Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, where Last Word on Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 San Jose Sharks.
2020-21 San Jose Sharks
Heading into the start of last season, the Sharks were projected to have another shot at the playoffs. They were Western Conference finalists, had two of the best defenceman in the league on their books, and were overall a dominant team. Nobody expected last season to go as catastrophically as it did for the team. Reality hit them early, however. They ended the opening month with a mere four wins to their name.
By the end of November they looked to be trending in the right direction. They won 11 of their 15 games that month and were over .500. The success was short lived, however. They struggled with injuries and could never find that spark again. They ended the season with a 29-36-5 record, the worst in the Pacific Division. Take into account their change in coaching and loss of captain Logan Couture due to injury. To make matters worse, once the draft lottery came around in August, they didn’t even have the rights to their own first round pick. It was a season to forget for the Sharks.
The Sharks had a much longer offseason than most of the league. They were one of the seven teams who didn’t make the cut to be inside the NHL bubble in Edmonton this past summer. For their injured players this was probably beneficial for them in terms of recovery time before the season’s start. This offseason was a relatively active one for the front office, however. General manager Doug Wilson went into the extended break with one goal in mind: fill the gaps that they discovered during their season.
They seemed to do exactly that. Most notably, they brought in former Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. At 34, he is not a top tier goaltending talent. However, in a split or back-up role to a very weak Martin Jones, he’s the perfect guy for the job. Last season with Minnesota, Dubnyk posted a career worst .890 save percentage with a 3.35 goals-against-average.
This isn’t great by many standards, but he has an opportunity to bounce back behind a different team, and a much different defence than the Wild had. Wilson also brought in a young Ryan Donato. Donato, 24, had a career season with an 82-game point pace of 30 points. He’ll likely push for a spot on the second line for the Sharks, considering his speed and offensive talent gives an edge to a Sharks offence who needs the depth.
Being brought back to the team was Sharks’ legend and future hall of fame forward Patrick Marleau. At 41-years-old he’s still skating. Last season in a fourth-line role he only posted 22 points. He’s really more of a leadership and depth piece to the team in this stage of his career. With his 22 years of NHL experience he will surely help this team, and they desperately need it. Also returning to the lineup is 25-year-old Kevin Labanc. LaBanc inked a four-year extension this off season, and will probably be motivated to preform to the high standard he sets for himself. Also signed by the Sharks was forward Matthew Nieto, who played this past season with the Colorado Avalanche.
Evander Kane– Ryan Donato – Kevin Labanc
Marcus Sorenson – Dylan Gambrell- Stefan Noesen
Patrick Marleau – Noah Gregor – Matt Nieto
With everyone expected to be healthy, this is a very solid top-six. In this season’s West Division, it’s really a race for the last spot in the playoffs. This top-six gives them a competitive equivalence to match the top teams in their division at the offensive game. Couture is a 70-point player at his best, and the long time off should have given him the rest he needed to reset his game and come prepared to play at that level. Hertl and Meier are two of the teams younger superstars. Hertl is also coming off of injury, and is a 30-goal scorer at his best. Add in Meier’s top-tier passing ability and this line is an offensive juggernaut that’ll be hard to contain when they’re hot.
Shifting to the second line, Donato has the toolkit and NHL experience necessary to play at the 2C role on this team. When you surround him with the big-bodied, but still offensively skilled, Kane and a speedy LaBanc, this line is also going to be a problem. Kane may have had himself a solid season. He was on pace to have a career high in points and proved he could lead the offence when key players were out of the lineup. LaBanc is due to increase his totals as well, especially with these line mates all looking to continue to prove their offensive talent at the top level in the league. It may be on the younger side, but they will be a threat much like the top unit.
This is where the team’s offensive issue arose last season. In relief of their offensive leaders, the team struggled to produce any meaningful offence outside of the top line. Fifth-year player Sorenson, despite the nick name “Marcus Scorenson,” was only able to find the back of the net seven times. A much slower pace than his previous 17-goal season in 2018. He’s been able to improve on his defensive game, which is an important tool for a depth player to have. That’s really the highlight of this bottom-six group, their skill on defence. Even then, it’s a bit of a stretch for some guys. Gambrell and Noesen are big bodies on the ice and were able to cause turnovers, but the rate at which they do so will need to be much higher for them team to be truly competitive.
Mario Ferraro – Ryan Merkley
There are a total of three guys in the top four, and the defence, who were the slightest bit productive last season. Vlasic, Karlsson, and Burns are going to need to continue to do that this season. Karlsson and Burns will both look to have a much better season and get back into the Norris conversation this season. Karlsson needs to stay healthy for the full 56 games in order to do this. He’s battled with injuries the past few seasons, and his individual success hinders on his health. Simek is the only guy on this list that can be easily interchanged through out the season. Considering his resume, however, he is worthy of the top-four spot to start the season. All four of these guys will need to play at their peak, both offensively and defensively, for the team to have success.
Merkley will finally get his shot to prove his worth at the NHL level. At the OHL level he has been an elite offensive driven blue liner. This past season with the London Knights he put up 15 goals and 61 helpers for 76 total points, If he’s able to transition his offensive vision to the NHL level with that kind of ceiling, he will bring the bottom pair’s value up by a large margin. Ferraro is one of several guys in the team’s system that can play bottom pair minutes at the NHL level. Given that he has more NHL experience than those guys, however, he will be the default guy to rely on before any injuries may take place.
Neither of these guys are going to dazzle anyone this season. Both player’s abilities will be relied upon as to how well the team is in front of the plays, and then they’ll have to make up for the difference. Jones is coming off of a string of rough seasons. There were rumours around his contract being bought out, him being traded, and yet he still remains a member of the team. Whatever the front office sees in him, he will most definitely have to prove it during this short season. Dubnyk will be under the same pressure. Considering the two had similar stat lines last season doesn’t project very well for these guys’ seasons, but only time will tell if last season was a fluke or a sign that they might need to consider other lines of work.
Player to Watch
Donato has a lot of hype around his game. He has the ceiling to be a valued top-six forward in the league, and he has yet to be given a full opportunity to prove it. Considering where the Sharks sit in terms of their organization’s development, he likely has a lot of responsibility to undertake. If he’s able to rise to the occasion and play meaningful, top-six hockey, opposing teams better watch out.
Prediction for 2020-21 San Jose Sharks
There is a lot of fog surrounding this roster. It mainly rests on the team’s veterans and whether or not they’re able to perform and bring the team back to their 2016 abilities. With that being said, the amount of uncertainty and the unproven nature of these players doesn’t bode well for them. They are likely to miss the playoffs and be in the running for the draft lottery this season. Besides, a high first-round pick might not be a bad outcome for this team, considering the lack of top-tier prospects in their system.