Not All Bad
If you’re a fan of the San Jose Sharks, you may be just a tad bit upset with your team. Okay, perhaps more than a tad upset; you’re furious. In an 11-month span, you’ve seen your favorite team go from being up 3-0 in a series against the Los Angeles Kings, to missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
The 2014-2015 season was a terrible campaign for the Sharks. Their 5v5 goals-for percentage dropped to 24th in the league, their corsi ranking fell out of the top-10, and their road record was a disgusting 19-17-5. The playoff collapse against the Kings destroyed the team for almost the entire season. Although, were we really surprised at the result given the terrible offseason San Jose had?
But there are plenty of articles that discuss the negatives of the season, breaking down the critical errors made throughout the year. This one is going to be different. Despite having a forgettable year, there were many great things that came out of it. Rookies emerged as dominant players, San Jose’s future core group played at a consistently high level, and the Sharks will have their highest draft pick since 2007. It appears next year will be better.
Promising Rookies Emerge
One beneficial decision made after the playoffs was Doug Wilson choosing to incorporate younger players into the lineup. Because of this move, talented rookies like Melker Karlsson, Chris Tierney, and Matt Tennyson were granted the opportunity to play in the NHL. These three players, among other youngsters that were part of San Jose’s lineup, made a large impact on the team.
Karlsson was a gift from the hockey gods to the Sharks. After starting on the third line with James Sheppard and Barclay Goodrow midway through the year, he proved himself to be an incredible player that had the potential to do great things for the team. He was eventually moved up to play with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski on the top line, thus allowing Tomas Hertl to drop down to a lower group. He has recorded 13 goals and 11 assists since his debut in December.
The 20-year-old Tierney ended the season on an absolute tear that has Sharks fans excited for his future. Throughout the season, he was sent between the Bay Area and Worcester, but became a consistent part of the lineup towards the conclusion of the campaign. His high intelligence and playmaking abilities landed him a job as the club’s third-line center, replacing ex-Shark James Sheppard. This position was a controversial one as many felt Joe Pavelski should play there. However, Tierney has excelled filling this lineup spot and may have ended the 3C controversy once and for all.
Even though he never received a full-time roster spot, there are high hopes for the right-handed Tennyson. The defenseman performed well with the team and even held his own playing on the second pair with Brendan Dillon while Justin Braun was injured. He is both defensively responsible and offensively capable, something that the Sharks will need in the years to come. Hopefully he will earn a permanent roster spot next season.
These three rookies are in addition to the likes of Karl Stollery, Taylor Fedun, and Daniil Tarasov, who got valuable NHL experience during times of injury. These games played with the big club will surely assist their development in the near future.
Future Core’s High Performance
On top of the success the rookies had this past season, San Jose’s future leaders had incredible years.
Joe Pavelski continued his goal-scoring ways by potting 37 tallies along with 33 assists. He also emerged as a potential captain on a team that lacked a definite leader during the season.
Logan Couture had himself a career year despite playing on a second line that was ice-cold for long stretches. In 82 games, he registered 67 points with 27 goals and 40 assists. My guess is that he will have an even better year next season if he plays with linemates that aren’t struggling.
And finally, Marc-Edouard Vlasic continued to be his suffocating self. He was reliable in his own zone and even earned time on the second power-play unit during the year. Unfortunately he suffered numerous injuries which cut his season down to 70 games. If he can stay healthy, there is no doubt that he will be San Jose’s top defenseman as long as he is on the team.
A Top-15 Pick
The lone benefit to having a terrible season is that the team will have a relatively early pick in the upcoming draft. In the case for San Jose, they will either possess the ninth, tenth, or eleventh overall selection in 2015, depending on the results of the Colorado and Florida games. Of course, I’m assuming they don’t win the draft lottery and get Connor McDavid. This will be the first time San Jose will hold a top-15 pick since 2007 when they drafted Logan Couture ninth overall.
This draft range has quite a bit of potential to obtain a franchise player. Since the year 2000, the following players have been selected in this area: Mikael Grandlund (9th), Dion Phaneuf (9th), Cody Hodgson (10th), Jonas Brodin (10th), Anze Kopitar (11th), and Jeff Carter (11th). They’re not the Steven Stamkoses of the group, but they’re pretty good. Maybe a pick in this range can give the Sharks another Couture-caliber player.
Better Luck Next Year
There are many things to be excited for next season. Young players will have the opportunity to develop further, underperforming free agents will probably not be on the team (Scott Hannan, John Scott), and there is a chance that Brent Burns will move back to the forward position. This year was bad, but they could very easily be a competitive team next season.
Drew Weber is a columnist for the San Jose Sharks at The Hockey Writers. He previously wrote articles and appeared on podcasts for Teal Town USA (formerly Pucknology) and contributed briefly to Fear the Fin. You can follow him on Twitter at @puck_over_glass.