SAN JOSE -- The center position was an ever-evolving area of the Sharks' game during the 2018-19 season, with its highs, lows and changes in personnel.
The team had added depth this past season with Joe Thornton moving to third-line center and with Tomas Hertl's successful transition to the pivot partway through the season. But San Jose also had difficulty finding a regular winning combination for its fourth line, and at the end of the regular season, it was ranked 15th in the NHL with a 50.3 faceoff win percentage -- and its four best skaters in the faceoff circle all spent the majority of their seasons playing on the wing.
Given the Sharks had some serious questions to answer involving the center position after Chris Tierney was sent to the Senators in the Erik Karlsson trade before the season started, San Jose ended the season with decent depth down the middle. Looking ahead to next season, however, there is room to grow -- and a couple more questions that need to be answered.
The Sharks' top lines are pretty much set, with Hertl and Logan Couture centering them. Couture has been a staple down the middle for San Jose for some time now, and his work over the past season with Timo Meier on his wing gave the Sharks an opportunity to score goals on a nightly basis.
Hertl's arrival as a key center for the team was more of a surprise, as he continued to build his game as a power forward after coach Peter DeBoer put him at the pivot before the turn of the new year. Hertl continued to grow in the position as the Sharks made a 20-game playoff run, taking over responsibilities with captain Joe Pavelski out of the lineup. Hertl went 56.2 percent in the faceoff circle during the playoffs, and played with a broken pinkie finger. Just imagine how much he can improve now that his finger is fixed.
San Jose's bottom lines are a bit of a different story, though, especially if Thornton doesn't return next season. Either way, there still will be an unofficial tryout to see who will best fill in that center role.
While Barclay Goodrow spent a chunk of the past season in that position, it seems very likely Dylan Gambrell will get a good look after spending last season bouncing between the AHL Barracuda and the NHL club. Of course, that's dependent on the Sharks signing the restricted free agent this summer, although that seems like a strong possibility.
If fellow center and RFA Antti Suomela still is around next season, he also could get a look, much like he did on the third line at the start of this past season. Another RFA on San Jose's long free agent list is Rourke Chartier, who began the season centering the fourth line while Thornton was dealing with complications involving his surgically repaired knee. However, injuries hampered Chartier's playing time at the AHL level this past season, and his future with the team remains a mystery.
One player we didn't see up at the NHL level over the 2018-19 season was Alexander True. The young Danish center is coming off a team-leading 55-point campaign with the Barracuda, and he could get a look with the big club when training camp gets underway.
Again, the Sharks might look to add another center to the mix if Thornton doesn't return next season -- and even more so if Pavelski goes to a different team. Even if San Jose makes a deal to keep gritty forward Micheal Haley, that still leaves the Sharks with a lack of skill down the center of their lineup.
In addition to centers from the Barracuda receiving a look, there's a chance the Sharks could make a trade for a more skilled player to help fill that void. San Jose also could add a center or two in this year's draft, although that likely wouldn't have an impact on the big club until after this next season.