Sharks

Sharks counting on certain familiar faces to step up in coming season

Sharks counting on certain familiar faces to step up in coming season

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks know there are new opportunities on the table ahead of the 2019-20 season, and not just for the new crop of fresh faces that have entered training camp. Some more familiar faces have the chance to step up and take on bigger roles for San Jose.

The question now is: Are they up to that challenge?

Here are just a few players who have the opportunity to step it up big time ahead of the new campaign:

Tim Heed

The Swedish defenseman was one of two players last season who were tasked with filling in when Erik Karlsson and Radim Simek both came out of the lineup with injuries. Now, after inking a one-year deal with the Sharks over the summer, Heed has the opportunity to really make an impact.

Heed spent some time playing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic last year, a pairing that could be revisited now that Vlasic's former de facto partner, Justin Braun, was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. With Karlsson likely remaining linked up with Brenden Dillon and Radim Simek being paired back up with Brent Burns when he returns to action, Heed could find himself back on Vlasic's right side. 

But Heed isn't a shoo-in for the job. San Jose acquired right-handed blueliner Dalton Prout over the summer and has a couple promising young defensemen coming up the pipeline. How Heed skates over the next couple of weeks could say a lot about where he'll be in the lineup at the start of the new season.

Melker Karlsson

Speaking of Justin Braun, San Jose will miss his presence on the penalty kill. His absence affords players like Karlsson the chance to step up and help make the Sharks' kill as dominant as it was at the very beginning of last season. (Remember, even when the team wasn't playing particularly well, their penalty kill was still pretty darn good.)

But despite being a guy coach Peter DeBoer loves having as an option to move throughout the lineup, Karlsson still has to be better. His numbers have taken a bit of a dip over the last couple of seasons, and there is going to be competition within the bottom-six for a starting spot. 

Any kind of boost in Karlsson's game will help the team out.

Antti Suomela

After a couple of good games at the start of last season, the Finnish forward was reassigned to the AHL and had trouble getting things going with the Barracuda. When NBC Sports California caught up with Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer midway through last season, he said Suomela was still figuring things out.

“With him, the work ethic is there, and he has a big compete to his game,” Sommer complimented back in January. “I think he just has to figure out the North American game. Things happen a lot quicker here than where he was at. But he’s picking it up.”

With roster spots up for grabs this preseason, this is the opportune time for Suomela to put what he's learned on tape.

[RELATED: Why Sharks confident they can make up for lost firepower]

Aaron Dell

Not to sound like a broken record, but neither Martin Jones nor Aaron Dell played particularly well last season and that has to change if the Sharks are going to remain a threat in the West. Dell, in particular, has a prime chance this preseason to right the ship. 

As Dell told NBC Sports California on the first day of training camp, the previous season is in the past regardless of how good or bad it was. 

"You're only as good as your last game, that's kind of how it is," he explained. "They want to see how you are now and how it was then doesn't really matter. You always have to perform."

DeBoer told the press he wants to give both goalies the chance to get a couple of tune-up games in before the regular season starts. That being said, the team's netminding prospects will get a look at some point as well. 

Sharks' Stefan Noesen dealing with extra uncertainty in coronavirus pandemic

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AP

Sharks' Stefan Noesen dealing with extra uncertainty in coronavirus pandemic

Sharks forward Stefan Noesen is isolating with immediate family in his home state of Texas during the coronavirus pandemic.

And he’s slightly bored.

“You can only do so many lunges at your house, so many laps around the neighborhood,” Noesen said with a laugh in a 1-on-1 interview with NBC Sports California on Tuesday.

The NHL’s suspended season is par for the uphill course of Noesen's current campaign.

It began with a professional tryout in the Dallas Stars organization, which didn’t pan out. He then played 22 AHL games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, which led to signing a two-way contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 2nd. They waived him shortly before Christmas.

“This year has been a s---t-show, legit,” Noesen said. “Up until being with the Sharks.”

