Last year during training camp, first-year head coach Peter DeBoer faced a dilemma he was glad to have. Timo Meier, the San Jose Sharks’ first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, made an impressive debut in his first camp to show he was ready for NHL action. The 2015 draft perhaps boasted the most talent seen by a group of prospects hoping to one day play in the league. From the scouting done by the Sharks, Meier came as advertised.
Meier living up to expectations came as a relief to general manager Doug Wilson where he was facing scrutiny after a tumultuous 2014-15 campaign. San Jose saw a streak of consecutive playoff appearances snapped and mutually agreed to part ways with head coach Todd McLellan. With an aging group of core players and few prospects ready for NHL action, Wilson needed to scrap the “tomorrow team” plan and keep San Jose competitive.
Unlike previous years where San Jose sent draft picks for rental players during playoff runs, Wilson accumulated multiple picks in 2015. Wilson believed the current team could still contend and hired DeBoer to rejuvenate the team. The question was building for the future with a depleted farm system where few prospects seemed ready for the NHL.
This time around, Wilson kept his picks and replenished the farm system. Perhaps not seen at the time but the biggest splash in the 2015 draft was acquiring Martin Jones from the Boston Bruins. The result was San Jose’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Despite falling short of the prize, current players and prospects are motivated to keep San Jose contenders.
Management Letting Players Develop
Back to Meier, who certainly has the size and skills to play at center, found himself missing the cut in his first camp. Defenseman Mirco Meuller saw his development spurn after one full season with San Jose. McLellan believed Mueller was ready, but his performances indicated he was nowhere near ready for the NHL level. Sharks’ management did not want to take any chances and felt sending Meier back to juniors would further develop his growth.
If Meier did not get mono before training camp, he almost certainly would have been in the Sharks’ opening lineup. Meier re-introduced himself as to why the Sharks were optimistic, netting a hat trick in the team’s prospects game. Due to mono, however, the San Jose Barracuda was the likely destination so he could play and get seasoned.
Even if Meier made another strong training camp, going to the Barracuda would have been the best situation. With the Barracuda, Meier could play the minutes he deserves for his caliber and gain confidence before getting called up. Even if he was playing alongside the top line with Joe Thornton, odds are he would be on a different line as the Sharks struggled offensively to start the season.
Meier Ready for NHL Debut
After a slow start trying to regain his form after mono, Meier is beginning to hit his stride. In 14 games, he has registered 14 points (eight goals, six assists). He recorded back-to-back two-goal games against San Antonio on the recent road trip. Should Meier continue his production, a call-up could be coming shortly.
Without a doubt, Meier should be on the first or second line when he is called up to the Sharks. He needs an opportunity to show why he was a first-round pick getting minutes to create chances and find the net. Otherwise, he should remain with the Barracuda if put on the third or fourth line not getting the playing time he deserves. A role on the bottom lines will only hinder his growth in the NHL
Labanc Proves His Case
Since joining the Sharks after being called up, Kevin Labanc has been performing consistently for the team. Despite only having four points in 13 games, Labanc is creating chances. In a surprise transaction, Labanc was sent down to the Barracuda. Coaches told Labanc to continue what he was doing with the Sharks, and he will be back soon.
Labanc took the message to heart and recorded three assists against San Antonio on the road. He got called up and played in San Jose’s 4-2 loss at home against the Ottawa Senators. For Labanc, he could have been discouraged and fallen out of favor with the Barracuda. Instead, he remained focused and got rewarded what DeBoer and the coaching staff asked.
Not only did Labanc receive the message but proved his case in staying with the Sharks for the rest of the season. If anything, what he did should serve as a lesson and motivation for current Sharks’ prospects. Even if the plan was for Labanc to be sent down only to be called right back up, he had the correct attitude.