Mixed Reviews From Finland
Most prospect prognosticators agree that San Jose Sharks prospect Nikolay Goldobin is best served starting 2015-16 in the AHL. San Jose’s first round pick in last year’s draft, 27th overall, will turn 20 in early October. The young Russian winger spent the majority of last season playing with HIFK Helsinki in Finland’s SM-liiga.
Goldobin scored 11 goals and finished with 21 points in 38 games with Helsinki before playing nine games with the AHL’s Worcester Sharks. According to a Hockey’s Future post in late April, Goldobin could end up an NHL star or a first round bust.
The Hockey’s Future article heavily criticizes Goldobin’s defensive drive but other prospect periodicals will say his defensive commitment improved over the course of the year. The reality is like any prospect, time will tell with Goldobin. We just don’t know how Goldobin’s game will grow or stagnate. Come this year’s training camp, the 2014 first round pick will certainly be given every opportunity to earn his way onto the opening night roster.
Last preseason, Goldobin shined early with fellow prospects Chris Tierney and Barclay Goodrow. The rookie trio remained together until teams started playing more regular NHLers. Goldobin didn’t fare nearly as well when thrown on Joe Thornton’s wing. Generously listed at 6-foot, 185 pounds, the right winger looked incredibly small compared to his competition. Whatever his actual weight, it is clear the Goldobin from last year’s preseason needs to put on 15-20 pounds to compete at the NHL level.
If Goldobin proves ready for the NHL come September, the question then lies where the Sharks will play him. They must do a better job putting Goldobin in a lineup spot where he can succeed. Last year, San Jose put 19-year-old defenseman Mirco Mueller in a tough spot alongside Brent Burns, who hadn’t played defense in over two years. Mueller and Burns got off to an incredibly rocky start. The Sharks don’t want to make that mistake again. Confidence is everything in hockey. The Sharks must put Goldobin in the best possible spot to succeed. So where would that be?
Finding the Perfect Spot for Goldobin
Well, assuming the Sharks don’t trade for, or sign any more forwards this offseason, (which is likely since they need to focus on defense and goaltending), one spot in particular makes the most sense for Goldobin.
As discussed here recently, the Sharks’ fourth line should be made up of three hard-working players known to be defensively responsible. Ergo, starting Goldobin and playing him those limited minutes with less capable offensive linemates isn’t ideal. Neither is playing him in the top six. The top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski often sees tough matchups, as does the second line with Logan Couture. Therefore, Goldobin playing with highly skilled offensive linemates on a sheltered third line is the best way to go. Now, what does that look like?
If the Sharks are going to go with an offensively sheltered third line, then it is wise to move the defensively strong Chris Tierney up to the top six. Tierney sparkled as the third-line center late down the stretch last year with 14 points in 18 games. He played most of that time with Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels. A pure set-up guy, imagine what Tierney can do with Logan Couture on his wing.
While Couture has mostly been a center, he isn’t an elite faceoff guy and is more of a scorer than a play-maker. Putting him on the wing with Tierney in the middle and Wingels on the opposite side would give the Sharks an elite shut-down second line. This trio would be able to stifle top opponents and score some goals too. Just like how Thornton and Pavelski are a wicked passing and shooting combination, Couture and Tierney are capable of putting together a similar rapport. I’ll get to where Goldobin fits in a moment.
Nieto, Marleau, Goldobin
With the second and fourth lines being Couture-Tierney-Wingels and Goodrow-Smith-Karlsson, that leaves two more lines to be put together. While they only had brief success together last year, my thought process tells me it is wise to throw the offensively dynamic Tomas Hertl back on the top line with the Joes. Hertl shined as a rookie on Thornton’s line opposite then-forward Brent Burns. Ideally after a sophomore slump, Hertl’s knee will be back to 100 percent and will flourish once again next to Thornton in Year 3. That gets us finally back to Goldobin’s sheltered third line.
The ideal spot for Goldobin is to play his natural right wing next to Patrick Marleau in the middle opposite Matt Nieto. Often used in the past as a shut-down forward, the Sharks would be wise to reduce Marleau’s minutes after he took a step back in 2014-15. At 36-years old come next season, Marleau isn’t what he used to be. His effectiveness at even strength wasn’t the same, and his penalty-killing performance dropped dramatically.
That said, Marleau can still score goals. Despite a career low shooting percentage last season, No. 12 still bagged 19 goals. With Marleau back at his natural center spot, this entire line can absolutely low-fly. Each one of them brings tremendous speed. Plus, despite being snake bit points wise, Nieto was one of the best possession forwards in the entire NHL before the team collapsed in February. Nieto and Marleau together with Couture often faced shut-down minutes as well. If these two are instead put out in an offensive role, they will make sure Goldobin plays the majority of his minutes in the offensive zone where he belongs.
Maybe Goldobin will be better served in the AHL, but an offensive line with Marleau and Nieto should get him off to a good start. While the Sharks still have lots of work to do defensively and between the pipes, their plausible forward lineup looks pretty darn good: