Sharks morning skate: Torres to make debut; Donskoi on top line


Sharks morning skate: Torres to make debut; Donskoi on top line

SAN JOSE – For the first time in nearly 17 months, Sharks forward Raffi Torres will be back on the ice in a competitive game situation when he suits up for San Jose in its preseason home opener vs. Arizona.

Torres, who has endured a horrendous two years ever since he was hurt in a preseason game on Sep. 20, 2013, is ready to move on with his career after multiple surgeries and infections in his right knee.

“I’ve tried to put all that stuff behind me. I feel good right now,” said the 33-year-old, who played in 12 games in 2013-14, and missed all of last season. “It is what it is, but it’s nice to be back in the locker room with the guys. … It’s just a fun day. Looking forward to it, it’s exciting.”

Torres’ teammates seem pretty enthusiastic, too. At one point in the pregame skate, the winger went top shelf over Alex Stalock, eliciting a cheer and some stick banging on the boards.

Torres will likely start on a line with minor leaguer Bryan Lerg and right wing Mike Brown.

Joe Pavelski said: “You know when he’s in the room it definitely adds some energy, and we like seeing him. For him to get back out on the ice now is another step in the whole process and we’re excited for him.”

Torres said he’ll try to keep his shifts short, and won’t be “going out and trying to get 10-15 hits tonight. It’s just about finding the game, the speed of the game, being in the right spots, be good defensively. Hopefully everything else will take care of itself.”

Pete DeBoer said: “I just want to see him get through a game and start to get his timing back. He hasn’t played in a while. He’s worked awfully hard off the ice in order to give himself a chance to get to this point again, and it’ll be a work in progress.”

* * *

Joonas Donskoi, who has burst onto the scene as the most likely prospect to make the opening night roster, will get a chance to skate on the Pavelski-Joe Thornton line in Friday’s game.

Despite spending most of camp as a right wing, he’ll line up on the left side with the two Sharks stars.

“I said I’m sure you’ll make an exception playing with those two guys. He said, ‘Yeah, I think I can do that,’” DeBoer said with a grin. “I think it’s a great opportunity for him.” 

The 23-year-old Finland native was asked if he views it as an indication that the coaching staff has liked what it’s seen so far from him.

“I don’t know, I don’t think about that too much. I just try to play and give my best every day,” Donskoi said. “It’s a great opportunity to play with those guys.”

* * *

Stalock will start in net, and will be backed up by Troy Grosenick. On Thursday, DeBoer said that Stalock would “probably” play the entire game.

The Sharks have yet to allow a regulation goal through two preseason games, including starter Martin Jones’ 30-save shutout in Vancouver on Tuesday. Are the goalies pushing one another?

“I think like everything the perfect situation for a coaching staff is competition at every position,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt what you’re seeing, and that is everybody that’s getting an opportunity is knowing they have to step in and play a good game, because the guy before them did the same thing.”

* * *

Here’s a complete look at the likely forward lines to start the game:

Joonas Donskoi – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Matt Nieto – Chris Tierney – Tommy Wingels
Raffi Torres – Bryan Lerg – Mike Brown
Nikolay Goldobin – Ben Smith – Timo Meier

Along with Thornton and Pavelski, defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic will likely make his preseason debut, paired with Justin Braun. Mirco Mueller, Dylan DeMelo, Brenden Dillon, Matt Tennyson and Gus Young are the other defensemen listed on the roster, with one of them likely to be scratched.

Arizona, by the way, left former Sharks forward John Scott home for this one.

NHL rumors: Brinson Pasichnuk, Sharks nearing contract agreement


NHL rumors: Brinson Pasichnuk, Sharks nearing contract agreement

The Sharks reportedly are close to adding some promising defensive depth to their organization.

San Jose is nearing agreement on a contract with Arizona State defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk, The Athletic's Kevin Kurz first reported and The Hockey News' Ken Campbell and Bay Area News Group's Curtis Pashelka later confirmed.

