NEWARK -– Headed into training camp, the most glaring roster vacancy for opening night was on the right side of third pair defenseman Brenden Dillon. The top four was set, and Dillon certainly wasn’t going anywhere after his offseason contract extension, but after that it was an open race.
Matt Tennyson was thought to have an inside edge on the spot, as he’s on a one-way NHL contract earning him $625,000 this season. Still, there was nothing given to the 25-year-old, who was facing competition from Mirco Mueller and Dylan DeMelo.
In the end, coach Pete DeBoer tabbed Tennyson as the guy. So far it’s worked out swimmingly, as the Sharks have allowed just one goal-against in three games. Although Tennyson is still looking for his first point while averaging 13:08 of ice time, he’s looked more comfortable than at any time in his professional career at the NHL level, which included 31 games spread out over three years.
On Tuesday against the Capitals, he beautifully threaded the needle between two Capitals to spring Patrick Marleau alone on the goalie on a play that Marleau couldn’t quite convert midway through the first period.
“He’s played well,” DeBoer said. “He’s got a little bit of offense to him, he gets pucks to the net, he skates well, he’s a big strong guy. A lot of good stuff.”
Tennyson said: “Just trying to be consistent. That’s the biggest thing for me is keep it simple, keep it going forward to the forwards and play offense.”
It would seem that Tennyson has been a beneficiary of the Sharks’ coaching change, as former coach Todd McLellan never seemed to warm to the six-foot-two, 205-pounder. Under DeBoer, the Sharks’ defense corps is encouraged to get involved in the offensive zone much more than last year.
That suits Tennyson’s style.
“It really promotes us to pinch, create offense, and keep the offense alive,” Tennyson explained. “We’re a part of the forecheck just as much as the forwards. We have to get up and get on that forward if it’s a rim. I think having us be more a part of that offense for me, especially, is definitely more fun.”
It’s an important year for Tennyson, who is a pending restricted free agent. Considering his age and his previous struggles to become a full-time NHL player, there was reason to believe younger prospects aiming for his spot might push him out. Among them were DeMelo, three years younger at age 22, and Mueller, 19, who spent all of last season with the NHL club and was a late cut in this year’s camp.
For the time being, it doesn’t look like Tennyson will have to worry about going up and down between the NHL and AHL clubs anymore.
“No matter what I’m going to try and play my best. I don’t think necessarily having a one-way is going to change the way I approach anything, but it’s definitely a big [year] to solidify my spot here, and not have to do the up-and-down and worry about that stuff.”
DeBoer isn’t likely to make any roster changes unless they are necessary, as the Sharks have been arguably the best NHL team through the first week of the regular season.
Tennyson has been a part of it.
“When you get in that spot, it’s up to the guy that gets the job to get in and make sure he keeps it,” DeBoer said. “So far, he’s done that.”