Sharks' Nieto looking to put it all together in third year


Sharks' Nieto looking to put it all together in third year

SAN JOSE -– Entering his third NHL season, Sharks forward Matt Nieto still possesses some of the most important traits that got him here.

When it comes to speed, the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is among the fastest players on the team. When it comes to hockey IQ, Nieto is typically in the right spot at the right time, as evidenced by his positive advanced metrics. When it comes to maturity and confidence, Nieto comes across as a guy well beyond his 22 years of age.

What was frustrating last season, though, was that Nieto just wasn’t able to contribute enough on the scoresheet despite typically skating in a top nine role. The looks and chances were there, but the finishing touch was not. Nieto finished the season with just 10 goals and 27 points in 72 games, and although his production increased a bit late in the year, it was an overall disappointing campaign.

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“I just think it was inconsistent,” Nieto said. “I had stretches where I played good, and long stretches where I wasn’t producing much. I think it was a good year for me to learn how to snap out of those droughts, if you want to call it that. I think I learned what I have to do when I’m in those situations.”

It would be preferable for Nieto to avoid those kinds of droughts, of course, such as the one that saw him score just one goal in a 28-game span. With that in mind, Nieto worked with shooting coach Ron Johnson over the summer. Based in Vancouver, Johnson, who has previously worked with Joe Pavelski, spent some time in the Bay Area in the offseason.

“I think it was good for me,” Nieto said. “I felt good snapping pucks and getting them off quicker. I think last year, and the previous two years I had a lot blocked. Just a quicker release, and hopefully it works out for me.”

Pavelski said working with Johnson could “just give [Nieto] a fresh look on things. Obviously last year he had enough chances to probably score a few more times. … You need to work on things, especially in today’s game. It’s good to see. There are a lot of guys in here that have done a little extra this summer, and it’s good to see guys take control.”

Nieto has seemingly found a place in camp on what would be considered the Sharks’ third line, skating with center Tomas Hertl and winger Tommy Wingels. Now that there is s just one week until the season opener, it’s becoming more likely that those three will play together against the Kings. In four preseason games, Nieto is scoreless with 7 shots on goal.

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There will be pressure on him to increase his scoring output. The Sharks are much deeper at forward than they have been in many years, and Nieto doesn’t fit the mold of a typical fourth liner.

Conversely, if he utilizes his new skills and puts the puck in the net more often, his career could be primed to take off. The Sharks are counting on their younger players having better seasons than last year, and Nieto is firmly among that group.

“I think it has to happen if we’re going to go deep,” Nieto said. “Every team that goes deep, it’s four lines and their third and fourth lines can contribute and play a lot of minutes. It doesn’t matter who they’re out there with. I think we’ve got to get to that, and we definitely have the players in here to do that.”

Pete DeBoer briefly relayed what he’s seen from Nieto so far.

“I think he’s in that group of guys that are competing to show us what he is as a player,” DeBoer said. “I like some of the things I’ve seen: the speed, the versatility. I think for that whole group of guys it’s a continuing audition to see where they slot in once we get started.”

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.

Mic'd-up Joe Thornton's youthful energy on display at Sharks practice

Mic'd-up Joe Thornton's youthful energy on display at Sharks practice

Whether or not Joe Thornton is a national treasure is debatable, but he's certainly a regional one.

The future Hall of Famer was mic'd up at a recent Sharks' practice, and he put that quality on display. The 40-year-old didn't appear as if his age has caught up to him, as he was quite talkative and involved throughout.

Just watch for yourself:

Whether it was chasing on the forecheck or missing an empty net, the eldest member of the Sharks looked anything but. Enjoying his first healthy offseason in recent memory, Thornton's energy is certainly palpable, and that bodes well for the Sharks as they attempt to get back to the playoffs for the 20th time in the last 22 seasons.

Thornton signed a one-year contract at the beginning of the month to return to the Sharks for his 15th season in San Jose. He'll be one of four alternate captains on the team, after Logan Couture was named the 10th full-time captain in franchise history, taking over for the departed Joe Pavelski.

With Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist leaving in free agency during the offseason, the Sharks are counting on several prospects to take a step forward this coming season -- and on Thornton to help them succeed at the NHL level. While line pairings are still in flux, it wouldn't be shocking whatsoever to see Thornton paired with one of those prospects on his wing.

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Based on Thornton's mic'd up session, he'll be talking that prospects' ear off all game long.