Joonas Donskoi’s first goal of the season all but sealed the Sharks’ 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.
It was also a long time coming, too. The Finnish forward finished a chance for the first time in 28 regular season games, 33 if you include his goal-less postseason. He last scored on January 7, when Patrick Marleau was a Shark and San Jose still held a share of the Pacific Division lead.
He struggled mightily after that, largely due to injury. Donskoi separated his shoulder not once, but twice last season, and revealed to The Athletic this week that he also dealt with “foot issues.” He spent over a month on injured reserve and managed just three assists in his final 22 games as a result.
With health on his side, Donskoi’s returned to his rookie year form. Through six games, he's registered three points, all at even strength. That’s tied with Joe Pavelski for the team lead, despite the fact he’s played nearly four minutes less per game at even strength than the captain.
He’s done a lot in less ice time, scoring five-on-five points at a higher rate per 60 minutes than any player on the team, according to Natural Stat Trick. He’s done a lot against lesser competition, too, taking advantage of his assignments in Peter DeBoer’s bottom six forward group.
That’s an important development, given the disappearance of San Jose’s depth scoring last season. Only four Sharks forwards cracked 40 points last season, and one of them is in Toronto. Most damning, though, is that the same number managed to score 30 or more points last year. The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, by contrast, had eight forwards score 30 points in the regular season.
It’s still early in the season, but Donskoi’s underlying numbers indicate this level of play is built to last. His personal shooting percentage is below his career-high, and the Sharks are scoring on a reasonable 6.52% of their shots with Donskoi on the ice in five-on-five situations. That’s only half-a-percentage point higher than San Jose’s rate during Donskoi’s injury-riddled 2016-17.
Donskoi will undoubtedly hit some bumps in the road, but after struggling so much last season, it appears the 25-year-old is back on track. If the Sharks are to improve on last season, they desperately need depth scorers.
Thanks to Donskoi’s resurgence, they just might have found one.