For the San Jose Sharks, the remainder of the 2022-23 NHL season is not primarily about winning games. As the team begins to wrap up a season in which they will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, they are instead focused on developing their young players and testing out fringe NHL players. Such is one of the benefits of not being in contention — the Sharks can test out a variety of players while preparing for next season. Thus far, these players have answered the call, making positive contributions on the ice right now while simultaneously improving the franchise’s long-term outlook.
Helping on Offense and Defense
Even as the Sharks go through a rough season, none of their players will ever try to lose on purpose, and nowhere is that more true than with a group trying to prove that they belong on next season’s opening night roster. In the team’s recent three-game winning streak, these players have made their impact felt repeatedly.
In the first game of the streak against the Winnipeg Jets, three under-25 forwards combined on the opening goal when Noah Gregor scored with assists from Jacob Peterson and Fabian Zetterlund. Gregor added an assist later in the game, and a fourth young forward got involved in the action when Martin Kaut scored the final goal of the 3-0 victory.
The follow-up win over the Vegas Golden Knights provided much of the same. Sharks younger than 25 combined for seven points in the game. But it wasn’t just about offense in this case. Defenseman Henry Thrun made his NHL debut, and while he recorded two assists, he also participated in a crucial penalty kill near the end of regulation that kept the game tied and gave San Jose a chance to win in overtime. Gregor and defenseman Mario Ferraro spent significant time killing penalties as well.
Finally, the offensive explosion against the Arizona Coyotes featured contributions from players who had excelled in the previous two games and brand-new faces. Gregor recorded his first career hat trick, Peterson posted his first goal as a Shark, and call-ups Kyle Criscuolo and Danil Gushchin scored their first NHL goals in a dominant 7-2 win.
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Incredibly, the Sharks are playing their best hockey of the season right now. And while doing so is the result of a team-wide effort, many of the key players driving the stellar results have been the smaller names playing their hardest to fight for their spot on the big club.
Improving the Sharks’ Vibes
The players in question are making their presence known on the ice, and it’s also translating off the ice. The mood around the team seems to have improved significantly. Even if it hurts San Jose’s draft standing, winning is always more fun than losing for the players. This is true of both the young guys getting their first crack at the NHL and the veterans who have been through many seasons, but the young and fringe players add something to the roster. They bring excitement and passion, which are necessary for their hopes of sticking around in the league permanently. Their effort and intensity can set the tone for the entire team and create an infectious enthusiasm that translates to the entire organization.
Morale isn’t just higher within the franchise. Sharks fans should be paying close attention to where their team stands right now. The winning and the contributions from new faces make the Sharks a significantly more interesting hockey team than they were a week ago. It would have been easy to coast the rest of the season, but the aforementioned players refused to let that happen and, in the process, have generated momentum for next season. Regardless of the results in the remaining games of the 2022-23 campaign, San Jose will be worth following both this year and next.
Hope for Sharks Next Season
As mentioned above, most of these young players are being given a chance right now to prove how they might be able to contribute to the Sharks next season. So far, the outlook is promising. Most, if not all, of the players mentioned in this article will still be members of the organization when the 2023-24 season begins, and there are a few others to look out for as well. William Eklund will miss the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery, but he has played well in his time in the NHL and is expected back in time for training camp. Jonah Gadjovich has made key contributions at various points throughout the year. Even goalie Eetu Makiniemi turned in some solid performances during his brief visit to the Sharks back in December.
The San Jose Sharks may not necessarily win many games the rest of this season or even next season. But if all of these players can stay healthy, they can begin to establish themselves as steady NHL presences and prepare to be part of a winning Sharks team in the very near future.