When the San Jose Sharks take the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers at home on Oct. 4, there will be a vacancy in the lineup fans have not seen since a 1-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on April 9, 2009. Patrick Marleau will be absent. A gap that massive, in production and cultural impact if not in physical size, will need to be filled this season, and who better to do it than the Sharks’ up and coming stars of tomorrow?
The Sharks’ cupboard is brimming, but there are some who stand out more than others. Who stands the best chance of sticking with the team for the long haul and filling some small portion of Marleau’s metaphorically massive skates?
#4. Jeremy Roy Bounces Back
The 31st overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Jeremy Roy (pronounced like Patrick, not Derek) spent the last four seasons in the QMJHL, most recently for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. After Roy fell in the draft, being ranked as high as 10 ahead of the big day, the Sharks paid dearly for their draft position, sending their 39th pick that year along with their 2016 second round and 2017 third round picks to Colorado for the ability to pick Roy at 31.
The following season, Roy made sure the Sharks did not regret their decision, as the 17-year-old put up 34 points in 45 games for the Sherbrooke Phoenix. It was a strong season objectively, but a step back by Roy’s standards as the dynamic defenseman battled injuries. He was traded to the Armada for the following season, but unfortunately, a knee injury sustained off a hit from Cape Breton Screaming Eagles defenseman Marcus Tesink in an October 22 win cost Roy the remainder of the 2016-17 season, only suiting up for ten games.
Despite this, Roy is attending the Sharks’ 2017 development camp and is expected to play the 2017-18 season with the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda. Roy is a smooth skating, puck moving defenseman, capable of creating offensive threats through his vision and passing as well as through his blistering wrist shot. While he is not a prototypical hold-the-blue-line-by-smashing-into-people defenseman, at 6’0″, 200 pounds he’s no shrinking violet either, and can make up for deficiencies in size with his above average skating ability and sound positional play.
Roy will go a long way in filling a smaller gap left this off-season by the Vegas Golden Knights’ acquisition of defenseman David Schlemko (then acquired by the Montreal Canadiens), if not this season then next.
#3. Danny O’Regan Just Keeps Getting Better
Center Danny O’Regan continued to grow and mature in his first pro season in 2016-17, posting 58 points in 63 regular season AHL games, seven points in 15 playoff games, and one point in three games during a cup of coffee with the big club. Drafted in the fifth round, 138 overall in the 2012 entry draft, O’Regan finished four years at Boston College before signing his entry level contract with San Jose in 2016.
Following a League-wide trend, O’Regan is a small center who boasts impressive skating ability, hockey sense, and vision, predictably drawing comparisons in style to Tyler Johnson and Johnny Gaudreau. Standing a meager 5’10”, O’Regan nonetheless kept pace with the increased pressure of professional hockey and is looking to impress at this year’s development camp.
He is an exceptional skater and has the ability to control the puck at top speed with the best of them. He’s likely to be a dangerous player both in the crease with his excellent lateral movement and on the rush with his exceptional acceleration and speed. If O’Regan makes the team as a depth center, he’ll be called upon to play responsible defensive hockey. If he can continue to grow and improve his physical strength, he is likely to be an effective defensive player in the NHL.
Looking at the Sharks’ depth chart, replete though it is with natural centers, the fourth line spot seems to be up for grabs. If the Sharks play Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Chris Tierney down the middle, it will be up to O’Regan to beat out journeyman Ryan Carpenter for a chance to hold down the bottom three. After Carpenter’s record-setting postseason, this is anything but certain, but at 23 years old, O’Regan is likely to continue to develop into an impactful player in the next few years.
#2. Kevin Labanc Cashes In
The OHL’s leading scorer in 2015-16, Kevin Labanc impressed in limited NHL action in 2016-17 and may spend the entirety of 2017-18 with the Sharks. However, his position on the team is not yet certain and he was invited to attend the Sharks’ 2017 development camp.
Labanc scored 20 points in 55 NHL games in 2016-17 but made had a greater impact in the AHL for the San Jose Barracuda, scoring 19 points in 19 regular season games and seven points in 15 playoff contests.
Labanc was drafted in the sixth round, 171 overall in 2014, and played the next two seasons with the Barrie Colts of the OHL before graduating to pro hockey in the 2016-17 season. Wasting little time, Labanc spent time with both the Sharks and Barracuda and, while not yet a game-breaking talent, did not look out of place in either role.
A fast and skilled puck-handler and passer, Labanc has confidence that seemed unshaken on the sport’s biggest stage, spending time all over the lineup, including riding shotgun with both Joe Thornton and Logan Couture at times. Additionally, Labanc was an integral part of the Barracuda’s franchise record post-season run, and if there’s any credit to be given for pun-worthy names, Labanc is a solid investment.
#1. Time for Timo Meier
Top of the heap, Timo, top of the heap! Sharks fans have been crying out for Timo Time for a while now, and it may have finally arrived. After appearing in 34 regular season games for the Sharks in 2016-17 and five playoff contests, Meier is all but a lock to play the full 82 games with the NHL club next season.
Meier is a beast on the ice, and his six points in 34 regular season games belies his shoot-first philosophy, excellent possession metrics, and take-no-prisoners style.
While his six points last season may seem like cause for alarm, Meier placed fourth in the NHL in shots per 60 minutes of ice time among forwards with at least 300 minutes played. His shooting percentage is bound to improve over a larger sample size, and Meier sees himself as the leading candidate to fill the goals gap left by the departing Marleau. When general manager Doug Wilson asked Meier if the former should be shopping for a winger to replace Marleau’s 27 goals, Meier responded, “I’m ready.”
Meier’s confidence exceeds his conversations with his manager. On the ice, Meier plays a dominant physical game, using his 6’1″, 200-pound body to come out of board battles with the puck and to protect it. His versatility has long been a cornerstone of his game, and his ability to be a consistent scoring threat or a grinding shut down player depending on the need, bodes will for his future with the Sharks organization.
Filling Gaps in the Pipeline
The Sharks prospect pipeline overall looks pretty healthy, but it has taken some hits recently. Departures of Mirco Mueller, Nikolay Goldobin and Mantas Armalis, among others, have left the Sharks wanting on defense and at left wing.
Hopefully, the Sharks’ tendency to develop centers with the ability to play on the wing will continue, and players like O’Regan, Ryan Carpenter, and 2017 first round pick Josh Norris will be able to fill some of these gaps. But the Sharks will need to start shoring up the future at some of these positions to ensure a consistent flow of talent. With no picks in the second or third round of the 2018 draft, the Sharks have to hope for their current prospect cast to live up to their potential.
Honorable Mentions: Josh Norris, Joakim Ryan, Nick DeSimone, Mario Ferraro, Rudolfs Balcers, Rourke Chartier, Julius Bergman, Dylan Gambrell, Scott Reedy and Jake Jackson.