The San Jose Sharks last played an NHL game on March 11, 2020. After months of uncertainty and a lack of Sharks hockey, the team is scheduled to play their first game against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday.
In those 10 months off, the Sharks’ roster has seen numerous changes. Most notably, franchise legend Joe Thornton headed to Toronto, but tenured players such as Melker Karlsson and Aaron Dell also departed. Despite this, the Sharks are fielding a roster that they believe will have more success than last year’s disappointments.
The Roster Locks
Among the forwards, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Timo Meier, Evander Kane, Ryan Donato, and Patrick Marleau were guarantees to make the roster. Aside from Marleau and Donato, the other players expect to be in the Sharks’ top-six forward core. Donato, after being acquired for a third-round pick from the Minnesota Wild, was always making the team. Marleau, who’s looking to set the NHL all-time record for games played, needs to play and will likely do so in the bottom six.
On the blue line, Erik Karlsson, Radim Simek, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns, and Mario Ferraro are locks to make the opening night roster. Though some have injury concerns, all but Ferraro are under contract for four more seasons. Radim Simek is the primary injury concern, as he missed multiple practices and scrimmages. Entering his sophomore season, Ferraro assured himself a roster spot with a solid rookie campaign.
In net, Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk were always to be the tandem. Dubnyk was recently acquired from the Wild, and needs to rebound after a disappointing season. Similarly, Jones was always guaranteed a roster selection, but he’ll need to improve from his past two regular seasons.
Roster Battles and Surprise Breakouts
The third and fourth line center spots were an open competition, given the Sharks’ lack of center depth. While former second-round selection Dylan Gambrell appeared to enter as the first choice, he appears to have been beaten, as Noah Gregor and Joel Kellman appear to be the third and fourth centers, respectively, meaning Gambrell will start as a healthy scratch.
In many preliminary roster projections, Donato appeared to be a second-line option. However, rookie and college sensation John Leonard appears to have won the job to play on the second line. Leading the NCAA in goals at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, he has continued to impress in camp and won a roster spot.
Between Marcus Sorensen, Stefan Noesen, and Matt Nieto, there was a battle to make up the remaining bottom-six winger spots. With their one way contracts, all were good bets to make the team. As it appears now, Nieto has gained a third-line role, Sorensen plays on the fourth line, and Noesen begins the season scratched. Today, the team snagged former Shark Rudolfs Balcers from the Ottawa Senators via waivers, although it is unknown where he slots into the Sharks’ depth chart.
With one defenseman spot always up for grabs, and a temporary role pending Simek’s health available, numerous defensemen battled for the spots. Given the Sharks’ active roster, it appears journeymen Jake Middleton and Nikolai Knyzhov have won those spots.
As this tweet suggests, these are the taxi squad selections. Sasha Chmelevski, one of the Sharks’ better forward prospects, begins on the taxi squad. Swedish hockey veteran Fredrik Handemark and 23-year-old Jeffrey Viel round out the extra forwards.
Brinson Pasichnuk impressed at camp and has earned a taxi squad role. The Sharks signed him as a college free agent from Arizona State University this offseason. After three AHL seasons, Colorado Avalanche 2015 second-round pick Nicolas Meloche looks to play in his first NHL game but remains as a reserve.
Alexei Melnichuk, the Sharks’ best goaltending prospect, will begin the season training with the NHL team. Needing to play games to develop more, coach Bob Boughner has noted he and Josef Korenar could rotate between third-string goalie and AHL starter.
The Sharks will line up Thursday against the Coyotes. After some significant roster turnover, it is important the team succeed early against a Coyotes’ squad also in contention in the Honda Western Division.
With numerous new faces and young players, it is difficult to predict how this roster will compete. A quality start is something San Jose has not had in a few years, and with a new group of players, it is important they begin well.