Lean Bergmann

Doug Wilson hopes Sharks' youngsters can help team finish on high note

Doug Wilson hopes Sharks' youngsters can help team finish on high note

The Sharks lost their first four games to the 2019-20 season, and it hasn't gotten much better since. San Jose is all but guaranteed to miss the playoffs for only the second time since Doug Wilson took over as general manager 16 seasons ago. Just as it has been for the players, the disappointing year has been tough on Wilson, too.

"It's been a challenge," Wilson told NBC Sports California's Jamie Baker ahead of the Sharks' game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. "But that happens in life. If you're going to have the success and the moments that you enjoy, then you've got to deal with these things. I'll be honest with you, you learn a lot about people through times like this. Emotions get into play, but what you've got to do is make sure you have clarity to make the right decisions going forward. So, that's the balance you're trying to find during these challenging times."

Wilson and San Jose got more clarity with the passing of the NHL's trade deadline on Monday, as the team sent veteran forwards Patrick Marleau and Barclay Goodrow to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, respectively, in exchange for draft picks. The Sharks also received two draft picks from the Washington Capitals in the Brenden Dillon trade last week.

[RELATED: Wilson pleased with Sharks' haul, but work is just starting]

While the draft picks certainly will help as Wilson tries to build the roster back to a contending state this offseason, the departures of Marleau, Goodrow and Dillon have left large voids in the Sharks' lineup, and there are still 20 games left to play. With San Jose's playoff hopes already dashed, they have every reason to fill those voids with prospects from within the system that might or might not be part of the franchise's future moving forward.

It will be a different kind of finish to the regular season than the Sharks are accustomed to, but Wilson is looking forward to seeing what several of those younger players can do with their resulting opportunities.

"There's a lot of them," Wilson said of the prospects. "You take a look at Mario Ferraro -- I think right from Day 1 has been really good -- he's actually stepping up to the next level. You've got a kid, Lean Bergmann, that's been brought in. [Alex True] has come in and [Joel] Kellman's come in, and you're going to see a bunch of guys for the next 20 games or so. And out of this challenging time comes great opportunity. And I think the quality veterans that we have are continuing to instill us playing the right way, which means the young kids can come in and get into good habits. So, we're focused in on that, and there's a little juice and energy when you see these young guys come in."

There hasn't been much positive energy surrounding the Sharks this season. But maybe, just maybe, the youngsters can help San Jose finish the 2019-20 season on a relatively high note.

Five bold Sharks pre-opening night predictions for 2019-20 NHL season

Five bold Sharks pre-opening night predictions for 2019-20 NHL season

Programming Note: Watch Wednesday's season opener between the Sharks and Golden Knights on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. by clicking here!

The puck drops on the Sharks' season Wednesday, and they'll open the 2019-20 campaign in arguably the most intense atmosphere imaginable. 

San Jose begins its season against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena, as the rivals face off for the first time since the Sharks' controversial Game 7 comeback in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Neither team will ice the same lineup they did that night, but the Sharks arguably are a bigger mystery. Free-agent decisions and an early-season suspension means the San Jose will be without players who scored 88 of their franchise-record 289 goals last season. 

But a heated season opener is just that, and the Sharks will have 81 games left after Wednesday. Here are five bold predictions for the season. 

Timo Meier leads the team in goals

The 22-year-old took a great leap forward in his third NHL season, scoring a career-high 66 points (30 goals, 36 assists) and reaching the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career. Meier is primed for another step forward following the Sharks' multitude of offseason departures. 

Former captain Joe Pavelski (38 goals) and center Tomas Hertl (35) stood ahead of Meier on the Sharks' goal-scoring charts last season. The former is now a Dallas Star while the latter shouldn't expect to replicate his career-high 19.9 percent shooting percentage, so Meier's a good bet to score more goals than any of his teammates -- even before you consider a likely increase in ice time

After Meier signed a six-year contract this summer, the Sharks expect him to continue to develop into an elite power forward. If he does, Meier will become the first player not named Pavelski, Logan Couture or Brent Burns to lead San Jose in goals since 2011. 

(At least) six rookies will make their NHL debut

The Sharks are set to be about halfway there in Wednesday's season opener in Sin City. Coach Peter DeBoer confirmed to reporters that rookie defenseman Mario Ferraro will skate alongside Dalton Prout on the team's third defense pairing, while rookie wingers Lean Bergmann, 20, and Danil Yurtaikin, 22, are expceted to skate among the top six forwards following Evander Kane's three-game suspension.

When all is said and done, they likely won't be the only NHL debutants in 2019-20. High-scoring forward prospects Joachim Blichfeld, Ivan Chekhovich and Sasha Chmelevski will start the season with the Barracuda in the AHL, as will Alexander True, who led San Jose's top minor-league affiliate in scoring last season. 

San Jose will need to experiment in order to offset its lost firepower up front. Jonny Brodzinski is the only new forward who isn't waivers-exempt, so general manager Doug Wilson has flexibility to give DeBoer plenty of rookie forwards to choose from in pursuit of the right mix. 

A Sharks defenseman finishes as a Norris finalist

One of Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson has finished as a Norris Trophy finalist in five of the last six seasons. Expect that to continue in 2019-20.

Given the new-look forward corps, the Sharks are going to need a lot of offensive production from their defensemen. It's hard to think of a better pair to rely on around the NHL. 

Burns set a career-high and a Sharks record for points by a defenseman with his offensive output (83 points) last season, and the 34-year-old could be a 20-goal threat if his shooting percentage regresses to his career average (6.9 percent).

Karlsson, meanwhile, has health on his side after undergoing offseason groin surgery, and was still productive (42 points in 53 games) despite his injuries and initial acclimation following a trade to San Jose on the eve of training camp. A full season from Karlsson, in particular, should really help the Sharks make up for some of their lost offense.

Joe Thornton moves into Top 12 in scoring

The 40-year-old is back for his 22nd NHL season, and Thornton is 14th on the league's all-time scoring list with 1,478 points. He needs 54 to surpass Paul Coffey for 13th and 56 to leapfrog Mark Recchi in 12th. 

Thornton scored 51 points last season, and passing either Coffey or Recchi would result in his highest scoring total since the 2015-16 season. Though Thornton benefitted from a near-career-high 17.8 percent shooting percentage last season, San Jose's shooting percentage with him on the ice (11.03 percent) was just his fifth-highest mark over the last 12 years. 

In other words, he didn't benefit from his teammates having a hot shooting year in 2018-19. Fifty-six points feels within the realm of possibility, and additional power-play ice time -- Thornton played fewer minutes on the man advantage last year than each of the preceding 11 -- as the Sharks reconfigure their units in Pavelski's absence could help Thornton move up the scoring charts. 

[RELATED: Why Kane suspension won't result in Marleau-Sharks reunion]

Doug Wilson doesn't wait until the trade deadline for moves

Considering the Sharks' question marks up front, it's hard to envision Wilson standing pat. He surely will give San Jose's complement of emerging forwards a long look, but his team could stand to add another top-six winger in order to contend for the Stanley Cup. 

The Sharks still are tight under the salary cap even after locking up restricted free agents Meier and Kevin Labanc to team-friendly contracts this summer, but there are enough waivers-exempt contracts and waivers-eligible players whose cap hits wouldn't count while they were in the minors in order to free up more cap space. 

Wilson will be patient in order to build more room, but the Sharks should get a good sense of whether or not their prospects are ready for prime time before the trade deadline. If they're not, the fact that over half the league has fewer than $2 million in salary-cap space -- per Cap Friendly -- would allow Wilson to deal sooner rather than later.