Sharks

Sharks' Lukas Radil shows he's not typical NHL rookie in win vs. Coyotes

Sharks' Lukas Radil shows he's not typical NHL rookie in win vs. Coyotes

The Sharks' lines changed a lot in the first 30 or so games of the season. The fourth line took plenty of different forms, as various rookies were called up from the AHL's San Jose Barracuda to try out their hand at the top professional level.

Rookie winger Lukas Radil played in a handful of games, and has stood out. 

He made an impression again Saturday night in Arizona, and got to play the hero as he notched his first NHL goal late in the contest to help give the Sharks a much-needed win.

“It’s everybody’s dream to play in the NHL, and for him to get his first goal and the way he got his first goal too,” Sharks winger Evander Kane said of Radil after the game. “Every time he’s in the lineup, he always brings something positive to the group. He’s a big, strong kid. Wins a lot of battles, and has some underrated skill too.”

Indeed, the Czech forward isn’t your run-of-the-mill NHL rookie. For one, he's 28 years old. He also spent the last three seasons with Moscow Spartak in the KHL.

The result is a rookie who brings a different level of physicality to the Sharks' bottom six, as he’s a big skater who knows how to use his size to his advantage.

“He’s not your typical first-year player,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said after a practice on Dec. 5. “He’s got the experience of playing in the KHL. He’s a man. Plays a heavy game, he moves around well for a big guy. He’s smart, he’s conscientious. You can put him on the ice and there’s a comfort level, which isn’t common with first-year players.”

That much was clear Saturday. Even before Radil netted a sweet back-handed goal in the third frame, he was working to get on the scoresheet. He did a great job eluding defenders throughout the contest, and getting in front of the net. It added a different look to the line including Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson.

“He’s great to play with,” Goodrow said after Saturday’s win. “He holds onto pucks. He’s really good down low and fending off their guys once he gets the puck.”

All that work paid off late in the third period when Radil wrapped the puck around Arizona’s net, and then back-handed it top shelf. The cameras caught the rookie’s expression of sheer elation as he gave the Sharks a late-game lead.

“[He’s] worked hard to get here to this level,” DeBoer said after the win. “For that to be your first NHL goal, that’s pretty rewarding.”

Of course, even with that first goal under his belt, Radil isn’t just a player who can score goals. He’s also giving the fourth line a new identity.

“Our identity should be: Getting pucks in deep, getting momentum for our team, chipping in offense here and there,” Goodrow summarized.

Clearly, the atypical rookie is able to do all those things.

Sharks' Evander Kane pushes growth of hockey at Oakland middle school

kaneus.jpg
USATSI

Sharks' Evander Kane pushes growth of hockey at Oakland middle school

OAKLAND -- In a place like the greater Bay Area where so many sports reign supreme and twigs and pucks aren't easy to come by, hockey isn't usually the first sport a middle schooler will gravitate toward.

When Evander Kane asked a room full of students at Westlake Middle School in Oakland how many of them had ever played ice hockey, not too many hands were raised. 

But Kim Davis, NHL Executive VP of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives, and Legislative Affairs, believes that can change. And after an afternoon when students played a little pick-up hockey on the school blacktop with Kane himself, she told NBC Sports California that she sees potential to grow the game.

"Just listening to the kids inside being asked 'Who's your favorite player? Who's your favorite team?' Tomorrow, they'll have answers to that because of what happened here today," Davis said Monday afternoon as a gaggle of middle-schoolers on the inflatable-barricaded rink in front of her cheered as one scored a goal. 

That's a positive outcome in Davis' line of work, as the "Hockey Is For Everyone" initiative works to make the sport accessible to kids no matter their race, religion or socioeconomic background. Since being placed in her current role with the league, Davis has been tasked with answering critics when it comes to making hockey more welcoming to all players and their fans. 

So even at a school where picking up a basketball is more feasible, Davis wants pick-up hockey to be an option. That starts with equipping students with a couple of hockey sticks and some goal nets -- no expensive equipment required.

