What Erik Karlsson re-signing could mean for Sharks' defense next season

What Erik Karlsson re-signing could mean for Sharks' defense next season

The San Jose Sharks entered their offseason with a lot of questions about their future lineup. But they got a big look-in at next season now that Erik Karlsson officially is staying in Silicon Valley on an eight-year contract.

Given that Karlsson will enter his second year with the Sharks and already is accustomed to the team, there's potential for him to build on what he did last season -- and for San Jose's blue line to reach another level.

Although Karlsson was injured for a chunk of the 2018-19 campaign, his impact on Team Teal's entire game plan was evident. After taking the first two months of the season to get acclimated to his new team, Karlsson became a pivotal piece of San Jose's offensive assault, tallying 25 points (one goal, 24 assists) and a plus-16 rating between Dec. 7 and Jan. 8. Despite scoring only one goal during that stretch, Karlsson's ability to set up teammates from back in San Jose's defensive zone helped the Sharks dominate their opponents and register a 10-3-1 record during that span.

There's even more room for Karlsson's blue-line role to grow with Bob Boughner's return to San Jose's coaching staff. As Sharks fans know quite well, Boughner had a positive influence on the team when he was part of the staff just a few years back, namely in helping Brent Burns reach Norris Trophy-worthy potential.

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson expanded on the potential for a successful Karlsson-Boughner relationship when he spoke to the media Monday, just after Karlsson's contract was made official.

"I talked to Bob Boughner this morning," Wilson said. "When he heard the news [about Karlsson's contract] he called me. Both he and Pete [DeBoer, the Sharks' coach] are extremely excited. They both said Erik Karlsson makes them better coaches."

Of course, some of these high expectations for next season also are dependent on Karlsson's health when next season starts. He underwent groin surgery on May 31, and it's a procedure that the University of Michigan deems as having a three-week recovery time and a six-week window before strenuous exercise is recommended.

When asked about his health Monday, Karlsson didn't have an exact timeline for when he would start skating over the summer, but he sounded optimistic that he'll be ready when the season opens in October.

"I'm in that process now, and it's going to take all summer long," he said about his rehabilitation. "I'm going to do everything I can and be as good as I can [be] for when the season starts. So far, no problem."

Keep in mind that signing Karlsson to an eight-year contract doesn't mean San Jose's blue line is a finished product. Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Radim Simek likely will be staples in the Sharks' D-corps next season. However, Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan, who filled in for an injured Karlsson at different points during the season, appear headed for free agency in less than a month.

[RELATED: What Sharks' re-signing of EK65 means moving forward]

Plus, both Justin Braun and Karlsson's D-partner, Brenden Dillon, are coming up on the final years of their respective contracts, and could be used in offseason trades. Add NHL hopefuls from the Barracuda, and it's clear San Jose's defense is in for changes.

At least with Karlsson for sure playing in teal next season, there's already potential for the Sharks' blue line to be even better.

Sharks' roster hopefuls still 'auditioning' as regular season nears


Sharks' roster hopefuls still 'auditioning' as regular season nears

SAN JOSE - Yes, the Sharks have roster spots they need to fill. Nobody knows that better than Peter DeBoer.

So perhaps it was to be expected when the head coach said more than once after San Jose's first preseason game Tuesday night that he hasn't filled out his final roster for the Sharks' season-opener against the Vegas Golden Knights yet.

 "We're Game 1 into a tryout here," DeBoer said. "An audition. We're not handing out any jobs tonight."

You can't blame him for answering that way. He'd probably love it if everyone outside the team stopped trying to piece his roster together for him. 

Here's the thing: San Jose is just two games into the preseason and has rolled out two different lineups for each game. A roster for opening night will come together, but DeBoer hasn't settled on the exact pieces to that puzzle just yet.

Despite losing their first two preseason games, some of the Sharks' roster hopefuls have done some positive things. Jonny Brodzinski added an offensive punch in Tuesday's game against the Anaheim Ducks while Manuel Wiederer contributed two goals in Wednesday's game against the Calgary Flames. Ryan Merkley pitched in as a helper twice in his first preseason game while Joachim Blichfeld, Ivan Chekhovich and Lean Bergmann also have found the back of the net in the preseason.

Nevertheless, one preseason showing doesn't -- as DeBoer said -- guarantee anyone a starting job.

The Sharks are aware that replacing offensive depth left by the departures of Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi is a process. In addition to scoring big goals, San Jose also has to be able to sustain offense through a full 60 minutes on a nightly basis. Through the first two games of the preseason, the team has had some difficulty doing this.

"I think we need to sustain more O-zone pressure," Brodzinski observed after Tuesday night's 4-3 loss to the Ducks, a game where the Sharks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and then took their foot off the gas in the second stanza. "We didn't have a lot of it tonight. I felt like it was more of a neutral zone game. Then we played a little bit too much in our own zone. If we can play down there a lot more, we wouldn't be as tired coming into the late shifts there."

If the idea that San Jose hasn't filled out its roster just yet scares you, keep in mind -- neither preseason game has featured the Sharks' opening night roster. Heck, we haven't even seen Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson or Martin Jones suit up for a game yet. Many of the players who have played over the past two days will be starting the season playing for the Barracuda. 

Plus, even once the regular season gets underway, there still are going to be changes made to San Jose's roster as players move between the AHL and NHL in an effort to give the team the most dynamic lineup. Just think about how many times the lineup changed at the start of last season.

[RELATED: Sharks expecting Meier to step forward in wake of departures]

The Sharks have roughly a week and a half to get into fighting shape before opening night October 2, which includes four more preseason tune-ups that kick off on Saturday with a contest against the Golden Knights. It's very possible DeBoer will roll out a lineup consisting of a few more regular-season starters, along with a few players high on the list of opening night roster additions.

Just don't be surprised if Saturday's preseason game is just another step in the audition process for players on that list.

Sharks expecting Timo Meier to take step forward in wake of departures

Sharks expecting Timo Meier to take step forward in wake of departures

Individual progress of an NHL player should not always be measured in goals. 

Yet it’s hard to ignore Timo Meier’s production: 21 goals in his first full season, followed up by 30 last year. 

“He’s worked for everything he’s got,” Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer said of Meier. “I think power forwards take a little bit longer. It’s a harder league for bigger guys playing that kind of game to establish themselves."

“His jump last year was incredible,” fellow forward Barclay Goodrow remarked. “He kind of turned into a whole new player, just more confident. He took some games over, shooting the puck and driving the net. Just things he does well at a better pace.” 

The Swiss-born winger has developed a full-fledged reputation for utilizing all six feet and 210 pounds he’s got. 

“I try to be a physical guy. Try to get in the areas where you might hurt, and try to score some dirty goals,” Meier said at training camp. “I want to get better, that’s always something I try to stay hungry on.” 

Timing plays a critical role in the development of a homegrown product like Meier. The Sharks were able to let him develop in the pipeline, and now he's thriving on the biggest stage. 

“He got there the right way,” DeBoer explained. “You’ve got a guy with a lot of confidence, we’ve added a couple minutes every year to his time on ice. He’s going to take another step this year with the guys that departed. We’re excited to see where he can go with it.” 

And that is the exciting question: Where can Meier take things this season? 

[RELATED: Why Sharks confident they can make up for lost firepower]

“I’m not a guy that wants to put out a number and say I have to score that many goals,” Meier admitted. “I just try to go out and be the best player I can for the team.”