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. 

Sharks not satisfied with single point, believe skid will strengthen them

Sharks not satisfied with single point, believe skid will strengthen them

Well, the Sharks certainly made it interesting. Every time the Ducks scored a goal on Friday evening, the Sharks came back and were able to tie things up. They even got the game-tying goal late in the third period that took their contest into overtime – at least, before they lost 4-3.

Perhaps at a different time of year, getting their first point in five games would feel better. Not on this night. 

The focus remains on the work to be done with just seven games left in the regular season. For Team Teal, they need to clean their game up and get back into the win column.

“It’s better than nothing, but overall, we’re just not finding ways to win games now,” Timo Meier told the media in Anaheim regarding the single point. “We’ve got to find a way to win games. It’s an important time of the year. Playoffs are really close.”

San Jose put a better effort on the ice on Friday than they did the previous evening in LA against the Kings, but the opportunistic Ducks were able to bury more of their chances,

"I don’t think we gave them very much," Peter DeBoer said. "Every chance they got, they stuck in the net, though."

DeBoer was more critical of the team a second night in a row, and rightfully so. Despite outshooting the opposition, the Sharks weren’t able to find the back of the net enough times. They allowed two goals while playing on the penalty kill and tallied 14 giveaways. Plus, outside of Meier’s power-play marker, San Jose still went one-for-five on the man advantage. Despite tying the score up three times, the Sharks couldn’t keep the Ducks from responding.

Clearly, all areas of the game need to be tweaked.

“We’ve got to find a way to get an extra save, and on (the other) end we’ve got to find a way to get another goal,” DeBoer said. “We could’ve used a power-play goal tonight -- another one.”

Perhaps the only silver lining, as Meier put it, is that the Sharks are going through this stretch now instead of once they get into the playoffs. San Jose is still trying to get some of its key players healthy and into the lineup so they can make a deep playoff run with the lines and pairs they want. The goal, at least at the moment, is to make sure this five-game skid is a lesson to learn from and not a prelude to the future.

"Get stronger as a team, get tighter as a group, and learn," Meier said. "It’s going to make us stronger going into the playoffs because there are going to be lots of ups and downs coming up. It’s going to make us stronger and we’ve got to react the right way.”

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from overtime loss to Ducks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from overtime loss to Ducks


All the Sharks needed was a win. Just one win on Friday evening against the Ducks. Two points to salvage the road trip, stop the losing streak, and get back to hunting for first place in the division.

Not surprisingly, Team Teal made things interesting with a game that stayed tied up heading down the stretch. Unfortunately for San Jose, the Ducks were the victors in overtime 4-3.

Here are three takeaways from Friday’s game:

How did the power play look?

In a few words: nonexistent until the third. San Jose had three opportunities on the man advantage through the first 40 minutes of play and couldn’t make anything happen. They even gave up a couple breaks the other way that Dell had to stop. Had the power play converted, the Sharks might’ve been up by two or three goals after two period of play.

Timo Meier came up big with the power-play goal in the third period to tie the score up 2-2. While they couldn’t capitalize on the power-play opportunity immediately followed, Meier’s marker will hopefully open up the flood gates for the power play.

Who else stepped up?

Sharks’ bench boss Peter DeBoer didn’t mince words after Thursday’s loss to the Kings, saying that the team needed someone to step up during this stretch with injured superstars and be a hero.

“You’ve got to get a great performance from somebody in a game like this and I don’t think we got that,” DeBoer said on Thursday.

In all honesty, the whole team looked better even with the loss. The fourth line had a couple very memorable shifts, cycling low and establishing pressure. Joe Thornton’s line was clicking, which was clear from Kevin Labanc’s goal.

Gustav Nyquist was a solo standout – despite not finding the back of the net, he played a heck of a game and had some incredible looks. Of course, you can’t talk about this game without talking about Justin Braun scoring the big game-tying goal in the third frame, which was his first marker since December 2.

How did Aaron Dell do?

In all fairness, Dell gave the Sharks a chance to win for the majority of the game. No. 30 has looked good in his last couple of outings – save his relief effort against the Golden Knights earlier in the week when he had little defense to help him out – and he made a couple great saves in Anaheim as well, especially when the Ducks had a couple short-handed breakaways.

Unfortunately for Dell, he gave up the two power-play goals in the third frame. While Braun was the hero and scored the tying goal late in the third to help take the game into overtime, Dell still couldn’t hold down the fort in overtime. It doesn’t matter if he’s the backup or not – at this time of the season, playing too loose late in games isn’t good.