Surprising Sharks trio continues productive season in win vs Avalanche

Surprising Sharks trio continues productive season in win vs Avalanche

The Sharks owed the end of their four-game losing streak, tied for the longest this season, largely to the offensive contributions of a somewhat unexpected trio. 

Yes, Logan Couture, San Jose’s leading scorer and arguable MVP, gave his team a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. But, Joonas Donskoi, Kevin Labanc, and Justin Braun continued their surprisingly productive seasons with involvement on each of the Sharks’ three goals in Thursday night’s win against the Colorado Avalanche. 

Donskoi, arguably the least-unlikely of the bunch, scored what ended up being the game-winning goal. It was his 14th of the season, extending his in-progress career-high. Rather, we should say his NHL-high, but this year is still just the third time in his professional career he’s found the back of the net 14 (or more) times in a single season, and the first since his last season in Finland’s SM-liiga (19 goals in 2014-15). 

We’ve written at length about Donskoi’s importance this season, so we’ll sum it up with this: Among the forwards that have played 300-plus minutes five-on-five, only Logan Couture has scored primary points (goals and primary assists) at a higher rate per hour (1.65) than Donskoi (1.62), according to Natural Stat Trick, 

Labanc, meanwhile, assisted on Couture’s power-play goal prior to Donskoi’s. The second-year winger’s continued success on the power play shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise, considering he racked up 102 of his 308 regular season and playoff points in junior on the man advantage. 

His continued opportunity, on the other hand, certainly is. Remember, Labanc was in the AHL as recently as November (albeit for a two-game stint) and was sent down to the Barracuda in the middle of the Sharks’ first-round series with the Oilers a year ago. San Jose banked on the 22-year-old taking a step forward in his second season, but surely didn’t expect him to become one of the league’s best setup men on the power play.

Labanc’s primary assiste rate (3.23 per hour) on the man advantage is 11th-best among skaters that have played at least 150 power play minutes this season and ahead of names like Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, John Tavares, and Steven Stamkos, among others. If you expected Labanc to keep that kind of company this season, would you mind pointing us in the direction of some lottery numbers? 

But of all the players who got on the scoresheet Thursday, Justin Braun’s undoubtedly been the biggest surprise this year. He opened the scoring with a deflected shot from the blueline, and set a new career-high with his fifth goal of the season. 

Braun added to his career-high in points, too, as the goal was his 33rd point of the season. That’s 10 points better than his previous best, which he reached twice in his only prior 20-point campaigns.

All of those points have come at even strength, too. While Braun’s undoubtedly benefited from a career-high in five-on-five ice time per game (17:23) as well the best five-on-five shooting percentage (4.63) of his career, he draws the same difficult defensive assignments as partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic and not nearly as much power play time. 

The blueliner’s five-on-five goal, assist, primary assist, and point rates are unsurprisingly all the best of his career, but his underlying numbers are solid, too. He is generating five-on-five shot attempts (10.39 per hour) and shots on goal (4.66 per hour) at a higher rate than all but his first two NHL seasons, while also attempting shots that result in rebounds (0.7 per hour) at a higher rate than all but two Sharks defenseman: Brent Burns and Dylan DeMelo. 

Braun’s been a key component of a surprisingly offensive defense corps. The Sharks are tied for second in the league with three defensemen that have scored 30-plus points. It’s only the second time San Jose’s had that many in franchise history, and the first time in nearly a decade (2008-09; four). 

Braun, as well as Donskoi and Labanc, played key roles offensively in Thursday’s pivotal win. That couldn’t have necessarily been expected at the start of the season, but has simply become the norm by now. 

Sharks to host top prospects, four 2019 draft picks at development camp


Sharks to host top prospects, four 2019 draft picks at development camp

Four of the Sharks' picks from the 2019 NHL Draft will attend the team's development camp in San Jose this week. 

Second-round picks Artemi Kniazev and Dillon Hamliuk as well as fourth-round pick Yegor Spiridonov and sixth-rounder Santeri Hatakka will particpate, as will top Sharks prospects including Ryan Merkley (2018 first-round pick), Mario Ferraro (2017 second-round pick) and Sasha Chmelevski (2017 sixth-round pick). In all, 46 players are scheduled to attend when camp gets underway Tuesday, and the prospects will scrimmage twice in camp. 

The first scrimmage takes place Wednesday, and the prospects will scrimmage again Friday night at SAP Center. Tickets cost $10 (or $20 for four), with "net proceeds benefitting the Sharks foundation," the team said in a release. 

[RELATED: How will Sharks' salary-cap crunch affect Meier?]

The full list of players can be found here. 

Sharks free-agency decisions: Will star winger Timo Meier stay or go?


Sharks free-agency decisions: Will star winger Timo Meier stay or go?

One could argue the 2018-19 season was when Sharks winger Timo Meier "arrived."

The 22-year-old honed his skills as a power forward this past campaign, cementing himself as a staple in the Sharks lineup. His 30-goal regular season was tied with Evander Kane for third-best on the team, and his 15 points in the Stanley Cup playoffs tied for third-best with Tomas Hertl.

Now, Meier is primed to headline a stacked restricted free-agent class generating plenty of buzz this offseason. He also is one of a handful of young Sharks who can become an RFA this summer 

Here's a look at why Meier could stay in San Jose for a long time -- and why he potentially could be on the move.

Why he could stay

There's no secret here. Signing Meier is one of the Sharks' top priorities this offseason. 

Mix Meier's upward in-season progress with the amount of responsibility he has already taken on as a young player, and you have a player any team would want on their roster. The Swiss product has also demonstrated a strong work ethic and drive to continue building his game, as he said on locker-room cleanout day at the end of May that he still has room to improve. 

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said that same day that he had already had a few discussions with Meier's agent. Although the nature of those talks have remained private, Wilson did reference that many of the team's young stars in the past have been signed to bridge deals, which carry a smaller salary-cap hit over a shorter term as a "bridge" to a bigger contract down the line. Tomas Hertl, for instance signed a two-year, $6 million contract as an RFA in 2016 before signing a five-year, $22.5 million contract last summer. 

With that knowledge in mind, the Sharks likely want to reach a similar deal with Meier before the end of the summer.

Why he could go

Before everyone starts freaking out too much -- yes, it's likely that Meier and the Sharks will reach a deal. But San Jose's lack of cap space makes things a little more complicated, and the possibility of an offer sheet can't be ignored. 

A player of Meier's caliber will demand a healthy payday, and the Sharks have just under $14.5 million in salary-cap space according to CapFriendly. If San Jose can't move more pieces around and get some relief under the cap, signing Meier to a second contract that isn't a bridge deal will be difficult.

The Sharks undoubtedly want to avoid what the Toronto Maple Leafs experienced with William Nylander last season. The young forward didn't re-sign until Dec. 1, and struggled to find his goal-scoring touch in 54 regular-season games. 

With conversations underway, there's hope that nothing close to the Nylander situation will take place. An offer sheet doesn't seem realistic either, considering a player has not signed one since 2013. 

[RELATED: Donskoi reportedly receiving 'strong interest' in free agency]

The verdict

The Sharks are going to get a deal done with Meier. Given San Jose's history of signing young players, there's every reason to believe the two sides will find common ground before training camp begins in September.

That, however, could require the Sharks clearing additional salary-cap space to make an offer Meier will accept. It might take a little time and debate before both sides are happy.

By the end of the offseason, however, conversations surrounding Meier should go back to what he can do for the Sharks in the upcoming season rather than his contract.