A new direction and replenished farm system make the San Jose Sharks one of the more curious teams heading into the 2022-23 season. With so many question marks from top to bottom, just about any prediction would be a bold one for Team Teal. While there’s plenty of reason for optimism, there’s even more room for skepticism. Instead of dipping our toes in the water, we’re taking the plunge with these bold predictions for Sharks hockey this season.
Erik Karlsson Finally Has a Bounce-Back Season
I’m going out on a broken limb here considering Erik Karlsson has yet to play beyond 56 games in a season for San Jose due to injury setbacks. That’s also one of the many reasons the 2022-23 season is a make-or-break year for the Sharks’ top blueliner who will be called upon to shoulder the load. Call it a hunch, but I think he is due for a breakout season under a new system.
Bob Boughner’s defense-first system was never going to help an offensive defenseman like Karlsson thrive. A more active blue line under David Quinn sheds a promising light on his outlook in 2022-23. Also, take into account that the Sharks’ $11.5 million man will finally receive the top-pairing minutes they paid him for to begin with in Brent Burns’ absence. Look for him to use his shot more en route to a rebound season.
Strauss Mann Asserts Himself as the Sharks’ Goalie of the Future
Strauss Mann went unnoticed through the NHL Entry Draft, eventually being signed as an undrafted free agent by San Jose this past offseason. Scouts cited his 6-foot frame as too small for sustained success for a goaltender at the NHL level. This season, he’s out to prove those projections wrong.
After being reassigned to the San Jose Barracuda of the American Hockey League (AHL) last week, the University of Michigan alum is poised to take the next step. The scouting report on Mann is a goaltender who reads and anticipates the play well with great lateral movement and reflexes to match.
It’s a miracle that Mann, 24, escaped recognition given the fact he posted a goals-against average no higher than 1.89 and a save percentage no lower than .930 in his final two seasons of Big-10 hockey. Well, he won’t go unnoticed any longer as he’s looking to prove he belongs in the NHL. That said, he appears ready to show he’s the Sharks “Mann” of the future between the pipes.
Ryan Merkley’s Demotion Helps Him Reach His Ceiling
Ryan Merkley’s shocking reassignment to the Barracuda last week led many to believe he’s a draft bust in the making. However, at only 22 years old, there’s still time for the former first-round draft pick to come into his own. While he was expected to have asserted himself in the Sharks’ lineup by now, top-pairing minutes in the AHL could be just what the doctor ordered for his development.
Related: San Jose Sharks’ Strauss Mann could fix Goaltending Crisis
It’s not as if Merkley looked dreadful in the preseason. On the contrary, he displayed tremendous flashes of brilliance in his ability to carry the play and set up in the offensive zone. Clean zone exits and entries are the 22-year-old’s bread and butter. That’s never been a question. However, his defensive play has been a cause for concern from the moment San Jose took him 21st overall. While the Oakville, Ontario, native has taken great leaps in that department, he’s yet to hit his stride in the NHL. Merkley, who harbors all the tools to perform at the NHL level, should see all those rough edges sanded off with one final stint in the AHL this season.
Sharks Sneak Into a Playoff Spot If Top Prospects Play
Now, for the least popular, yet subjective, prediction in the NHL. If William Eklund and Thomas Bordeleau are given an opportunity in the bottom six, the Sharks could slide into the playoff picture. Both prospects have started the season as healthy scratches on the big club, which is a curious decision for the sake of their development, as any ice time is better than none at all. What’s more, the Sharks’ 4-1 loss in their season opener reminded fans just how badly Eklund and Bordeleau are needed in the bottom six.
Secondary scoring was among the primary issues in San Jose for a team that ranked third-worst in goal scoring. General manager Mike Grier pointedly addressed those shortcomings by making his bottom six more formidable with the signings of Oscar Lindblom, Nico Sturm, and Luke Kunin. Those additions will provide a more balanced attack to alleviate the pressure on Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl. With increased secondary scoring, some young talent, and a good bit of luck, San Jose could see a return to playoff contention in 2022-23.
2022-23 Season Will Shed Clarity on the Sharks’ Murky Future
This season is pivotal in assessing an uncertain future in Sharks’ Territory. Sharks fans will get a clearer picture of how far their beloved team is from playoff contention as the season progresses. Grier implied as much in a joint press conference with Quinn while introducing him as the new head coach, “We’ll just kind of see where we land as far as the conference,” Grier said. “If we’re not quite there yet, we’re not quite there yet.”
In layman’s terms, the Sharks are in wait-and-see mode. The development of Eklund, Bordeleau and Merkley will play key roles in providing those answers sooner rather than later. If all else fails, there’s always the silver lining of getting Connor Bedard in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.