Brenden Dillon

Sharks suddenly in better position with draft picks, college signings

Sharks suddenly in better position with draft picks, college signings

Given the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we could all use a bit of a pick-me-up right now. It's understandably difficult, but focusing on what bright spots there are will help us get through this unprecedented time.

Taking the glass-half-full approach shouldn't be new to Sharks fans. They had a few months head start before the team's disappointing season was indefinitely paused.

Yes, it was clear early on that it was going to be a tough season in San Jose. The Sharks dropped their first four games of the season, and turned to former captain Patrick Marleau to get back on track. After a strong November, San Jose undid it all with a putrid December, and at that point, it became easy to focus on all of the things the franchise didn't have. The most notable absence was that of hope.

One by one, the Sharks' best players went down with severe season-ending injuries. One of them -- Erik Karlsson -- was like a double punch to the gut. Not only would San Jose not have the benefit of having the former Norris Trophy winner in the lineup, but the cost it took to acquire him -- including the Sharks' unprotected 2020 first-round draft pick -- looked disproportionally painful. Every team in the league would have made that trade for Karlsson -- and signed him to the same eight-year contract extension -- but nearly everything that occurred from that point on was a string of bad luck for San Jose.

There was an upside to losing all of those top players, though. Whatever lingering hopes of a playoff run existed soon went out the window. The Sharks and general manager Doug Wilson could turn their attention to the future, and that's exactly what they did.

In sending Brenden Dillon to the Washington Capitals, Marleau to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Barclay Goodrow to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the trade deadline, Wilson overhauled the Sharks' cupboard of draft picks in both quality and quantity. He acquired four picks -- including a 2020 first-rounder -- that will fall within the first three rounds, and San Jose now has seven selections in each of the next three drafts.

Those will come in very handy as the Sharks try to get back into contention -- and stay there. Sustained success is built through young, controllable assets, and the draft is the best way to acquire them.

That said, there are always some prospects that fall between the cracks. Brinson Pasichnuk was one such prospect who was never drafted, yet became one of the best players throughout all of NCAA Division I hockey. The Arizona State standout agreed to join the Sharks organization, Wilson announced Tuesday, adding to San Jose's collection of promising young defensemen, including Mario Ferraro and Ryan Merkley.

[RELATED: Sharks' Ferraro moved in with parents during NHL pause]

Shortly after Pasichnuck agreed to join the Sharks, Hobey Baker Award finalist John Leonard did the same. Leonard, San Jose's sixth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, tallied 105 points over 106 career games at UMass Amherst. He had the option of returning to school for his senior season, but had little left to prove at the collegiate level. While he isn't a new prospect to the Sharks' system, it's nonetheless a positive development for San Jose.

Two months ago, the Sharks' future appeared as bleak as it had in nearly two decades. Since then, however, they've taken several steps in the right direction, and there is considerably more reason for hope.

We can all use a little of that right now.

How Sharks' wild comeback win vs. Predators epitomized 2018-19 season

How Sharks' wild comeback win vs. Predators epitomized 2018-19 season

Progamming note: Watch the re-air of the Sharks' comeback win over the Nashville Predators from Oct. 23, 2018 tonight at 8 PT on NBC Sports California.

They didn't know it at the time, but a win over the Nashville Predators on Oct. 23, 2018 ultimately laid bare the Sharks' strengths -- and weaknesses -- that would define their 2018-19 season.

The Sharks beat the Predators 5-4 that night in Nashville, overcoming a two-goal deficit with just under eight minutes remaining in the third period with a three-goal barrage in five minutes and 28 seconds. San Jose’s offense could keep up with just about any team last season, and lackluster goaltending largely necessitated said firepower.

Martin Jones stopped just 25 of the 29 shots he faced, even though the Sharks outshot the Predators in all situations (32-29) and held slight edges in 5-on-5 shot attempts, shots and scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. Nashville created more high-danger chances (8-6) and expected goals (1.46-1.38) than San Jose at full strength.

Only the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning scored more goals (319) than the Sharks (289) last season, which was the most prolific in franchise history. Yet the Sharks finished with just a plus-31 goal differential, as Jones and backup goaltender Aaron Dell posted career-worst save percentages while the Sharks allowed the NHL’s 11th-most goals (258).

The Sharks ranked no worse than 12th in suppressing high-danger chances, scoring chances and expected goals at full strength, yet San Jose allowed 111 5-on-5 high-danger goals in the NHL. Only the Ottawa Senators -- defenseman Erik Karlsson’s former team -- and the Edmonton Oilers allowed more, and those teams finished an average of 22.5 points outside of the postseason.

But the Sharks had enough offensive talent to overcome their goaltending woes, finishing two wins shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. San Jose was too depleted to hang with the St. Louis Blues by the end of the Western Conference final, but a healthy Sharks team would’ve had a great chance to advance. The 2018-19 Sharks were an elite puck-possession team, capable of scoring in myriad ways.

That was evident in the aforementioned comeback win over the Predators. The Sharks scored twice on the power play, twice at even strength and once short-handed. Brenden Dillon got the comeback started with an end-to-end rush on the penalty kill, then-captain Joe Pavelski finished off a 3-on-2 fewer than 30 seconds later and a pair of Norris Trophy winners -- Karlsson and Brent Burns -- combined to seal the victory.

[RELATED: Sharks' Burns says "teachers are legends" amid pandemic]

The Sharks couldn’t have known their ninth game of 2018-19 would prove so instructive, but the win over the Predators set the tone for what was to come.

For better and worse.

Brenden Dillon shares how trade from Sharks to Capitals led to six wild weeks

Brenden Dillon shares how trade from Sharks to Capitals led to six wild weeks

For most United States residents, the expression “stay at home” is a current way of life. But for former Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon, it’s more like “stay at hotel."

As in his temporary residence in Arlington, Va., as a relatively new member of the Washington Capitals.
 
“I almost feel like a bit of a Lone Ranger with where I’m at,” Dillon told NBC Sports California on Thursday. “My place in San Jose, and my home in Vancouver, that’s kind of a long ways from here right now, to go through what the world is dealing with.”
 
Dillon has been through a whirlwind of last two months. In mid-February, it was a trade that sent him clear across the continent. Then in mid-March, it was the NHL season virtually stopping on a dime.
 
He still is highly regarded by San Jose players and fans, alike. Many remember Dillon final interview at SAP Center, which ended in tears.
 
“You guys didn’t see how smoky it was in the room, at the time,” Dillon jokingly said.
 
To nobody’s surprise, Dillon seemed to become an instant hit in the Capitals’ dressing room, his stall strategically assigned between two cornerstone players.
 
“I was right between Ovi (Alexander Ovechkin) and Johnny (John) Carlson, so, it was pretty cool to be part of that opportunity," Dillon said. "On the ice it was also a perfect fit for my kind of game, being able to skate, move pucks and play my physical brand of hockey. I think it was pretty seamless, and a lot of the guys made me feel comfortable.”
 
Whether he does or does not ever play for the Sharks again, San Jose certainly made an impression on Dillon since he arrived in 2014.
 
”It’s not just somewhere that you work," Dillon said. "It’s not just somewhere you move to for hockey. It becomes your home, your family. Your teammates, it becomes second nature.”

[RELATED: Jumbo a Duck? Sharks' worst nightmare almost happened]
 
For now, it’s a mix of understanding and frustration for Dillon and so many NHL players, who only had about a dozen games left in their regular seasons before chasing the Stanley Cup.
 
“Everybody had something to play for,” Dillon said. “But when something like this happens, first and foremost you’re wanting everybody to be healthy and safe.”