharks to interfere with inaugural-season-destiny?   Pete DeBoer said he knew they “weren’t a mirage” after playing them head-to-head the day after Thanksgiving.  But if you’re the Sharks, gladly give the title of “favorites” to Las Vegas, and all the pressure it comes with.