Sharks' Joe Thornton weighs in on who San Jose's next captain might be

Sharks' Joe Thornton weighs in on who San Jose's next captain might be

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks' roster is, as Ozzy Osbourne once sang, "going through changes" now that Joe Pavelski has departed and the captaincy is currently vacant.

For the better part of the summer, fans and talking heads alike have speculated who the best candidate is to wear the "C" this coming season. On Friday, veteran center Joe Thornton offered his two cents when asked who might be next in line to lead San Jose.

"I think you have a lot of candidates," said Thornton, who has been both a captain and an alternate captain during his 14-season tenure with the Sharks.

He isn't wrong. It wasn't long after Pavelski agreed to a deal with the Dallas Stars at the start of free agency on July 1 that the discussion over the Sharks' captaincy took off. Multiple players on the team have been thrown into the conversation over the last couple of months, mainly because the Sharks have a bevy of players in their dressing room that could rise to the occasion.

"You've got Burns, you've got Erik (Karlsson), you've got Tommy (Tomas Hertl)," Thornton began listing. "I'm probably leaving off some names. But all of these guys are great leaders."

The player whose name has been floated around the most has been Logan Couture, who Thornton agreed could be ready to fill the vacancy. As NBC Sports California discussed back in July, Couture seemed to take over some leadership duties last season whenever Pavelski was sidelined with injuries. While he would undoubtedly lead the team differently, the top-line center still seems like the most likely candidate for the position previously held by Pavelski.

When asked about the departure of Captain America, Thornton had nothing but good things to say.

"He's a good friend to all the guys in here and he's a good captain," Thornton complimented. "We're definitely going to miss him. He's going to be happy in Dallas. We've got to move on, but he was a great Shark and it was an honor to play with him."

Thornton, who at 40 years old is still considered one of the driving forces the team, sported an "A" as an alternate captain last season. In fact, Jumbo Joe served as an alternate all four seasons Pavelski captained the ship, which followed four seasons when Thornton wore the "C" himself. 

Not surprisingly, Thornton was asked on Friday if he would like to wear a letter for another season, to which No. 19 chuckled and shrugged.

"Oh, it doesn't matter to me," he said with a smile.

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Ultimately, Sharks' coach Peter DeBoer has the final say on who the team's next captain will be. Thornton appears confident that whoever it is will be up to the task.

"I'm sure whoever gets it is going to be honored and is going to do a great job for us."

How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team


How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team

It's a darn good thing the Sharks have a bevy of talent coming up the pipeline -- especially on defense.

With news coming out of training camp Friday that Radim Simek is questionable to be ready for game-action when the season opens on Oct. 2, the focus shifts not just to when he might finally rejoin the team, but to who will most likely fill in that void on San Jose's blue line.

With four preseason games remaining, San Jose has a couple of options when it comes to filling in that roster spot.

Being that Simek is a left-handed shooter, the best bets to pencil into the roster from San Jose's group of young talent are Jacob Middleton and Mario Ferraro. Middleton has a strong chance of being the go-to guy, having been recalled from the Barracuda on a few occasions last season to fill in when the injury bug bit the Sharks' blue line especially hard.

Fans might remember Middleton's surprise NHL debut back in January when he went from prepping for a road trip with the Barracuda one night to practicing alongside Brent Burns the following morning. At that time, left-handed defensemen Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were both out of the lineup.

Even with Middleton's prior experience at the NHL level, Ferraro will likely still be a consideration to make the opening night roster. The 21-year-old has been impressing the organization since he participated in rookie development camp back in July and has continued that trend through training camp. Ferraro also has recently been paired up in camp with Dalton Prout -- who the Sharks will likely keep in mind to fill in should one of their right-handed defensemen be sidelined.

Having a few different players who can file into the lineup also gives DeBoer more options as far as mixing and matching his d-pairs. Middleton filled right into Simek's spot alongside Burns last year, and should the pairing of Brenden Dillon and Erik Karlsson stay intact, the Middleton-Burns pairing could be reunited with Vlasic being paired up with Tim Heed. If both Ferraro and Prout demonstrate they're a reliable pair to start, the duo might get the nod which would keep Vlasic and Burns skating together as they have been through the start of the preseason.

Of course, those are just guesses as to how DeBoer's lineup will shake up until Simek comes back healthy.

Naturally, the best-case scenario is that Simek gets into the lineup sooner rather than later. San Jose did go 29-9-3 with a healthy Simek in the lineup last season, after all. Plus, Simek's ticket into a regular roster spot was his uncanny chemistry with Burns.

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That being said, the Sharks don't want to rush the Czech defenseman back into the lineup too quickly. Sure, Simek has been training for some time now, following surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his right knee. Teammate Tomas Hertl told the press on the first day of camp that he talked to Simek over the summer and that the blueliner has been "working his ass off" to get back into playing shape. Nevertheless, the Sharks don't want to bring Simek back to quickly and risk him re-injuring himself.

At least the Sharks have good options for filling out their blue line until he returns.

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Erik Karlsson is arguably the best player on the Sharks. According to NHL Network, San Jose's defenseman is the 24th-best player in the league.

In counting down the best players in the current NHL, the league's network placed Karlsson in between 25th-ranked David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, and 23rd-rank Mark Giordano, the Flames' reigning Norris Trophy winner.

"We know that he can put the puck just about anywhere, he can skate himself out of trouble, he can pass himself out of trouble, he can do just about anything," NHL Network's Brian Lawton said of Karlsson. "For a defenseman in today's game that played on one leg basically last year … he did have 16 points in 19 playoff games and it wasn't quite enough, but it was pretty darn heroic if you ask me."

Karlsson totaled 45 points in 53 regular-season games with the Sharks after arriving in San Jose at the start of training camp last year. The Sharks had their best stretch of the season once he found his groove in early December, and if not for a troublesome groin injury, there's no telling how far San Jose could have gone.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner still managed to appear in the All-Star Game, and signed a lucrative eight-year extension with San Jose at the start of free agency. He tallied at least 62 points in each of the previous five seasons, and his 563 points since making his NHL debut are the most among all NHL defenseman, ahead of fellow Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (532).

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Karlsson will be an alternate captain in his second season with the franchise, and one would naturally expect him to benefit from having played a year in the system. He ranked sixth among NHL defensemen in points per game (0.85) last year, and with the departures San Jose suffered in free agency, it wouldn't be surprising to see that rate increase in the season ahead, particularly considering Karlsson says he feels "back to normal" after offseason surgery to address the injury that hampered him a year ago.

Assuming Karlsson stays healthy this coming season, you can expect him to be ranked even higher a year from now.