The San Jose Sharks are in a playoff spot – but with a few caveats. The first is that the Sharks have played between four and six games more than the teams directly below them in the wild-card standings, all of whom have a better points percentage. Speaking of which, the Sharks rank fourth in a pretty weak Pacific Division in that metric, narrowly ahead of the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers. While the Sharks technically have a playoff spot, they still have improvements to make if they expect to clinch a berth.
But, this is still the best Sharks team the NHL has seen in years. Frankly, being in the postseason mix is above many people’s expectations. On the backs of bounce-back performances and key free agency additions, the Sharks have impressed me. So, when I decided to grade the roster at the halfway point of the season, I thought it only fair to include expectations in my assessments. For example, I am complimentary of Jacob Middleton‘s performance in 2021-22 because he is outperforming all projections.
With that in mind, here are my grades for every notable Sharks player at the halfway point of the season:
Rudolfs Balcers- B, Unfortunately, the Latvian winger has just 27 games played, due to an upper-body injury that sidelined him in early December. In the first of his two-year deal, Balcers has tallied four goals and 12 points this season, but he scored in two of three games after his return from injured reserve but is now in COVID protocol.
Alexander Barabanov- B+, After impressing with seven points in nine games with the Sharks at the end of 2020-21, Barabanov has outperformed his one-year, $1 million prove-it deal. The Russian forward is sixth in team scoring with six goals and 21 points through 33 games.
Nick Bonino- B, The Tomas Hertls and Timo Meiers would not be as offensively effective if Nick Bonino did not take valuable minutes off opposing top lines. However, with just seven points and a negative shot differential, he has not been stellar this season. His grade is a reflection of his tough role at even strength and on the penalty kill that lessens the load for other San Jose centers.
Andrew Cogliano- B-, I have to give credit where it’s due, and Cogliano has impressed me this season. At 34, he’s averaging the most penalty killing time of any Sharks’ forward. He’s put up 11 points in 35 games to rank ninth on the team. Recently, he’s been called upon to play hard defensive minutes with Bonino and has been good in that role. I expect him to put up more points if he’s returned to the fourth line to face weaker competition.
Logan Couture- B+ After a hot start alongside a dominant Meier and impressive Jonathan Dahlen, Couture has cooled off slightly. He’s been a great offensive threat despite facing tough opponents, putting up 13 goals and 31 points through 37 games. He is a massive part of both San Jose special teams.
Jonathan Dahlen, B, Jumping directly from the second division in Sweden to the NHL was expectedly difficult. Yet, Dahlen is seventh on the team in points, with eight goals and eight assists in 36 games. His dip in production falls in line with his shoulder injury, removal from the first line, and slumping power play, but I’m optimistic he can find his scoring touch again. Signing him to a $750,000 on a one-way contract has worked out brilliantly for general manager Doug Wilson.
Jonah Gadjovich, C-, Currently injured, Gadjovich has been tough to read this season. He has just two assists in 22 games, used mostly in a fourth line, grinding, and fighting role. The 2017 second-round pick has 45 penalty minutes since joining the club via waivers. Unfortunately, Jeffrey Viel has taken his enforcer, fourth-line spot, even when he’s healthy.
Noah Gregor- C+, Gregor’s massive shooting slump makes his performance hard to grade. But, his score mainly reflects his ability to replace Barabanov or Balcers, who have not played together since early December. With just a goal and five assists in 25 games, while averaging over 15 minutes per night, he has not been the offensive catalyst the Sharks needed to provide depth scoring.
Tomas Hertl- A-, Tied for eighth in goals, second in even-strength goals, and tied for 12th in even-strength points league-wide, Hertl has provided the scoring the Sharks have needed while their power play struggles. With 21 goals through 41 games, he warrants a large raise next season from the Sharks or another team should he become an unrestricted free agent. He is heating up now, netting 13 goals and 24 points in the last 17 games.
Kevin Labanc- D+, In the second season of a four-year deal with a $4.75 million cap hit, Labanc has not been the top-six winger he and Wilson expected. He mainly played on the fourth line before a shoulder injury removed him from the lineup on Dec. 11. He only had two even-strength points in 21 games and had little impact on the power play.
Timo Meier- A+, Few players have been praised as much as Meier this season, and deservedly so. From a five-goal game to ranking second in even-strength points for most of the season, he earned the All-Star selection he received just over a week ago. His $6 million cap hit is a bargain with 21 goals and 46 points in 35 games, and he is eighth in the NHL scoring race.
