Sharks’ Biggest Question Mark in 2022-23 Will Be Defensive Corps

The San Jose Sharks have made a series of roster and management changes during the 2022 offseason. One of the more significant moves involved former Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns being sent to the Carolina Hurricanes. Despite being a mainstay of the Sharks’ defensive core for years, his age, combined with his contract, caused a dangerous situation for the team’s future cap space. As a result, Mike Grier decided to act before he became unmovable.

Now that Burns is no longer on the Sharks, the team’s defense is beginning to undergo a massive shift. The older core players, Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, will likely remain on the team for the foreseeable future, but there are holes that the youth will be expected to fill. So, with the 2022-23 season on the horizon, what is in store for the Sharks’ defense this year?

Sharks’ Veteran Defensemen Need to Rebound

With Karlsson and Vlasic making up the veteran presence on the blue line, the Sharks will be expecting them to lead the way this year. Unfortunately, the team is in an awkward middle ground where they are not entirely rebuilding but not quite contending either. However, if they want to find their way back to the playoffs, Karlsson and Vlasic returning to form will be critical.

Erik Karlsson San Jose Sharks
Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Hoping for Vlasic to rebound is a big ask. At 35 years of age, it can be challenging for a defensive-minded defenseman to find their physical game again. He’s been on a gradual decline for a while, and asking for a return to form would involve putting his body at risk. Realistically, there is little chance he becomes anywhere close to the defensive threat he used to be.

However, unlike Vlasic, there is a bit more reason to be optimistic with Karlsson. He showed this past season that he could rebound from his injuries, even if it was not a complete resurgence. This year could be another step in the right direction, or he could take a step back. Injuries can be a tricky thing to manage. However, if he can get in the groove again, it could go a long way for the Sharks.

Sharks Facing Potential Depth Issues

Outside of Karlsson and Vlasic, the rest of the defense corps ranges anywhere from incredibly promising to questionable at best. Mario Ferraro has arguably been the best defenseman on the Sharks for the past few years. At only 23 years old, he has a lot of time to develop into an even better player. They will definitely be looking to him to provide defensive stability this season.

Mario Ferraro San Jose Sharks
Mario Ferraro, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Matt Benning, Nikolai Knyzhov, Radim Simek, Markus Nutivaara, and Jaycob Megna will all slot in throughout the rest of the defense. Unfortunately, none of these players stand out as permanent top-four defensemen for a team that is looking to rebound. What could be even more problematic is that none of these players are below the age of 24, which gives little wiggle room for a development curve. The Sharks will need a late breakout from one of these players to help the team keep the puck out of the net.

Perhaps the most promising part of the 2022-23 season will be seeing Ryan Merkley get more ice time in the NHL. Although the Sharks brought in a lot of other defensemen this offseason, he has been itching for a chance in the big league for years. If he finally gets his chance, he could singlehandedly breathe new life into the defense, as this season could be his big break.

Related: Ryan Merkley Needs More Ice Time

The Sharks need their defense to play at full capacity in order to have a productive season. Though, it could potentially be complicated for the defense to be fully operational in its current state. However, with David Quinn behind the bench, the team might be able to find a new and improved game during the 2022-23 season. Only time will tell.

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