With training camp on the horizon, the San Jose Sharks are primed to build off a historic campaign last season where the franchise made a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time. The off-season moves and motivated prospects in the farm system have put current roster players on notice before the start of camp.
After coming up short to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the finals, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson did not sit around looking to add a few pieces while keeping the core in place. Speed and offense proved to be the difference in the series as the Penguins showed more jump on the ice against the Sharks. Goaltender Martin Jones, the biggest acquisition before the start of last season, was unbelievable all postseason keeping the Sharks in contention but did not get the support from the players in front of him.
Enter David Schlemko and Mikkel Boedker
Schlemko is a versatile defenseman and has more upside with his puck moving skills than Roman Polak who left for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Boedker could perhaps be the biggest steal by Wilson with the offensive firepower the Danish native brings. The former first-round pick of the Arizona Coyotes is only 26 and his four-year deal with the Sharks has him entering his prime years. Expect Boedker to be slotted on the first or second line where Joe Thornton will be dishing him passes to put in the net.
Previous seasons have seen Sharks management gamble the future by trading draft picks for rental players as the team made a push for the playoffs. Expectations fell short with brief appearances capped by a gut-wrenching 2014 Western Conference Quarterfinal loss to the Los Angeles Kings after seizing a 3-0 series lead. Turmoil ensued the following season as the Sharks missed the playoffs and players were not seeing eye-to-eye with management.
Now with recent success, Wilson has chosen to no longer gamble the future by replenishing the farm system while staying in “win now” mode. Those looking to make the jump to the NHL are prospects Timo Meier and Nikolay Goldobin.
A 2015 first-round pick, Meier produced a solid training camp last season impressing first-year head coach Peter DeBoer to almost inserting him into the opening lineup. Despite being sent back to his junior club, Meier proved he was the real deal in the Sharks recent prospects scrimmage getting a hat trick in the game. Make no mistake Meier will be in the opening lineup October 12 when the Sharks open the season at home against the rival Kings.
Goldobin, a first-round pick in 2014, can crack the opening lineup but will need to have a solid training camp to show the Sharks coaching staff he can play consistently at a high level. In nine games last season he registered one goal and one assist but a report surfaced that players were unhappy how Goldobin conducted himself in the locker room. Roy Sommer, head coach of the San Jose Barracuda, called out the winger after a game showing little effort. The Russian will need to forgo his ego if wants to earn the trust of his teammates and Sharks management in training camp.
Job Security on the Line
Eyes will be on Nieto, a winger who has been unable to play in the NHL at a consistent level. While he may have the speed the Californian native is unable to bring the quickness to every game going nonexistent for his weak play. This was evident in the finals where he had one good game against the Penguins showing his flash and being effective. He would go on to disappear as he does after a good game.
In 67 games last season Nieto underperformed, registering 17 points, his worst in a short three-year career. Speed trending up in the NHL was a factor when Wilson gave a qualifying offer to Nieto, in what was a surprise. With prospects looking to crack the lineup, Nieto cannot afford to be irrelevant come the start of camp. If so, he could find himself in the AHL or with another team this season.
Wingels underperformed tremendously last season for the Sharks. A tough guy who can produce offensively, the winger put up only 18 points and found himself a healthy scratch by DeBoer for inconsistent play. Should a trade be made, Wingels may be the first to go with the abundance of prospects waiting in the wings.
The Sharks are the team to beat in the Western Conference and the team is ready to handle the expectations. Time will tell what becomes of Nieto and Wingels during training camp. A change of scenery may be in store as the organization looks to have a lineup of players producing consistently.