"At the league, we're constantly thinking of ways in which we can innovate around ball and street," she said when talking about the access schools have to hockey equipment, even if it's just a couple of sticks. "I often talk about exposure in urban centers, particularly within two dynamics -- one is exposure, and the other is access."

That exposure comes from having a player to look up to, and it doesn't hurt that the San Jose Sharks' "Hockey Is For Everyone" ambassador is Kane. The students who participated in Monday's pick-up game didn't just gain a better understanding of hockey over the afternoon, but also clearly enjoyed interacting with Kane.

"I met Evander at an ESPN event this summer, and we had a natural connection," Davis said. "I really think he's coming into his own in terms of him being able to come into communities and be a relatable figure. And I really think that representation counts."

Bringing hockey to the rest of the Bay Area doesn't stop with this one venture to Westlake Middle School, either. Davis' goal is to make hockey accessible all year long in all corners of the country.

[RELATED: Thornton discusses importance of fitness in HEADSTRONG]

"We're testing in Boston, this new innovation around 'hoop net' where we take a basketball court and we're able to put a hockey net between two basketball courts and kids can have pickup games on their own," Davis said. "It's year-round. Just having kids know that there's another sport available to them.

"I really think that's the bottom line."

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

sharkssidebarusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

SAN JOSE -- The SAP Center crowd was on the edge of its seats during overtime play as Brent Burns went to the box for tripping and the Sharks went on the penalty kill. 

But goaltender Martin Jones was there to keep the game moving right along, making stop after stop against the Red Wings and giving San Jose the boost it needed to get to the shootout and tally its sixth straight victory.

On a night when the Sharks weren't at their best, Jones was -- as head coach Peter DeBoer aptly put it -- San Jose's "best player." And this certainly wasn't the first time this month that he came up with some big saves at a very big moment.

Without Jones playing at the level he has been over the last few contests, the Sharks might not finally be climbing out of their early-season hole.

"When he can steal games like that, it's huge for us," Kevin Labanc said. "He had an unbelievable game today and that's why he's the goalie that he is. We have a lot of faith in him and he's winning us games right now."

Jones' work on the penalty kill was just one highlight of his performance from Saturday night. He was steady as Detroit's offense picked up steam and used its speed to wedge into San Jose's zone. Jones was quick to save some of the Red Wings' best shots, most notably a Brandon Perlini attempt that he batted out of the crease with his outstretched right leg. He then topped it off by completely stymying Detroit's top scorers in the shootout.

"A big reason we got the two points was him tonight," captain Logan Couture said of Jones. "He made massive saves. You think of that penalty kill, that save in the second there which was huge, big saves in the third that he made. He's playing great. And then the shootout -- he's been unbelievable in the shootout so far."

Considering the rough start Jones had this season, one wonders if he has been doing something different recently in his preparation for games. But when asked postgame why he's been more successful lately, the netminder -- who is typically a pretty cool customer -- couldn't pinpoint where his current confidence is coming from.

"I have to play the game," Jones said. "I can't rely on making a big save early, sometimes that's just the way the game unfolds. I get confidence from practicing hard and making sure I'm focused on the details."

Granted, Jones' numbers on the season as a whole still aren't great. He's 8-7-1 through 16 starts and currently possesses an .889 save percentage. Even over the course fo San Jose's current six-game winning streak, he's sitting on an .891 save percentage. While the team in front of Jones obviously is scoring enough goals to win games and piggyback on his big saves, it still needs to give him a little more help.

"I still think we can be tighter and better defensively," Couture critiqued. "Too many grade-As in our slot and breakaways. So we'll tighten up on that."

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks beat Red Wings in shootout]

But the Sharks aren't going to scoff at another win, especially if it comes at the hands of a big performance from their goalie.

"When you're putting together a winning streak, you're going to have to win all kinds of different ways," DeBoer said. "You're going to put some really solid games together, and then you're going to win some like this where you've got a couple of guys with big performances."

In this case, Jones' performance is what kept the winning streak alive.