Pasichnuk, 22, scored 107 points (39 goals, 68 assists) in 136 games over four seasons with the Sun Devils. The 6-foot, 180-pound defenseman ranked third among blueliners with 37 points this season, tying for second in goals (11) behind only Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist David Farrance of Boston University.

Campbell reported Monday that Pasichnuk narrowed down his 20 suitors to the Sharks and Arizona Coyotes. He told The Hockey News that he knows where he is signing, but is "just waiting to see what (the NHL is doing)" for the remainder of the season during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sharks got a glimpse at Pasichnuk last summer when he skated in the team's development camp, along with his brother, Steen. The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau ranked the younger Pasichnuk 115th out of all draft-eligible skaters in 2016, but the defenseman was not drafted.

[RELATED: Sharks' Burns says teachers are legends amid pandemic]

A standout collegiate career got him on to NHL scouts' radar, and Pasichnuk conceivably could be in line for playing time this season -- assuming the Sharks play if the season resumes -- or next. Nikolai Knyzhov and Jacob Middleton have played on San Jose's third defense pairing since Brenden Dillon was traded to the Washington Capitals last month, and Pasichnuk -- a left-shooting defenseman like those three -- could then slot in behind Radim Simek and Mario Ferraro.

Ferraro, 21, and top prospect Ryan Merkley, 19, are the Sharks' most promising young defensemen. Pasichnuk's time at Arizona State indicates he'll warrant consideration, too. 

How Sharks' wild comeback win vs. Predators epitomized 2018-19 season

How Sharks' wild comeback win vs. Predators epitomized 2018-19 season

Progamming note: Watch the re-air of the Sharks' comeback win over the Nashville Predators from Oct. 23, 2018 tonight at 8 PT on NBC Sports California.

They didn't know it at the time, but a win over the Nashville Predators on Oct. 23, 2018 ultimately laid bare the Sharks' strengths -- and weaknesses -- that would define their 2018-19 season.

The Sharks beat the Predators 5-4 that night in Nashville, overcoming a two-goal deficit with just under eight minutes remaining in the third period with a three-goal barrage in five minutes and 28 seconds. San Jose’s offense could keep up with just about any team last season, and lackluster goaltending largely necessitated said firepower.

Martin Jones stopped just 25 of the 29 shots he faced, even though the Sharks outshot the Predators in all situations (32-29) and held slight edges in 5-on-5 shot attempts, shots and scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. Nashville created more high-danger chances (8-6) and expected goals (1.46-1.38) than San Jose at full strength.

Only the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning scored more goals (319) than the Sharks (289) last season, which was the most prolific in franchise history. Yet the Sharks finished with just a plus-31 goal differential, as Jones and backup goaltender Aaron Dell posted career-worst save percentages while the Sharks allowed the NHL’s 11th-most goals (258).

The Sharks ranked no worse than 12th in suppressing high-danger chances, scoring chances and expected goals at full strength, yet San Jose allowed 111 5-on-5 high-danger goals in the NHL. Only the Ottawa Senators -- defenseman Erik Karlsson’s former team -- and the Edmonton Oilers allowed more, and those teams finished an average of 22.5 points outside of the postseason.

But the Sharks had enough offensive talent to overcome their goaltending woes, finishing two wins shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. San Jose was too depleted to hang with the St. Louis Blues by the end of the Western Conference final, but a healthy Sharks team would’ve had a great chance to advance. The 2018-19 Sharks were an elite puck-possession team, capable of scoring in myriad ways.

That was evident in the aforementioned comeback win over the Predators. The Sharks scored twice on the power play, twice at even strength and once short-handed. Brenden Dillon got the comeback started with an end-to-end rush on the penalty kill, then-captain Joe Pavelski finished off a 3-on-2 fewer than 30 seconds later and a pair of Norris Trophy winners -- Karlsson and Brent Burns -- combined to seal the victory.

[RELATED: Sharks' Burns says "teachers are legends" amid pandemic]

The Sharks couldn’t have known their ninth game of 2018-19 would prove so instructive, but the win over the Predators set the tone for what was to come.

For better and worse.