The San Jose Sharks have a few roster spots available ahead of the 2016-17 campaign and they already have a short list. After falling only two wins short of the Stanley Cup, not many changes are in the forecast for San Jose.
San Jose Sharks Roster Nearly Complete
The roster will return the top two picks in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, center Joe Thornton and winger Patrick Marleau. Logan Couture will continue to be the Sharks best forward centering the second line, providing his impressive two-way skills. Newly signed Mikkel Boedker will likely be somewhere in the middle-six forward group as well.
The forward lines are projected to look something like this:
And that blank is where the competition for a roster spot lies. The Sharks already have Tommy Wingels under contract for the year, but he was not a favorite player of head coach Peter DeBoer. The Sharks brought in another player from Europe in Marcus Sorensen with plenty of professional hockey experience, albeit in Europe. Adding to the mix is San Jose’s ninth overall selection in the 2015 entry draft, Timo Meier.
Sharks Raid Europe Again
San Jose signed Sorensen during their playoff run, the third year in a row they have reached to previously drafted Scandinavian players who returned home to develop. Sorensen’s skills, speed, and agility were on full display at the Sharks development camp in July.
Looking at the Sharks past success in Karlsson and Donskoi, there is no reason to think the scouting work of the Sharks Swedish scout, Shin Larsson, will suddenly strike out.
Sorensen played in over 100 regular and postseason Swedish Hockey League games in the past two seasons. Last year he recorded 34 points in 47 games. He’s also signed to a one-year contract so the Sharks will want to see what they have in him.
Timo Time Could Be Now
Meier is also firmly in the running. A final cut from last year’s opening night roster, the big Swiss can play all three forward positions. He is a big body that plays a power game with a high level of skill, and he is able to go through or around players with equal ability.
Meier’s final season in Major Juniors was dominant. Combining his regular and postseason, along with an appearance in the Memorial Cup with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, he registered 118 points in 75 games. Whatever improvements he could make in his game, production is not one of them.
On the minus side of the ledger, he’s also only 20-years-old, and the NHL‘s defensive game is much different than anything he faced while he was tearing up the QMJHL.
Wingels Still In the Mix
Tommy Wingels is the incumbent on the fourth line. The 2015-16 year was one to forget, seeing his point total cut in half to 16 and nearly three minutes of ice time shaved off his previous season’s average of 16:28.
He broke into the NHL on a full-time basis in the 2013-14 season, posting 38 points and then 36 in the following campaign. Adding to the trouble is Wingel’s 48.4 Corsi-for percentage, and career-low Corsi-for relative percentage of -4.0.
Wingels did finish fifth in short-handed time-on-ice for the Sharks with over 76 minutes on the penalty kill. Additionally, he does provide a physical presence for the Sharks. His 203 hits led the team by a wide margin over Brenden Dillon (154). However, that element of the game is diminishing. The NHL as a league continues to get faster, and the traditional third-line checking role is quickly fading.
So who wins?
Sorensen is the slight favorite to make the opening night roster. His professional experience has him as prepared as any prospect coming from the CHL or AHL levels. Furthermore, his speed and agility on the ice are areas of need throughout the roster, which are needed especially after being exposed by the Pittsburgh Penguins last postseason.
He signed a one-year entry-level contract with stout performance bonuses. If he can hit the ground running like Donskoi and Karlsson, it will be another find for the Sharks scouting staff. Should Sorensen falter, not a single Sharks fan will be upset to see Meier make his NHL debut. A few games in the AHL with the San Jose Barracuda for Meier to get his professional feet wet would not hurt either.
Who is the runner-up?
Wingels is currently under contract, kills penalties, could center the fourth line if DeBoer is desperate. He can also move into the line-up against heavier teams or when the inevitable nights off for banged up players happen. With 300 NHL games of experience, he’s the perfect 13th forward, even if his $2.475 million cap hit says otherwise.
Tierney is ready for a bigger role, and the presence of two veteran wingers in Marleau and Ward will be a great boost to his learning experience and band-aid for the learning lessons. Should Tierney struggle, moving Marleau to center and juggling the available forwards in Karlsson, Nieto and the winner of the Meier/Sorensen Derby is also an option to play on other lines as well. A new face will be in the San Jose line-up, and both hope to bring their own brand of Sharks Hockey to San Jose.