The San Jose Sharks re-signed Sweedish center Joel Kellman earlier this week. Kellman signed for another two seasons at an average of $750,000, with the first season being a two-way contract and the second season being one-way. Before becoming a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season, Kellman absorbed a cap hit of $925,000 on a San Jose team with rather limited cap space.
A Reliable Depth Center
Playing in 31 games as a rookie after being pulled up from the AHL in mid-December, Kellman tallied three goals and four assists for seven points. In an 82-game season, that’s on pace for around 19 points. It’s likely his scoring was limited by his defense zone starts, which were the highest on the team. For the San Jose Barracuda, he reached a slightly more impressive 16 points in 25 games before being called up.
As a third- or fourth-line player, they don’t need Kellman to reach 30 to 40 points, but as a rookie playing limited minutes and still adapting to the wider North American rinks, his numbers aren’t a cause for fans to bemoan his re-signing, especially since he was an undrafted free agent signing after his success in Sweeden. Before making the move across the Atlantic, Kellman played four complete seasons in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), where he played 196 games and totaled 114 points.
Despite being 26, he still has offensive potential. Encouragingly, his individual points percentage (IPP), a statistic that measures an individual’s contribution to team scoring, was 87.5, almost 20 points higher than Logan Couture’s 68.42. He also had an impressive individual expected goals per 60 minutes, ranking among the team’s best. These advanced statistics and his successful SHL tenure show that Kellman has the ability to put up more respectable numbers for a bottom-six player in the next two seasons.
Defensively, he has proved himself a reliable addition. With only four penalty minutes, he plays a really clean game and rarely puts his team down a man. His takeaways and giveaways negated each other with just eight each way, so he isn’t much of a liability in the defensive zone. While he isn’t likely to stand out, he proved himself a perfectly capable fourth-line center.
Contract Gives Sharks Wiggle Room
With the NHL salary cap not likely to increase, most teams will be impacted in one way or another. For the Sharks, it means they need to save every cent they can in order to sign free agents in the summer in an attempt to build a playoff roster. Re-signing Kellman for almost $200,000 less than his previous contract is a step in the right direction. It may make re-signing free agents Kevin Labanc or Joe Thornton easier. The latter re-signing could be important in maintaining depth at center.
Other centers who could compete for a spot are Dylan Gambrell, Alex True, and Antti Suomela, if he is re-signed. Kellman’s return suggests he is likely in the Sharks’ plans down the middle, but his spot on the roster isn’t locked-in. Gambrell probably had the best chance to compete for his spot out of the three other top options, but he isn’t even a true center; he was a wing who filled in at center because of the injuries that the Sharks faced in the second half of the season. Seeing as the options are thin, re-signing Kellman was almost a must for general manager Doug Wilson.
Notably, Thornton played third-line center most of the season, one spot above Kellman in the depth charts. If the Sharks can’t re-sign Thornton or he retires, they will likely try to add a center in free agency. If they are unable to, Kellman could be asked to move up since he is arguably the most capable out of their limited options. However, Kellman playing on the third line or even in the top-six is a less-than-ideal situation that the Sharks will try to avoid. He is best suited on the fourth line.