When Raffi Torres went down to a significant knee injury on Tuesday night a number of people went straight into panic mode, concluding that the San Jose Sharks season would be doomed until Torres returned. But after settling down from these premature assumptions one could begin to view the injury as somewhat of a blessing considering the fact that it will give the Sharks the chance to see the depth of their team, and possibly find players better fit for Torres’ role than himself. After some consideration we have decided to take on both the potential negatives and positives of Torres’ and come up with a final conclusion for what the injury will mean to the Sharks.
Negative Impact of Injury
The biggest thing that the San Jose Sharks will be missing with the absence of Raffi Torres is his willingness to play a supremely physical game throughout all ends of the ice. This contribution can not truly be signified on the scoresheets, but is something that the Sharks recognized when this summer General Manager Doug Wilson said this about Torres,”“He competes hard in all three zones and brought a lot of ingredients to our line-up last season. We think he is a great fit for our club moving forward.”
On the offensive end of the ice Torres takes joy in going into the corners and getting the puck on the forecheck as much as any player in the NHL, and in the process grinds down opposing defensemen. Doing this allows the team’s top two lines to often get on the ice against tiring defensive units, and as a result are afforded the opportunity to operate in a more wide open style of play.
Meanwhile in the neutral and defensive zones Torres has shown the type of grit that has a big influence on both his teammates and his opponents. Both know that Torres is not afraid to protect his teammates both by dropping the gloves and providing bone-crushing hits in the corners, and at times has shown he is not afraid to push the boundaries of what is acceptable when doing so. While this will lead other teams to hate Torres it also gains the respect of teammates who feel safer when on the ice, and as a result are offers more the freedom to operate with the puck.
Overall Torres’ willingness to give up his body in any end of the ice is something that any coach loves to have on their roster, and something that it would appear Todd McLellan will miss dearly.
Positive Impact of Injury
But as is often shown in pro sports, and specifically the NHL, the absence of a key player through injury often brings the best out of those who are somewhat overshadowed or fighting for a spot on the roster. The San Jose Sharks will be hoping that this is the case for Tomas Hertl and Tyler Kennedy, as one of the two will miss out on a top six forward role and be called upon to fill third line grinder role that Raffi Torres fills. Neither player has the ability to completely match the physical style of Torres, but its appears as if they could both effectively fill the role of third line grinder.
If Hertl is on the third line the Sharks will be getting a first year player who has shown the ability to play an extremely effective brand of two-way hockey during the preseason. With a large 6’2″ 196 lb. frame Hertl brings a big body and he has shown that despite being a rookie he will not be intimidated from going into the corners and doing some of the dirty work that is required of a third liner. On top of being willing to do the dirty work though Hertl can serve as a playmaker, and has a hard and accurate shot that made him the 17th overall pick in the 2012 draft. While Hertl may appeared destined for a top-six role eventually it could serve his development best to begin in the less pressurized role of third line grinder and provide some much needed depth scoring to the Sharks.
Meanwhile Kennedy has shown throughout his career that despite being undersized at 5’11” 183 lb. that he is not afraid to play in a grinders role. During his six season career with the Pittsburgh Penguins this has been exactly the role that Kennedy has served, and could find that the situation in San Jose is very similar to that in Pittsburgh. After all Kennedy in Pittsburgh Kennedy was putting in the dirty work so that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s lives would be easier, so filling the same role for Joe Thornton and Logan Couture does not seem so far fetched.
The absence of Raffi Torres will leave a big hole to fill on the third line of the San Jose Sharks, as the team will need to identify a player who is willing to sacrifice a role as a tope six forward to be a grinder. Luckily for the San Jose both Tomas Hertl and Tyler Kennedy are sitting in the locker room, and one of them will not make it onto the team’s top two lines. And after analyzing both players it appears there is significant reason to believe that whoever does not become a top six forward be able to provide enough value on the third line to at least match that of Torres.