Sharks

Timo Meier, Connor McDavid helping 2015 NHL Draft live up to hype

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USATSI

Timo Meier, Connor McDavid helping 2015 NHL Draft live up to hype

SAN JOSE -- Timo Meier was briefly Connor McDavid’s linemate. 

The Sharks winger played with the Edmonton Oilers center at the CHL’s top prospects game in 2015. They were two of the best players in Canadian major junior ahead of that year’s draft, ranked No. 12 and No. 1, respectively, in NHL Central Scouting’s midseason rankings of skaters playing in North America.

Yet, it was clear to Meier that McDavid was a cut above the rest. 

“You could tell that McDavid,” Meier said Monday at the Sharks’ practice facility, “and [eventual No. 2 pick Jack Eichel] were ready to be top guys in the NHL. You could see that right away.” 

Meier’s Sharks will play McDavid’s Oilers for the first time this season Tuesday, and both players are on pace for career years. McDavid scored 28 points in his first 20 games, more than any of his previous seasons. Meier, meanwhile, scored 12 goals in his first 21, and was tied for 11th in the league entering Tuesday.

They’re not alone, either.

As of Tuesday morning, three of the NHL’s five leading scorers this season were 2015 draftees. Winger Mikko Rantanen, who the Colorado Avalanche picked one spot after Meier at No. 10 overall, led the league with 32 points. Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner -- the No. 4 pick -- was tied for third with McDavid.

In fact, nine of the 64 players who scored at least 18 points by then were drafted in 2015. That was more than any other draft class, and equaled the two preceding drafts combined. 

Of those nine, McDavid and Eichel were the only ones playing on their second contracts. 

“Everyone's looking for cheap talent,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said Monday, “and the only cheap talent there is is young guys [on their entry-level contracts]. I think that's opened the door for teams to be a little more open-minded about giving young guys some looks maybe earlier than the past.”

The 2015 draft class is rising to the occasion. Five players drafted in 2015, including McDavid and Eichel, made an All-Star team before this year. That group doesn’t include Marner, Rantanen, reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal or Thomas Chabot, currently the NHL’s second-highest scoring defenseman. 

DeBoer considers the 2003 draft class the best he’s seen in the last 20 years. He coached, or coached against, much of them in juniors and later in the NHL. He’s not alone in his assessment either, since 28 players -- including current Sharks Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski -- from that class made an All-Star team of some kind. 

It remains to be seen whether or not the 2015 class will reach those heights, as the most experienced players are only in their fourth season. But, their impact early in the 2018-19 campaign is undeniable.

Meier said he hasn’t followed his draft peers’ exploits too closely. He does occasionally keep tabs, however, and he said seeing their success can be a strong motivator. 

“You try to push yourself when you see guys that are your age do that well,” Meier said. “So I think it's a motivation to see that, and you wanna obviously compare yourself with those guys and push your game to get better."

Evander Kane's suspension shows NHL needs more consistency on safety

Evander Kane's suspension shows NHL needs more consistency on safety

As the saying goes: "Video doesn’t lie," which is among several reasons why Evander Kane likely still is fuming regarding the three-game suspension he received Saturday.

Almost exactly one year prior, the Sharks forward suffered a similar headshot from Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.

Not only did the hit go unpenalized, there was no hearing and no corresponding discipline. Kane missed the next several games due to injury
 
It begs the question: What does the league’s Department of Player Safety see differently here? Both plays and hits do indicate that heads were similarly targeted. If Kane was guilty, then so was Chara and vice versa. And that’s just one of a dozen easy comparisons that come to mind.
 
This is not a piece suggesting the NHL has a vendetta against San Jose. It is a plea for the NHL to gain consistency in what it calls a penalty, a fine and a suspension.
 
Currently the league distributes video explanations of all suspendible plays, complete with narration and multiple replay angles. One huge way to increase transparency, would be to publicize similar documentation of plays and hits that were deemed not suspendible.
 
This would serve two main purposes. First, it publicly acknowledges that the league did actually review and audit a controversial action in question. Sometimes it feels like those who distribute the discipline only conveniently appear when they need or want to.  

[RELATED: Kane blasts 'ridiculous' NHL Player Safety discipline]
 
Secondly, it would help all of us gain a better understanding of what their standards are. At present, little is predictable. Players, coaches, broadcasters ... anyone involved with the games can trust what their eyes see, but not know exactly how the league will respond.
 
Until rules are consistently enforced with minimal wiggle room, players will continue to take their chances on calculated risks. And everyone else will be confused by a library of dangerous plays on social media, which don’t equally add up in suspensions.

How Sharks can benefit from Erik Karlsson injury at NHL trade deadline

How Sharks can benefit from Erik Karlsson injury at NHL trade deadline

The Sharks undoubtedly would prefer if both players were healthy, but San Jose can take advantage of Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson's season-ending injuries. 

Hertl already is on long-term injured reserve after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee last month, and Karlsson should soon join him after breaking his thumb. That puts the Sharks in a unique position heading into the trade deadline, as the fine folks at Cap Friendly observed Saturday. 

The Sharks were 11 points back of the Western Conference's final wild-card spot as of this writing, with four teams between them and the Arizona Coyotes. San Jose also doesn't own a 2020 first-round pick as a condition of the Karlsson trade, and its prospect pool is considered to be one of the weakest in the NHL. It would make a lot of sense, then, for the Sharks to take on -- or retain -- salary in exchange for prospects and/or picks. 

There are a host of playoff contenders lacking salary-cap space, as Cap Friendly noted. The Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames currently all have fewer than $3 million in space, per Cap Friendly. Trading with a Pacific Division rival might prove difficult, but Sharks general manager Doug Wilson should be able to field calls from the likes of the Florida Panthers ($141,250 in current space), Philadelphia Flyers ($2.08 million), Washington Capitals ($2.45 million), Dallas Stars ($2.93 million), Boston Bruins ($3.12 million) and Pittsburgh Penguins ($3.51 million), among others. 

Finding a contract is another matter entirely. The Stars could trade injured center Martin Hanzal, but he already is on LTIR. It's difficult to envision the Panthers trading pending free-agent winger Mike Hoffman or the Capitals dealing soon-to-be free-agent goalie Braden Holtby for salary relief, let alone when you consider both players' trade protection (and Hoffman's history with Erik Karlsson).

The Bruins would love to trade David Backes, but he won't become a free agent until 2022 and can't be placed on LTIR after Bruins general manager Don Sweeney admitted Backes was "fit and able to play" after being waived. Wilson said he wants the Sharks to contend in 2021, and they can't afford to have another $5 million against the cap considering how many players have signed long-term contracts in the last few years. 

[RELATED: Why Hannan sees silver lining in Karlsson injury for Sharks]

Retaining salary seems to be a likelier option. The Sharks' pending free agents all have manageable contracts, but defenseman Brenden Dillon -- rumored to be one of the top blue liners available -- could be more appealing if teams aren't taking on all $3.275 million of his salary-cap hit. 

The trade deadline now is just over a week away, and the Sharks probably won't be buyers as a result of Hertl and Karlsson's injuries. They'll still be in an advantageous position, however, and Wilson has a chance to start re-stocking San Jose's pool of prospects and draft picks.