That turning point definitely happened in San Jose. Even during the Sharks' down season, Noesen came in and earned a role, plus the respect to go along with it.

“First thing I did when I got (to San Jose), was meet with [general manager Doug Wilson],” Noesen said. “He told me what he expected of me, which was honestly nothing but to go out and play my game.”

That game resonated, with Noesen scoring six goals in 34 games. And now, there's a lot of fans who would like to see him re-signed for next season.

“I’ve always believed it’s not that hard to be a good guy,” Noesen said. “All you have to got is be yourself, treat others with respect, and find a way to get along with everybody.”

[RELATED: Sharks' restocked draft picks, college signings offer hope]

There's a lot of uncertainty for Noesen’s career at this point, like when and where he will play hockey next. But these life-changing times have also even made him ponder what comes after the game.

“The world has kind of taken things for granted up until now,” Noesen said. “And I think everyone is kind of taking a step back and realizing the little things are actually important.

“The minute that we’re able to go back to whatever life is after this, I think it will be interesting.“

Sharks suddenly in better position with draft picks, college signings

Sharks suddenly in better position with draft picks, college signings

Given the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we could all use a bit of a pick-me-up right now. It's understandably difficult, but focusing on what bright spots there are will help us get through this unprecedented time.

Taking the glass-half-full approach shouldn't be new to Sharks fans. They had a few months head start before the team's disappointing season was indefinitely paused.

Yes, it was clear early on that it was going to be a tough season in San Jose. The Sharks dropped their first four games of the season, and turned to former captain Patrick Marleau to get back on track. After a strong November, San Jose undid it all with a putrid December, and at that point, it became easy to focus on all of the things the franchise didn't have. The most notable absence was that of hope.

One by one, the Sharks' best players went down with severe season-ending injuries. One of them -- Erik Karlsson -- was like a double punch to the gut. Not only would San Jose not have the benefit of having the former Norris Trophy winner in the lineup, but the cost it took to acquire him -- including the Sharks' unprotected 2020 first-round draft pick -- looked disproportionally painful. Every team in the league would have made that trade for Karlsson -- and signed him to the same eight-year contract extension -- but nearly everything that occurred from that point on was a string of bad luck for San Jose.

There was an upside to losing all of those top players, though. Whatever lingering hopes of a playoff run existed soon went out the window. The Sharks and general manager Doug Wilson could turn their attention to the future, and that's exactly what they did.

In sending Brenden Dillon to the Washington Capitals, Marleau to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Barclay Goodrow to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the trade deadline, Wilson overhauled the Sharks' cupboard of draft picks in both quality and quantity. He acquired four picks -- including a 2020 first-rounder -- that will fall within the first three rounds, and San Jose now has seven selections in each of the next three drafts.

Those will come in very handy as the Sharks try to get back into contention -- and stay there. Sustained success is built through young, controllable assets, and the draft is the best way to acquire them.

That said, there are always some prospects that fall between the cracks. Brinson Pasichnuk was one such prospect who was never drafted, yet became one of the best players throughout all of NCAA Division I hockey. The Arizona State standout agreed to join the Sharks organization, Wilson announced Tuesday, adding to San Jose's collection of promising young defensemen, including Mario Ferraro and Ryan Merkley.

[RELATED: Sharks' Ferraro moved in with parents during NHL pause]

Shortly after Pasichnuck agreed to join the Sharks, Hobey Baker Award finalist John Leonard did the same. Leonard, San Jose's sixth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, tallied 105 points over 106 career games at UMass Amherst. He had the option of returning to school for his senior season, but had little left to prove at the collegiate level. While he isn't a new prospect to the Sharks' system, it's nonetheless a positive development for San Jose.

Two months ago, the Sharks' future appeared as bleak as it had in nearly two decades. Since then, however, they've taken several steps in the right direction, and there is considerably more reason for hope.

We can all use a little of that right now.