Thornton leaves game vs Jets in final minute with apparent knee injury

Thornton leaves game vs Jets in final minute with apparent knee injury

The San Jose Sharks not only lost in overtime to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, but also lost their second-leading scorer to injury. 

Joe Thornton left the final minute of the game with an apparent injury to his right knee. With Jets forward Andrew Copp backchecking, Mikkel Boedker collided into Thornton's knee in front of the Sharks bench. 

Thornton took a stride on each leg as he skated gingerly to the bench, and did not return to the game. 

The 38-year-old underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee this summer. He missed the final three games of the regular season last year, but returned to play in San Jose's final four postseason games in a first round, six-game loss to the Edmonton Oilers. 

Thornton is second on the Sharks with 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists), and has scored nine points in his last seven games. He is second among forwards in average ice time, and is playing 18:20 per night in his 20th NHL season. 

Sharks select D Ryan Merkley with No. 21 overall pick in 2018 NHL Draft


Sharks select D Ryan Merkley with No. 21 overall pick in 2018 NHL Draft

The Sharks swung for the fences with their first-round pick, selecting high-risk, high-reward defenseman Ryan Merkley with the No. 21 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft on Friday in Dallas. 

Merkley, 17, is a self-described offensive defenseman and the second-youngest player eligible for the draft. He scored 67 points (13 goals, 54 assists) in 63 games with the OHL's Guelph Storm this past season, the sixth-highest total of any draft-eligible defenseman that played in Canadian major junior this season, according to EliteProspects, 

NHL Central Scouting ranked Merkley as the No. 21 North American prospect in its midseason rankings, but Merkley fell to No. 45 in its final rankings. That was in large part due to perceived maturity issues and concerns about the defensive side of his game, which didn't stop San Jose from taking a chance on the talented teenager. 

"Well, we came in here looking for difference makers," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson told NBCSN's Kathryn Tappen. "We've replenished our team, we've got a lot of core guys, but the game has changed a little bit. Finding a puck-moving defenseman like this that's got a little risk-reward to him, we think it's a good thing for us."

Merkley was selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the OHL Draft in 2016, and scored 55 points in 62 games in 2016-17. He won the Emms Family Award as the OHL's rookie of the year, and only one other draft-eligible OHL defenseman (Evan Bouchard) scored more points than him this season.

But, he was also benched for a period following a public argument with his coach in a game that season against the Sudbury Wolves, according to the Sudbury Star, and was healthy-scratched at another point. This past season, he was suspended three games in February for an ugly, retaliatory slash in a game against the North Bay Battalion. 

"Scouts say the immaturity comes in many forms – overstaying shifts, cavalier disregard for playing defence, being petulant or ill-tempered when things don’t go his way, being hard on teammates, clashing with coaches and a perceived lack of self-awareness and accountability," TSN's Bob McKenzie wrote in his final draft rankings. 

Merkley is well-aware of his reputation. He told reporters in Dallas that his agent, CAA's J.P. Barry, set him up with a sports psychologist to work on the mental side of his game. He said that he thinks he needs another season in the OHL before he's NHL-ready, in order to "show everybody that I can grow up and I can get better defensively."

"I know what I've done wrong," Merkley said. "I know my my bad habits. I know the areas I've got to work on for sure if I want to get to the next level [and] I've got to fully invest in getting better and showing everyone what I can do and completing my all-around game."

It will probably be a while before Merkley plays a meaningful game in San Jose. He'll need to put on more muscle and will likely require some seasoning before suiting up with the Sharks, but Wilson said that the blueliner was simply too good of a player to pass up on.

"He's got high-end talent," Wilson said. "We think he's a difference maker. We spent quite a bit of time with him, and we believe in him."

Merkley is the first defenseman the Sharks picked in the first-round since 2013, when San Jose selected Mirco Mueller No. 18 overall. His selection fills a hole in the organization's pool of defenseman, after the Sharks traded prospect Julius Bergman on Tuesday and placed veteran Paul Martin in order to buy out his contract on Friday.

Sharks to buy out Paul Martin's contract


Sharks to buy out Paul Martin's contract

The Sharks placed veteran defenseman Paul Martin on unconditional waivers on Friday in order to buy out his contract, San Jose general manager Doug Wilson announced. The move came hours before this year's NHL Draft. 

"Paul Martin has been the utmost professional on and off the ice during his three years in San Jose," Wilson said in a statement. "His leadership, character and on-ice contributions have been essential to our success and in reaching the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. The impact he has had on our organization, his teammates and many of our younger players will be felt for many years to come.

San Jose will save a little over $3.2 million this year, according to Paul Gackle of The Mercury NewsThe Mercury News, giving the team about $19.2 million in salary cap space this offseason. 

Signed to a four-year, $19.4 million contract in the 2015 offseason, Martin became a popular figure in the Sharks' dressing room. In his first two seasons in teal, he played alongside Brent Burns on the blueline, partnering with the towering defenseman en route to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2016 and in his Norris Trophy-winning season in 2016-17. 

The 37-year-old struggled to get into San Jose's lineup this season, leaving the second game of the season with an ankle injury. He would not play again in the NHL until Dec. 7, and eventually played 18 games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda.

After an injury to rookie defenseman Joakim Ryan, Martin seized the opportunity and returned to his old spot alongside Burns. Martin played all but 12:27 in the final 11 games without Burns, posting sterling possession numbers at even strength (58.39 corsi-for and scoring-chance-for percentages, according to Natural Stat Trick). 

He played in seven playoff games, too, but was replaced by Ryan after San Jose's Game 3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. After being one of just six players with whom the Sharks controlled a majority of the shot attempts in the first round against the Anaheim Ducks, the older defenseman struggled against the speedy Golden Knights. 

Martin is the third player who's contract the Sharks have bought out. San Jose bought out the final year of Martin Havlat's six-year, $25 million deal in 2014, and the last season of Adam Burish's four-year, $7.4 million contract in 2015. The defenseman will become an unrestricted free agent this summer, at the same time as the Sharks' other marquee signing from 2015: Joel Ward.