SAN JOSE – There are nearly three full months between now and the start of the 2017-18 Sharks season, when San Jose hosts Philadelphia at SAP Center on Oct. 4. That leaves plenty of time for Sharks general manager Doug Wilson to try and fill the void left by Patrick Marleau, who signed a three-year contract with Toronto on Sunday, concluding his 19-year run with the organization.
Whether Wilson tries to sign ink of the remaining free agent forwards or attempts to make a trade could depend on how confident he and the other members of the Sharks’ brain trust are in the young players in the system. They will all have a better idea of their NHL-readiness after this week, as the annual prospects camp concludes on Friday.
The two forwards at camp with the best chance of making an impact would seem to be Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, who both spent long stretches with the NHL club as rookies last season with mixed results. The opening is there for at least one of them – along with Marcus Sorensen, who is not in camp – to try and make up some of Marleau’s 27 goals last season.
“It’s hard not to kind of pay attention (to Marleau leaving) because you see it all over social media,” Labanc said. “It’s just kind of blown up. You don’t really want to think about it too much. You just want to stick to your game. … You’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities that are open.”
Meier said: “Whatever happens, my goal stays the same. There might be some more openings, or less openings, but for me I just want to make the team. Obviously something like that, such a great player leaving – [but] I think it’s a great chance for young players to step up.”
It was this time last year when Meier, 20, was thought to have an inside track on making the opening night roster. In training camp, though, he came down with mononucleosis, and didn’t make his NHL debut until Dec. 16 in Montreal.
“It was tough. I felt it over the whole season,” Meier said.
Although he scored a goal in his first game at Bell Centre, it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. Meier was reassigned to the AHL Barracuda for a stretch in February and March, and finished with a disappointing three goals and three assists for six points in 34 games.
While Meier registered an impressive 85 shots on goal (2.5 per game), Sharks coach Pete DeBoer indicated during the season that Meier’s shot selection needed some improvement.
Meier said: “This season I didn’t score a lot of goals in the NHL, but I know if I keep working hard and get some chances and maybe be smarter about the shots I take, maybe more quality shots, and when I get the chance, put it in the net.”
Labanc, 21, found success with the Sharks quickly, posting seven goals and 12 points in his first 26 career NHL games. But then he went ice cold, going 28 straight games without a goal in between trips to the Barracuda. Unlike Meier, who played in five of the six first round playoff games, he didn’t suit up for the Edmonton series.
Naturally, he’s seeking “a little bit more consistency” this season.
“It was a good learning curve for me,” said Labanc, who was arguably the best player on the ice during the Sharks' prospect scrimmage at SAP Center on Thursday night. “This year I want to make the team, I want to prove myself, and I want to excel in every game that I play in.”