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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.