Sharks

Examining the roles of five potential playoff debuts for Sharks

Examining the roles of five potential playoff debuts for Sharks

If the lines at the last two practices were any indication, three Sharks will make their Stanley Cup playoff debuts in Game 1 of the first round against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday. A fourth and fifth are waiting in the wings, setting San Jose up to potentially have the most players play in their first playoff game since 2011, when four players debuted. 

Let’s examine the roles all five will play for the Sharks during the playoffs, starting with the player who waited the longest to get there. 

Evander Kane

Kane will have played 574 regular season games across nine seasons before making his playoff debut on Thursday. That will be the second-longest active streak until Thursday, only five games shorter than Jeff Skinner’s 579-game drought. 

He missed two of the final three games with an undisclosed injury, and his return not only gives the Sharks a dominant top line, but better depth down the lineup as well. The top line should also draw most of the attention from the Ducks’ top pairing of Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson, leaving San Jose’s depth forwards an opportunity to capitalize on Anaheim’s depleted defense corps. 

Kevin Labanc

Labanc will be one of those depth forwards. A year after not suiting up and getting sent down to the AHL in the middle of a playoff series, the 22-year-old figures to be something of an ‘x-factor.’

He’s one of the league’s best passers on the power play, but is part of a third line, with Timo Meier and Chris Tierney, that will need to be more productive. Since Kane was acquired, the trio has been out-possessed, outshot, out-chanced, and outscored five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick, and the Sharks can ill afford that to continue against the Ducks. 

Dylan DeMelo

The third time’s finally the charm for DeMelo, who will draw into the playoff lineup after being a healthy scratch each of the last two postseasons. He’s arguably playing better than he has at any point in his Sharks career, as he and his partner, Brenden Dillon, formed a surprisingly offensive-minded third pairing over the final month of the season.

Continued offensive production would be a bonus, but San Jose will need DeMelo to limit opportunities against Anaheim’s bottom-six forwards. He’s spent most of his five-on-five time against third and fourth lines, and will have his hands full against the Ducks’ third line of Nick Ritchie, Adam Henrique, and Ondrej Kase, which has outscored opponents 17-5 in 364 five-on-five minutes together. Kase, in particular, will need to be contained, as no Anaheim forward scored five-on-five goals at a higher rate (1.36 per 60 minutes). 

Joakim Ryan

For much of the season, Ryan looked to be Alden Ehrenreich, the actor playing the young Han Solo, alongside Brent Burns’ Chewbacca. Instead, Harrison Ford Paul Martin staged a late-season comeback, and played the final 11 games of the year with his Wookiee co-pilot. 

Martin, much like Ford in The Force Awakens, slid pretty effortlessly back into his old role, as the pair has outpossessed, outshot, outchanced, and outscored opponents since reuniting on March 17. That left Ryan to deputize as the seventh defenseman, a role he’s arguably overqualified for, since his 56.14 percent expected goals-for percentage is best among Sharks defensemen that played at least 500 minutes. In other words, Sharks (and Star Wars) fans can rest easy about their new Han Solo when the time comes. 

Dylan Gambrell

Gambrell’s the longest shot to make his playoff debut, as he didn’t skate on any of the Sharks’ five lines at either of their playoff practices, according to reporters, nor did he debut until after San Jose clinched a playoff spot. With Eric Fehr set to return to the lineup after not playing since March 24, and Barclay Goodrow also skating, the fourth-line center position now seems set. 

But, the injury bug is always moments away from biting, and the rookie will need to be ready. He appeared a bit overmatched in his first three games, registering just one shot on goal and posting a 46.88 corsi-for percentage, but does have plenty of big-game experience after winning an NCAA title in 2017.

NHL awards: Sharks' Joe Thornton misses out on first Masterton Trophy

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AP

NHL awards: Sharks' Joe Thornton misses out on first Masterton Trophy

Before Joe Thornton makes his return to the Sharks official by putting pen to paper, the veteran center missed out an adding another trophy to his collection.

The 39-year-old did not pick up the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy at Wednesday's 2019 NHL Awards as "the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey," with the award going to New York Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner.

The 2018-19 season marked Thornton's second consecutive campaign recovering from a torn ACL and MCL. He tore the ligaments in his right knee on Jan. 23, 2018, just over nine months after doing the same in his left knee. 

Despite that, Thornton scored 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in 73 regular-season games during his 21st NHL season and became a fixture on the Sharks' third line. It was his 17th season with at least 50 points, tying him for 10th in NHL history with the most such seasons. 

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Lehner, 27, won 25 games with the Islanders and was second among NHL goalies (minimum of 10 games played) in save percentage (.930) and third in goals against average (2.13) in the best season of his career.

Before the season, Lehner wrote an article for The Athletic and revealed he had suicidal thoughts while battling drug and alcohol addiction. He wrote that he "was diagnosed bipolar 1 with manic phases" while underoing treatment in Arizona, and revealed his struggles in order to "help make a difference and help others the way I have been helped." 

Columbus Blue Jackets winger Nick Foligno was the other finalist. Foligno, 31, scored 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 73 games, missing time in November and March as two of his three children had separate health scares. He told NHL.com's Dan Rosen in a story this week that his nomination was "humbling and I appreciate it, but it's something that feels weird to me because I get to play a game for a living, and I've got a pretty good life considering all this stuff."

NHL awards: Sharks' Brent Burns finishes second in Norris Trophy voting

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USATSI

NHL awards: Sharks' Brent Burns finishes second in Norris Trophy voting

Brent Burns made the medal stand, but he did not pick up his second career Norris Trophy on Wednesday.

Instead, Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano won his first at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

Burns, 34, scored 83 points (16 goals, 67 assists) in 82 games, setting a Sharks franchise record for points by a defenseman. He became the first blueliner to score at least 82 points in a season since Karlsson did so with the Ottawa Senators in 2015-16, and only the 48th in NHL history.

This marked the third time in the last four seasons that Burns was a finalist for the award, and he dressed for the occasion.

Burns finished second in the Professional Hockey Writers Association's balloting.

Giordano, 35, scored a career-high 74 points (17 goals, 57 assists) and led the Western Conference-leading Flames in ice time en route to being a first-time Norris finalist. 

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman was the other nominee. Hedman, 28, scored 54 points (12 goals, 42 assists) in 70 games, leading the loaded Lightning to a runaway President's Trophy win in a record-setting regular season.