Matt Nieto- C-, When the Sharks become fully healthy, fingers crossed, for their east coast road trip, I struggle to see where Nieto will fit into the lineup. Balcers and Cogliano are better two-way, penalty-killing players, and the Sharks have younger offensive options who warrant NHL minutes like Gregor, Nick Merkley, or Scott Reedy. Nieto has seven points through 34 games.
Lane Pederson- C-, After costing the organization a 2024 fourth-round pick, Pederson was given a two-year deal this offseason. The second of which has Pederson on a one-way deal. He has been recently outplayed by Adam Raska for an energy role on the fourth line, after just tallying two assists in 21 games.
Jeffrey Viel- C+, As mentioned above, Viel has won the role of fourth-line enforcer. With two goals and an assist through 10 games, I look forward to seeing his offensive impact in a larger sample size. He’s passing and been somewhat impressive, but only through 10 games.
Related: Sharks Must Address Depth Scoring Troubles
Jasper Weatherby- Pass, This will be the only “cop-out”. Weatherby has kept his fourth-line center role for the most part since training camp and has even played up the lineup or taken on special teams roles when needed. He’s scored one goal since Oct. 26, which is a little worrisome for the youngster, and I am still curious to see how Scott Reedy or Nick Merkley would perform at center at the NHL level.
Brent Burns- B, I have given Burns the benefit of the doubt on his grade since the Sharks’ top pairing has played an insane amount of minutes, especially against opposing top lines. Also, he is having his second-worst season since moving to San Jose, scoring on just 3.8% of his shots. He’s back on the top power-play unit and has four goals and 27 points in 41 games.
Mario Ferraro- B, Third-year defenseman Mario Ferraro is Burns’ partner, averaging about 24 minutes a game. He leads the league in blocked shots and is the team’s most trusted defensive option. However, according to MoneyPuck, San Jose controls expected goals marginally better without either Burns or Ferraro. That’s largely due to their tough matchups at even strength, but still, they are not succeeding in this role.
Erik Karlsson- B+, The Swedish defenseman has been the best San Jose blueliner in my mind. He is tied for fourth on the team in goals with eight while putting up 26 points through 33 games. He’s also elevated Jacob Middleton and Jaycob Middleton to acceptable top-four players for now. At even strength, the Sharks control 6.7% more expected goals with Karlsson vs. without, the biggest impact of any of the team’s defensemen.
Jaycob Megna- B, Fair play to Megna, who has held the fort alongside Karlsson in Middleton’s absence (concussion). His impact on shot attempts and expected goals has been boosted by his Swedish partner, but he’s been more effective at even strength than on the penalty kill to earn minutes over Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Nicolas Meloche- C-, In 14 games this season, Meloche has not done enough to remain a consistent part of the team’s defense group. He’s been outplayed by Megna and Ryan Merkley, despite starting the season ahead of them on the depth chart.
Jacob Middleton- A, No one expected Middleton to be a quintessential part of the Sharks’ defense entering this season. A San Jose Barracuda mainstay, Middleton has been exceptional this season, filling Nikolai Knyzhov’s spot alongside Karlsson. He’s surpassed all my expectations for him entering this season.
Ryan Merkley- B-, Merkley’s offensive talent has yet to translate into points, but his strong puck carrying skills allow for more offensive potential than Simek. He has one goal this season, but he’s steadily improved and filled in as a quarterback on the second power-play unit while Karlsson and Burns play together on the top unit.
Radim Simek- D+, The second and final failing player Simek has been replaced in the lineup by Megna and Merkley. I thought Middleton’s injury would create a great opportunity for Simek to join the top-four defense group, but in the eyes of the coaching staff, his lackluster play has made him a healthy scratch since Jan. 6. He has just two points and a marginally negative impact on shot attempts and expected goals per MoneyPuck.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic- C-, Entering the season, I had the same standard for Vlasic: remain an acceptable third-pairing defenseman. While he has been scratched for one game this season, unlike Simek, he’s kept his spot in the lineup and been passable as a defense partner while Merkley transitions to the NHL. However, when Knyzhov and/or Middleton return, Vlasic could lose his spot.
Adin Hill- B-, Hill’s tenure with the Sharks has seen flashes of brilliance followed by cold streaks. He’s now on a hot streak, which was needed while Reimer dealt with injury. Hill has a .903 save percentage (SV%) but also had a .932 SV% through five games before allowing three goals on 17 shots against the Seattle Kraken on Thursday.
James Reimer- A, Among goalies with at least 15 games played, Reimer is tied for 12th in SV% with a .918. His horrendous performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins – he gave up six goals on 17 shots in one period – sinks that number, sadly. His most recent performance against the LA Kings on Monday showed he’s back to being solid and healthy.
What do you think of my grades for the Sharks’ players at the halfway mark? Let me know in the comment section below!