Welcome to the latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. Each day, we will take a look at a new team and examine three of their potential breakout or bounce-back players. These players have the chance to make a serious difference with their teams this upcoming season. These players can be new faces or familiar ones looking to have a strong return to form. Each day we will be looking at a different team! Today we will take a look at the potential 2020-21 San Jose Sharks key players.
2020-21 San Jose Sharks Candidates
One could argue that Sharks forward Tomas Hertl is their most important. Despite playing in just 48 games this season, he scored 36 points this season. That puts Hertl at sixth in overall points for the Sharks, despite playing significantly fewer amount of games. Out of all of the regulars on the Sharks last season, Hertl led the team in points per 60, with an adequate 2.44 p/60. Hertl was also third in goals per 60, finishing at 1.08 g/60. The Czech only trailed scoring wingers Evander Kane and Timo Meier in that category.
While Hertl showed great offensive prowess this season, he also showcased his extreme defensive potential. Hertl played 1:28 minutes per game on the penalty kill, showing the trust he has built up with the Sharks changing coaching staff. Of all of the Sharks forwards who contributed to the kill, Hertl let up the second-fewest goals at 3.39 g/60. Better yet, Hertl is a two-way threat at even strength. He was a monster in possession, posting positive Corsi (53.39%), Fenwick (52.21%), and expected goals (56.76%). Hertl posted all of these numbers for the abysmal Sharks, who were awful at 5 on 5 last season.
Hertl has the most potential out of any forward on the Sharks. Due to his goal-scoring abilities, his playmaking tendencies and his defensive prowess, Hertl will develop into the Sharks number-one centre in the coming years. Logan Couture isn’t getting younger, and it’s only a matter of time before Hertl takes his spot. If Hertl can play with the Sharks first-line, then he can score up to 70-80 points and become the defensive rock the Sharks need.
Similar to Hertl, Ryan Donato is a promising young forward the Sharks hope can be a threat in their top-six. Donato was traded to the Sharks before the draft in October in exchange for a 2021 third-round draft pick. This was a fantastic trade for the Sharks, who lured the talented forward from the Minnesota Wild. Drafted in 2014 by the Boston Bruins, Donato was a late second-round selection from a Massachusetts High School. Following his selection, he had three decent years with Harvard University, putting up over a point per game in two of those seasons. After graduating from the Bruins, he was soon traded to the Wild for Charlie Coyle. He then spent two seasons there before his recent trade to San Jose.
While Donato hasn’t put up the points in his NHL career, he has shown the immense potential he has. The American forward has a ton of creativity on offence due to his elite hockey sense. What he lacks in skating he makes up for with his quick hands, getting around larger defenders in one-on-one situations. In his last season with Harvard, Donato won ECAC Player of the Year and also finished as a Hobey Baker finalist. Some notable players who also finished as a finalist include Adam Gaudette, Henrik Borgstrom and Dylan Sikura. The Sharks don’t have the forwards to bury Donato similar to the Bruins or the Wild, so he will get playing time. If Donato can tap into that potential he had when he was a prospect, he can score 50 points over the course of a full season.
The only defenceman on this list, Mario Ferraro is the first of many young Sharks defencemen to wear the Sharks jersey. After Ferraro, the Sharks have Ryan Merkley, Artemi Knyazev, Brinson Pasichnuk and Santeri Hatakka. Currently, Ferraro has shown the most potential out of this group due to his play in the NHL over the past season. Ferraro played 61 games for the Sharks at just 21 years old. That highlights the trust the Sharks coaching staff has in Ferraro to play competently in his own end. Ferraro was paired with many different defencemen last season, also highlighting his versatility in his spot in the lineup.
Ferraro posted a 49.73 xg% at 5 on 5 last season. While this is an overall negative, this is outstanding for a young rookie defenceman. The 2020-21 San Jose Sharks weren’t just playing Ferraro with one of their veteran defencemen either. Ferraro spent the most time with Radim Simek last season, who was much worse than Ferraro was in terms of possession. As Ferraro continues to acclimate to the NHL, he will get more shifts with much better defencemen than Simek, such as Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. While Ferraro won’t be a big point producer, he will be a steady threat on the back-end that can move the puck in transition and handle the pressure bigger forwards will throw at him.