With the conclusion of the World Cup of Hockey, players from Team Canada and Team Europe have returned to the San Jose Sharks. Preparations at training camp are in full effect with opening night less than a week away. The absence of current players created competitive practices among rookies looking to make an impression. Given the opportunity to display their skills, players at camp could find themselves in teal sooner than expected. In any case, the Sharks lineup is becoming clear with the current players still in camp.
Kevin Labanc Making an Impression
Timo Meier, San Jose’s first-round pick last year, is ready to make the jump to the NHL. He came close last year after impressing head coach Peter DeBoer but was returned to his Junior club. Unfortunately, Meier will now likely end up on the San Jose Barracuda after being diagnosed with mono. Make no mistake Meier will end up in a Sharks uniform this season. Perhaps some seasoning in the AHL will benefit Meier to gain experience before being thrown into NHL action.
With the absence of Meier, a current rookie is looking to seize the opportunity of cracking the opening lineup. Kevin Labanc currently has the edge after his strong start to the preseason. The New York-native scored the winning goal in overtime against the Vancouver Canucks in the preseason opener. Since the opener, Labanc has added a goal and a few assists to pad his chances of making the lineup.
However, with the skill set Labanc brings to San Jose, chances are he could end up on the Barracuda opening roster. He would be more effective on the Barracuda’s top-two lines and earn valuable time gaining confidence in the AHL before making the leap. No doubt, Labanc will find himself in the NHL at some point.
A Rookie to Keep an Eye On
Alex Schoenborn may have recently been sent down to the Barracuda but he is a name to look out for in the future. Drafted in 2014, the North Dakota-native has been a solid performer with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. Last season, he finished with 57 points in 67 games.
Schoenborn may not be a top-six forward but can play valuable minutes on the third or fourth line. Not only does he have an eye for the net but can be physical along the boards and can clear pucks out of the zone. His play is similar to former Sharks forward Ryane Clowe who provided toughness and contributed offensively. Sharks management is hoping Schoenborn can develop further with tougher competition in the AHL.
He may not have had the opportunity to play in a preseason game, but Schoenborn has the tools necessary to be an effective player at the NHL level. Although successful in Portland, he needs to elevate his game with the Barracuda to see action in the NHL.
Matt Nieto Making a Case
In Sunday’s preseason game against Vancouver, Nieto scored two goals, including the overtime winner. Before the start of camp, Nieto was a player whose time could be running out in San Jose. While Nieto started off on the right foot, questions remain about his consistency, playing at a high level each game. Preseason will not matter if the former second-round pick cannot be productive.
Chris Tierney and Barclay Goodrow have turned in solid training camps so far. Goodrow could make the opening night lineup after his emergence with the Barracuda. Last season, Goodrow started with the Sharks but was sent down in hopes of regaining confidence. Goodrow used the demotion as motivation going on a tear in the AHL. His play earned him a spot in the AHL All-Star game. With his confidence back, Goodrow is looking to stay full-time with the Sharks this season.
The jury is still out on Nieto. Chances are his time will be cut short at some point this season to make way for rookies. A likely choice would be Nikolay Goldobin, but he should be utilized on the top lines instead of the third line. A change of scenery could be in store for Nieto during the season if he struggles early.
Aaron Dell: The Backup Goalie
After James Reimer departed in the offseason to join the Florida Panthers via free agency, a backup goalie looked to be an obvious choice for the Sharks. A signing never happened as general manager Doug Wilson decided to let the current Barracuda goalies have a chance.
One possible reason for the internal competition was the signing of forward Mikkel Boedker. A player of his caliber could help San Jose get right back into the Stanley Cup Final. Boedker turned down money and years from other clubs, feeling San Jose gave him the best opportunity to win. With his signing and the emergence of rookies in training camp, Wilson couldn’t afford to sign a backup goalie.
Since emerging late during the AHL season, Dell went 17-16-6 with 2.42 goals against average. His record may not look impressive, but his solid play towards the end of the season got the Barracuda into the playoffs. Despite a quick first round exit to the Ontario Reign, Dell earned the opportunity to make a case for the backup position on the Sharks. So far, Dell has been solid in his starts as he looks to gain confidence throughout training camp.
Dell’s play will be in focus when he starts in net. Last season, Martin Jones provided solid goaltending in his first season as a starter. Jones was the biggest question mark last season and he answered the call leading San Jose to the Stanley Cup Final. He never doubted himself as he was a proven winner in the Los Angeles minor league system. With a new season about to start, Jones cannot carry the load especially when the playoffs come around. If Dell is unable to provide solid net play, a trade could be in the cards for a reliable backup.
Sharks training camp is in full swing and current players are anxious to kick off the regular season campaign. The journey will be tough for a San Jose team looking to earn another trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Wilson has retooled the team to keep the winning edge. With DeBoer in his second year as coach, the Sharks are familiar with his system to yield positive results early in the season.