Three questions Sharks must answer in training camp before NHL season

Three questions Sharks must answer in training camp before NHL season

Like with the start of every training camp, the Sharks have some questions that need answering before the new campaign gets underway at the beginning of October. 

Here's a look at just a couple things that need solving over the next couple of weeks:

How healthy will the Sharks' blue line be come opening night?

Injuries hit San Jose's d-corps hard last season, with Erik Karlsson going in and out of the lineup with a groin injury and Radim Simek being sidelined the whole second half of the season with a knee injury. The hope is that both players will be back in the lineup and healthy to start the season -- although that still remains to be seen.

Sharks' general manager Doug Wilson told the media last Friday that Karlsson is expected to participate at the start of training camp, while Simek is still building up strength in his injured knee ahead of the season-opener on October 2. San Jose's defense took noticeable hits last season when each skater was out of the lineup, so getting both Karlsson and Simek back at full strength will be huge.

Keeping that in mind, it isn't likely we'll see a whole lot from either skater during the preseason.

Which will make trying to figure out what the defensive pairings will be even more interesting, but that's a story for another day.

Does San Jose really have enough weapons on offense to fill the void left by free agency?

There had been some speculation that Wilson would acquire a forward towards the end of the offseason to fill in the offensive void left by the departures of Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi, and Gustav Nyquist. For the time being, however, it appears the Sharks are going all-in on giving some of their younger players a chance to fill those roles.

Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc have been mentioned a ton in this conversation -- especially after they both had upward-trending seasons and then got inked to new deals over the summer -- but those are just two skaters San Jose is looking to for offensive help.

After a season of bouncing between the NHL and AHL, Dylan Gambrell has the opportunity to become a regular starter. Marcus Sorensen will also be tasked with continuing to grow following a solid 2018-19 campaign skating primarily alongside Joe Thornton. Plus, younger players such as Ivan Chekhovich will be given the opportunity to compete for a roster spot.

[RELATED: How Karlsson can fill scoring void]

Of course, the Sharks may decide to make a move after the season starts if they're still lacking offensive firepower. For the time being, however, it looks like San Jose is looking to its young guns to pick up the slack.

What can we expect from the goaltending this season?

It's pretty fair to assume fans will be on the edge of their seats for Martin Jones' first start, hoping he doesn't let the puck get by him in the first minute of the game. He did that quite a bit last season, after all. And his backup, Aaron Dell, didn't always fair much better. 

Even though Jones turned his game around during last season's playoff run, he will likely be under the microscope pretty early on, especially if he looks shaky during preseason play. While Jones didn't always have the support from the defense in front of him last season, there's still a need for him to be on his A-game early on, even as early as in training camp. 

Patrick Marleau thanks Sharks fans for warm welcome back to San Jose

Patrick Marleau thanks Sharks fans for warm welcome back to San Jose

Patrick Marleau is home. For the first time since returning to the Sharks, Marleau skated in front of the home fans at SAP Center on Sunday night. 

As you might guess, it was an emotional scene for both Marleau and the Sharks faithful. The 40-year-old couldn't help but let out a few tears when fans erupted at the sight of him on the jumbotron in the first period of a 3-1 win over the Flames

On Monday, Marleau took to Twitter through his wife Christina's account to thank Sharks fans for such a warm welcome back to The Tank.

[RELATED: Patrick Marleau left lasting mark on Maple Leafs]

The Sharks, who dropped their first four games this season, have now won two straight since signing Marleau to a one-year contract on Oct. 8. He already has three points -- two goals and an assist -- in the two victories.

Marleau spent the first 19 seasons of his 22-year NHL career with the Sharks before he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the 2017-18 season. He's San Jose's all-time leader in games played (1,495), goals (510) and points (1,085).

Dylan Gambrell's improved play aiding Sharks' quest for four-line game

Dylan Gambrell's improved play aiding Sharks' quest for four-line game

SAN JOSE - One of the biggest criticisms of the Sharks at this early point in the season has been that its younger players hadn't stepped up yet.

That changed on Sunday evening in San Jose's 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames. 

Sure, San Jose's young stars Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Kevin Labanc all found the net in the victory. But when Hertl and captain Logan Couture addressed the media postgame, independent of each other, both pointed to newcomer Dylan Gambrell's emergence over the last few games as a key factor in the Sharks' recent success.

Gambrell's positive production as fourth-line center is giving San Jose more offensive depth. While the Sharks' forward attack is still a work in progress, the 23-year-old forward is evolving into the pivotal player the team needs.

"He's been given an opportunity and these last two games he's really shown what he's been capable of," Couture said. "When we have that line playing well and the other three rolling over, we're a tough team to beat."

Head coach Peter DeBoer agreed with the assessment of his captain.

"For him, that's all about competing," DeBoer said of Gambrell. "Sticking his nose in there and competing. His skill and speed will take over and he's starting to do that here regularly."

There was a spotlight on Gambrell heading into training camp after he signed a two-year contract following a season in which he bounced between the AHL and NHL. But the University of Denver product didn't readily establish his game when he was plugged into the top six through the preseason and, like the majority of the Sharks, struggled out of the gate in the first few games of the regular season. 

After penciling back onto the fourth line, Gambrell's game visibly changed. 

"I think he saw that he was close to being sent back. That's the reality of it," DeBoer admitted. "He wasn't as effective (in training camp) as he is now. And maybe that's on us. Maybe we asked him to do too much. We played him on the wing on the top two lines and maybe it was too much for him."

Back at the center position on that fourth line, however, the speedy forward has been on an upward trend. He's been more effective in the faceoff circle and more aggressive on the puck, which gives San Jose depth down the middle that they, frankly, have been missing since last season.

"He had a little tough start but now he's playing a really hard game and this is what we need," Hertl said. "Good on faceoffs, strong on the puck."

Continuing that higher level of compete can make the Sharks' quest to establish a four-line game a bit smoother. As San Jose has encountered through the first six games of the season, the Western Conference is stacked with teams that can get production out of any line they roll out onto the ice. While the Sharks' offense is still in the process of getting healthy -- Marcus Sorensen is still sidelined -- the team needs to get its four-line game in place if they're going to completing recover from their rough start to the season.

[RELATED: Sharks fans give Marleau standing ovation]

"In this league, you need four lines," Hertl summarized. "It's not about just one line. Every night you need four lines plus your goalie."

If Gambrell can continue this upward trend, the Sharks have a better chance of achieving that goal.