There will be a huge spotlight on Erik Karlsson ahead of Saturday’s game between the Sharks and the Senators -- and understandably so. But let’s not forget, it’s also the Sharks' reunion with Chris Tierney.
You know, he was sent away in the eight-player trade between San Jose and Ottawa just before the start of training camp.
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At the start of the Sharks' 2018-19 campaign, there were many questions as to how the team would address its depth at the center position with Tierney gone. Nearly two months into the season, it’s an area that remains a work in progress.
In fact, San Jose has seen an increase in forward depth since Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski were placed as pivots on different lines. The move proved to be fruitful for multiple reasons -- Thornton has created great chemistry skating with Marcus Sorensen and Kevin Labanc, and Pavelski got on a points streak that earned him NHL Star of the Week honors. Add Logan Couture to that mix, and you have three well-anchored lines.
That fourth line, though, has been less defined through this first stretch of the season.
So far, we’ve seen a few rookies file into that center role. Rourke Chartier occupied that slot for a good chunk at the start of the season before being sent to spend some time with the AHL’s Barracuda.
Antti Suomela has spent time on that line after starting the season on a line with Joonas Donskoi and Evander Kane. Dylan Gambrell has been recalled from the AHL twice and played two games for the NHL club, and Lukas Radil now has started three games since being called up on Nov. 20.
When Gambrell was called up from the Barracuda on Nov. 17, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told the media one of his favorite things about the 22-year-old rookie is he’s a centerman. Then he admitted the Sharks were "still looking for guys to grab roles there.”
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Is that role still open? It appears San Jose is still working out what the winning combination might be. Suomela leads the whole fourth-line clan, including wingers, with eight points (three goals, five assists) in 23 games played, although he’s also been a healthy scratch twice.
Since the Sharks have had to shuffle their lines to accommodate injuries throughout the early part of the season, none of the other forwards have played as many games in that slot. Both Gambrell and Radil have been productive in their tenures with the Barracuda -- Gambrell with 10 points in eight games, Radil with six points in 11 games -- but haven’t gotten on the NHL scorecard yet. Chartier tallied one goal in 13 games for the Sharks, and he has two assists in four games for the Barracuda.
Like other areas of the Sharks squad -- which is looking to turn its road trip around this weekend in Ottawa -- is still working some things out, the fourth line is still finding what combination will be the most successful 26 games into the season.