The San Jose Sharks missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years this past season. With a new head coach in place this offseason (Peter DeBoer) and a hint of optimism returning in recent weeks, it makes one wonder why the Sharks chose to take a step backwards a year ago. Their Stanley Cup window is indeed still wide open.
While 2014-15 was a forgetful year, there were at least a few building blocks formed for the future. Without further ado, the top five positives from last season:
5. Barclay Goodrow
Some fans may not think the performance of bottom six rookie Barlcay Goodrow is all that notable. While Goodrow’s possession numbers weren’t that great, the 22-year old proved to be a solid fourth line option.
Strong along the boards at 6-feet-two-inches and 215 pounds, Goodrow has good speed and is defensively responsible. He can kill penalties and contribute 20 points over 82 games. In 60 games as a rookie Goodrow finished with 12 points in limited ice time with some below average linemates.
Having Goodrow, a solid set-up guy for the bottom six, take up short handed minutes allowing the top guys to rest will be huge. Instead of useless fourth liners like John Scott and Mike Brown in the lineup, Goodrow can make a significant impact on the fourth line next season.
4. Melker Karlsson
During last year’s training camp, Swedish forward Melker Karlsson was just another name in camp. The 24-year old came over from playing in Sweden with little buzz about being a productive NHL player. Karlsson began the year with the AHL Worcester Sharks. At the time of his recall many like myself wondered why Chris Tierney wasn’t the player coming up. Karlsson almost instantly showed himself to be a valuable NHL forward.
What Karlsson lacks in size (6-feet, 180 pounds) he makes up for in fearlessness. Despite most NHL defenseman being able to crush him to smithereenes, Karlsson goes hard to loose pucks and gets in on the forecheck every single shift he takes.
While his shot is underwhelming and therefore isn’t a long term fit on the Joe Thornton line, Karlsson played well enough to spend most of the year opposite Joe Pavelski on that top line. Karlsson brings tremendous versatility with the ability to play on any of the four lines. He pumped home 13 goals and 24 points in 53 games as a rookie mostly with Thornton. If Karlsson plays fourth line minutes next year, it wouldn’t surprise at all to see him put up the same raw point total over 82 games.
3. Tomas Hertl Played All 82 Games
There is no denying that 2014-15 was a sophomore slump production wise for the young Czech forward Tomas Hertl. Finishing the season with only 31 points after scoring 25 points in 37 NHL games as a rookie was far below expectations. However, considering the rookie production was cut short of 82 games because of a major knee injury, there is good news in the fact Hertl didn’t miss any action in 2014-15.
Hertl tore his PCL and MCL in a knee-on-knee collision in December of 2013. While he came back for the 2014 playoffs, major knee surgeries typically take a long time to fully recover from. Not to mention Hertl suffered a setback with his knee this past offseason that likely hindered his training regimen. While Hertl clearly looked a step slower in his skating stride this past season, the experience of playing an entire NHL season is huge. Plus the 21 going on 22-year old got better as the season wore on, a good sign of things to come.
With a healthy offseason, experience under his belt and more time since surgery, Hertl’s year three production ought to be closer to his rookie pace. He has the offensive skill set to be an impact player in the top-six. Hertl was supposed to be a key piece last season, if they can get him back at the top of his game, that will go along way for the Sharks getting back to where they were two years ago.
2. Tremendous Growth From 2014 Draft Class
The 2014-15 campaign saw five of San Jose’s eight 2014 draft selections experience big time growth in their first years of development since the draft. First round pick Nikolay Goldobin (27th overall) had a nice year overseas in Finland. Second round pick Julius Bergman was a top defenseman for the London Knights. Third rounder Dylan Sadowy had a really nice year for Saginaw while fifth and sixth round picks Rourke Chartier and Kevin Labanc absolutely crushed their competition. Chartier led the WHL in scoring most of the season, finishing with 48 goals, and Labanc finished sixth overall in the OHL with 107 points. The following is courtesy of the Sharks media relations:
Dylan Sadowy (3rd round) led Saginaw (OHL) in goals (42), assists (32) and points (74) in 65 games while ranking T-9 th in the league in goals. Sadowy was awarded with Saginaw’s Leading Scorer Award as well as the team’s MVP Award.
Rourke Chartier (5th round) led Kelowna in goals (48) and ranked 2nd in points (82) in just 58 games played. He ranked 3rd in the WHL in goals, and helped lead Kelowna to the final game of the Memorial Cup, where the Rockets fell to Oshawa, 2-1. Chartier tied for the league lead with 13 playoff goals (despite playing in just 16 games) and earned several league awards, including: CHL Sportsman of the Year, WHL (West) First All-Star Team and WHL Most Sportsmanlike Player (Brad Hornung Trophy). Chartier signed an entry-level contract with San Jose on Dec. 31, 2014.
Kevin Labanc (6th round) finished the season ranked 2nd on Barrie (OHL) in points (107) in 68 games played. His 107 points ranked 6th in the league while his 76 assists ranked 4th in the league. He set a Barrie franchise record for assists in a single season.
1. The Emergence of Chris Tierney
Over the years, yours truly has strongly advocated that the Sharks play Joe Pavelski as the third line center. From 2011-2014, the Sharks were always at their best when Pavelski centered his own line away from Joe Thornton. For whatever reason though the Sharks preferred to play him on Thornton’s wing even though the team was less successful. While Thornton and Pavelski no doubt have great chemistry, the team lacked depth behind them. However, with Chris Tierney now emerging at the center position, the Sharks finally have that depth to keep Pavelski on the top line and roll four quality lines.
Tierney started the season with the Sharks as a rookie last year but hit the wall and was sent down to the AHL. Upon being called back up he slowly started to get the hang of the NHL speed. After a few weeks of slow improvements, Tierney took off down the stretch.
Over the final 18 games of the season Tierney was arguably the best forward the Sharks had going. The 20-year-old started making a handful of beautiful set ups each and every game. He finished with 14 points in his final 18 games. Once voted as the smartest player in the OHL’s Western Conference by league coaches, Tierney is a defensively responsible pivot man with 50 point potential. Whether he plays on a third line with easier competition or a second line with better linemates, it isn’t far-fetched to expect 45 points out Tierney this coming season.