Sharks Getting What They Need in Nyquist

I recently discussed the San Jose Sharks’ acquisition of Micheal Haley and expressed concern over his limited skill set. I was especially concerned he would drain ice time from the Sharks’ fourth line and add ice time to their already heavily burdened top players, notably Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture.

In Sunday’s 5-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings, Pavelski played 22:46 and Couture 21:25, both well above their average ice time. Haley played a meager four minutes, while five Sharks forwards played under 12 minutes. On the Red Wings side, two forwards exceeded the 20-minute mark, including Gustav Nyquist. Shortly after the game ended, Nyquist was traded to the Sharks for a second-round and conditional third-round draft pick.

Gustav Nyquist (Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

If the Sharks are going to succeed, they’ll need to spread out the minutes for the rest of the regular season and take full advantage of their excellent depth. On this front, Nyquist gives the Sharks what they need and a whole lot more.

A Nyquist Backgrounder

Nyquist is from Sweden, which wouldn’t bear mentioning except the Sharks are loaded with Swedes. He joins Erik Karlsson, Melker Karlsson, Tim Heed and Marcus Sorensen.

He was drafted by the Red Wings in the fourth round in 2008, the only NHL team he’s known until now. He’s produced consistently, topping 20 goals three times and topping 40 points in six consecutive seasons. He’s durable as well. Over his last five seasons, he’s missed just seven games.

This season’s Red Wings are not a high scoring team, sitting in the bottom quarter of the league with 50 fewer goals than the second-ranked Sharks. Nyquist has 49 points on the season and, notably, 38 have come at even strength. Even strength scoring on the Sharks is led by Timo Meier and Logan Couture with 44, followed by Tomas Hertl 43, Evander Kane 41 and Joe Pavelski 40. Nyquist offers similar production as the top Sharks forwards despite having played on a team with considerably less offense.

Evander Kane - Sharks
Evander Kane  (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Nyquist leaves Detroit sitting second among Red Wings forwards in ice time and on a team which has been outscored by 35 goals, he is a respectable minus-1. My Detroit-based THW colleague Tony Wolak offered this assessment:

Nyquist has thrived on Detroit’s top line alongside Dylan Larkin this season, but don’t assume that he’s a remora. ‘Goose’ has excellent vision and can finish as well. He’s having a career season and playing with more confidence now than over the past few campaigns. As a result, he has strong possession numbers and should surpass career highs for points before season’s end.

Nyquist on the Top Line?

Nyquist is a top line player on a team like the Red Wings, but where he’ll ultimately slot in on the Sharks is an open question. Head coach Peter DeBoer expects to experiment with Nyquist to find a good fit. He may be on the top line, though it isn’t clear which line is the Sharks’ top line.

His first game for San Jose came in Boston against the Bruins. He started on Joe Thornton’s line along with Kevin Labanc, filling the spot normally occupied by the injured Marcus Sorensen. While Nyquist was a headline entering the game, he was barely a footnote afterwards in a nasty 4-1 loss.

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Joe Thornton  (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Sharks have six forwards who’d fit on almost any team’s top line: Meier, Couture, Pavelski, Kane, Hertl and now Nyquist. Only Nyquist hasn’t hit the 20-goal mark but there is no need to stuff all these players onto two lines. They have another four forwards who can play top-six roles. This group, all with double-digit goals, includes Thornton, Joonas Donskoi, Labanc and Sorensen. One of these players will be on the fourth line. That’s depth!

What Does Nyquist Offer?

The Sharks are solid at center, loaded with left wingers but a bit light on the right side once one gets past Pavelski. Nyquist, a right winger, helps in this area. He can score, though the Sharks don’t need a lot of help there. What Nyquist will do is provide a ripple effect, where several lines become more dangerous.

The Sharks have been running a top line with Pavelski, Couture and Meier. They don’t have as much chemistry as I expected, though their talent competes with most of the league’s best lines. The line of Donskoi, Kane and Hertl has been a beast and the third line of Thornton, Sorensen and Labanc has come on strong of late (Thornton and Labanc each have a hat trick this month).

Where will Nyquist fit? DeBoer has time to sort through his options. Trade deadline acquisitions are somewhat notorious for underperforming. The process of integration into a new team can take time, and there isn’t a lot of it. One thing working in San Jose’s favor, they’ll be home for most of the remainder of the season, giving Nyquist more practice time than he’d get on road trips.

The Attrition Factor

Nyquist also offers the Sharks some insurance. The team’s biggest enemy right now is attrition. Their core is healthy with the exception of Erik Karlsson (more on this in the notes) and Sorensen. Another high-end forward makes the team less vulnerable in case injuries happen.

He will help the team roll four lines. If the ice time is spread more evenly, players are less likely to wear down. The ability to keep players fresh this time of year is a big deal. The Sharks favorable schedule acts as a tailwind for this.

The Sharks Competition

Nyquist is a ‘move the needle’ addition. He adds to an already formidable Sharks offense and if he integrates well, the team will be notably better. Two words come to mind: relentless and pressure. The Sharks will have capable goal scorers and playmakers on the ice virtually non-stop. Over the course of a game, opponents will have little room for error. Stop one line, and another, just as dangerous, hits the ice. And then another. On top of which, the Sharks’ blueliners can score, too.

Nyquist gives the Sharks elite depth. If he fills a top-line role, another talented player will be moved to a lower line and upgrade it or he can play on a lower line and upgrade it that way. In either case, the effect is the same.

The Sharks’ competition in the Western Conference moved some needles too. The Winnipeg Jets added Kevin Hayes, the Nashville Predators added Wayne Simmonds and the Vegas Golden Knights added Mark Stone, the best of the group. While the Nyquist move was strong, there is a keeping up with the Jones’s flavor to it.

Ottawa Senators Mark Stone
Mark Stone  (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

With the conclusion of the league’s trading period, the key players for playoff rosters are essentially set. The Sharks were one of several teams that improved. Whether they improved enough won’t be known until April at leeast. Preferably, we’ll find out in June.

Zeke’s Notes

• The Sharks made a very under-the-radar trade in acquiring Jonathan Dahlen from the Vancouver Canucks organization for Linus Karlsson. It may turn out neither player sees an NHL roster. Dahlen, age 21, is the son of former Sharks forward Ulf Dahlen and will wear the same jersey number as his father (22), albeit on the AHL team. Meanwhile, trading Karlsson continues the Sharks’ stunningly futile history of third-round selections who’ve done nothing for the organization. With the trade, the Sharks have none of their third-round selections remaining in their system.

• I was surprised to see Erik Karlsson in the lineup against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night. Actually, I was surprised Karlsson was even in Boston. The elite defenseman has been battling a groin injury since before the All-Star break. After missing a month, he returned to the lineup and played for a week before re-injuring it. Instead of taking adequate time to recover, he was on the ice just three days later against the Bruins. He went down in the second period in what looked like a game-ending injury but a few minutes later, he returned to the game; and got badly burned because, surprise surprise, he couldn’t skate.

At some point, the adults in the room need to take over. Karlsson is not his own best doctor and the team needs the coaches, management and medical staff to intervene. Some fans want Karlsson shut down until the playoffs because there is no game between now and then that is meaningful enough to risk another setback. I won’t go that far, yet, but I do think once Karlsson is ready to return, wait another 10 days. Feeling good isn’t enough and losing Karlsson for the playoffs would be an epic mistake. There’s no reason to take that risk.