The last time the San Jose Sharks opened a season without Patrick Marleau on the roster, ties were still a thing. A day shy of 21 years ago, the Sharks last began a season without Marleau and tied the New York Islanders 2-2 on October 5, 1996.
The Sharks will begin their season tonight against an Eastern Conference foe for the first time since that night, hosting the Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 PM, NBCSN). Marleau, meanwhile, begins his a conference and a country away: Suiting up for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Winnipeg Jets three-and-a-half hours prior.
San Jose is wasting no time without Marleau, at least if tonight’s lines are any indication. Top prospects Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier made the team out of training camp, and will begin the season on the first and third lines, centered by Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl, respectively. This summer, Sharks management expressed confidence in their young players’ ability to fill Marleau’s void, given the remaining veteran talent on the roster.
“We talked to them about it. They know there aren’t many guys in this league of their age who get to play with centers like Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney,” director of hockey operations Doug Wilson Jr. told the San Jose Mercury News in July. “It’s really on them. They know the opportunity is there, and if it’s not them, it’s going to be someone else.”
On opening night, Labanc and Meier get an opportunity to do just that. And for one night, at least, the future is now in San Jose.
Joe Pavelski-Joe Thornton-Kevin Labanc
Surprisingly, Thornton and Pavelski were Labanc’s most common linemates last season. The trio played a hair over 143 minutes together, and attempted 54.48% of the shots at even strength, according to Corsica Hockey. That was the fifth-best of any San Jose line that played at least 50 minutes together last season. It’s a comfortable place for Labanc to begin the season, and the Sharks are hoping the scoring follows, as Pavelski and Thornton are both coming off of down years.
Mikkel Boedker-Logan Couture-Joonas Donskoi
This is a combination that Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer envisioned when Boedker signed last summer, reportedly going as far as writing the trio on a cocktail napkin. They only played limited minutes together last season, in part because of Donskoi and Couture’s injuries, but they were effective. They controlled 53.38% of the shot attempts in just over 78 minutes together last year, according to Corsica. All three players will need to bounce back this season. Boedker scored 25 fewer points last year than in 2015-16, while Donskoi’s dropped by 19 points, albeit in 15 fewer games. Couture’s 52 points in 73 games were also down from his last “full” season, when he scored 67 in 82 in 2014-15.
Jannik Hansen-Tomas Hertl-Timo Meier
Hansen, Hertl, and Meier played together in a very limited four minute sample last season, but Hertl played some substantial minutes with Hansen, as well as Meier, in 2016-17. On paper, this seems to be natural combination for a third line with offensive upside. Hertl and Meier, in particular, are strong possession numbers, but need to begin converting their chances. Hertl hasn’t shown he can be a reliable scorer centering his own line, while Meier scored just three goals last season.
Melker Karlsson-Chris Tierney-Joel Ward
In just under 32 minutes together last year, Tierney, Karlsson, and Ward attempted 50.85% of the shots at even strength, according to Corsica. A fourth line breaking even in puck possession is just about all you can ask for, but this is another line that will need to convert on their chances, as limited as they may be. The line didn’t combine for a goal at even strength last year, and with Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Carpenter waiting in the wings, the leash may not be long.
Paul Martin-Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon-Dylan DeMelo
No surprises on the blueline, which remains intact from last season. I’m curious to see how, if at all, Deboer changes Vlasic and Braun’s usage. The two struggled against exceptionally tough competition last year, and the Sharks attempted 46.64% of the shots with Braun and Vlasic on the ice, according to Corsica. That freed up Burns offensively en route to the first Norris Trophy win of his career, and also allowed Brenden Dillon and then-partner David Schlemko to mop up minutes against softer competition (52.66% Corsi-For, per Corsica). Dylan DeMelo, who fills in for Schlemko after he was selected in the expansion draft by Vegas and eventually traded to Montreal, was not as effective with Dillon, but is probably ready for full-time duty after spending most of the last two seasons in the press box.
No surprise in net, either, as San Jose’s $34.5 million man begins the season between the pipes. Jones signed a big extension this summer, but will need to be better than he was last season. His save percentage in all situations dropped to .912 from .918 in 2015-16, and his even strength save percentage fell to .915 from .925. His postseason resume speaks for itself, but he hasn’t performed at that level in the regular season consistently.
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl
2017 second overall pick Nolan Patrick is set to make his NHL debut, and Claude Giroux will debut at left wing. Giroux’s produced on the wing before, but previously played on the right side and has largely played center over the last few seasons. The Flyers are hoping the move sparks Giroux, who is coming off of his worst offensive year since 2010, as well as his center, Sean Couturier.
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Philadelphia boasts one of the youngest, most promising bluelines in the league, but some of that promise will have to wait at least one night: 21-year-old Travis Sanheim will not make his NHL debut tonight, nor will 22-year-old Samuel Morin play in his second NHL game. There’s still plenty of youth in the lineup tonight, as Gostisbehere, Hagg, and Provorov are 24, 22, and 20, respectively.
The Flyers opted not to bring back Steve Mason, who will begin his season against Marleau with Winnipeg, and instead signed Brian Elliott to a two-year, $5.5 million deal this summer. Elliott’s coming off of his worst season since 2013. He may never again reach the heights of the .935 even strength save percentage he posted with St. Louis two seasons ago, but some better luck shorthanded (.873 shorthanded save percentage last season, his worst since 2011) could allow Elliott to re-emerge as one of the league’s better goalies.