SAN JOSE – As the Sharks’ training camp roster gets further reduced, as it did again on Monday, it becomes easier to read into the thought process of the new coaching staff led by Pete DeBoer.
For the first time since camp started on Sep. 18, the Sharks skated as a full squad of 26 players rather than two separate groups. Monday also marked the start of the AHL Barracuda’s training camp on the other end of the practice facility.
“It’s nice to get to one group,” DeBoer said. “I think we can concentrate a little bit more. We’re not spread as thin, we can work more game situations with NHL players than when you’re in a split group.”
The 47-year-old coach has been clear that he’s not going to announce any roster decisions before camp concludes, but the recent cuts and line combinations offer a glimpse into what the team could look like on Oct. 7 at the Staples Center.
The “Joe-nas brothers” line of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi remained together, which is a great sign for Donskoi, who has been the biggest pleasant surprise in camp. The Logan Couture-Patrick Marleau-Joel Ward trio is a virtual lock to start opening night together, and has been together since Day 1.
Another line Monday featured Tomas Hertl still at center, where he's played two preseason games, between wingers Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels. One of the more interesting developments in the past week-and-a-half has been Hertl, who may be pushing Chris Tierney out of the third line center role that he thrived in late last season. DeBoer obviously wants to see more of the 21-year-old Czech there, where the organization has projected Hertl since taking him 17th overall in the 2012 draft.
Hertl, moving noticeably better this year as compared to last, was asked if he’s ready to be an NHL center full time.
“I think so,” he said. “I played last year a couple games at center. [They were] pretty good games. I need to just work a little more on faceoffs. … Be stronger in [the defensive zone]. I think I’ll be OK.”
If that happens, the most logical place for Tierney to start the season could be with the Barracuda.
After making the opening night lineup last October, Tierney was a different player when he returned in the NHL in February following a lengthy stint in Worcester. Playing big minutes again for the Barracuda would likely be better for his development than skating for 8-10 minutes a night on a fourth line.
Tierney is aware that the competition for spots in this year’s camp is much more heated than it was last season.
“There’s a lot of games and practice time left, and you’ve just got to make the most of it,” Tierney said. “You can’t say a bad thing about a guy here, everyone can play at this level. You’ve just got to show from here on out what you can do.”
“It’s a battle to stay up here. Once you get a taste of this place you never want to go down. It’s definitely going to be competitive the whole year.”
Tierney was among a group of players – Ben Smith, Barclay Goodrow, Raffi Torres, Mike Brown and Nikolay Goldobin were the others – that weren’t skating with regular linemates on Monday. Melker Karlsson is still not able to finish a full practice with an undisclosed injury.
Among the players left at camp at forward, only Donskoi and Goldobin have no NHL experience. Donskoi, though, is more than three years older than Goldobin.
While not asked specifically about the Sharks’ 2014 first round pick, DeBoer strongly suggested that most players need minor league seasoning at some point in their careers. That could mean Goldobin is headed to the Barracuda shortly.
“I think every case is different, but when you look at the history, there are some exceptional players that don’t need to take that step. But I would say for the majority of players, it’s not only a necessary step, but a helpful one,” he said. “I think you end up with a longer term better player when they go through that type of development.”
On defense, Dylan DeMelo, Matt Tennyson and Mirco Mueller remain in a fight for the sixth and seventh spots on the blue line. The top two defense pairs of Marc-Edouard Vlasic with Justin Braun and Paul Martin with Brent Burns are seemingly set for Oct. 7.