Once again, it’s time for the San Jose Sharks awards for the 2021 season.
San Jose Sharks Awards
It was the second consecutive down season for team teal, but these award winners had deserving seasons. In a typical season, the Sharks roster might see 32 players skate for the team. But the reset season had nearly 40. The start of the season, due to mandates from Santa Clara County, saw the Sharks start off with a dozen road games after a training camp period in Arizona. Nothing was going to come easy in this season and in several categories, the winner was about as clear as it has ever been. It is also worth noting, two of the four winners from last season were not with the Sharks at the end of this season.
Most Valuable Player: Evander Kane
Other candidates: Tomas Hertl
Last season winner: Logan Couture
The San Jose Sharks have eight players making over $5 million per season, so one might expect serious competition from a large group of higher-end players. Not this season.
In the early part of the season, Kane spent too much time in the penalty box and too little time putting the puck in the net. But even then he was among the team’s more valuable players. In the second half of the season, Logan Couture, his lone real competitor for this award, faded while Kane got stronger.
In the end, Kane won by a comfortable margin. He was the team’s leader in goals, assists and (obviously) points. Kane even excelled in areas one might not expect, including on the penalty kill. He had four shorthanded points (2G, 2A), on a team with just five short-handed tallies. His four shorthanded points tied for second-best in the league. And for good measure, for only the second time in his career, Kane managed to play every game, the other also coming in a shortened season (2013) when he played all 48 games.
Hertl had a respectable season, spending a lot of it on the same line as Kane. He actually fared slightly better than Kane in areas such as GF% (goals for) and CF% (Corsi for). Hertl finished second on the team in goals, assists and points.
Most Improved Player: Mario Ferraro
Other candidates: Evander Kane
Last season winner: Barclay Goodrow
Another case where the choices were slim. Ferraro’s 2020-21 rookie campaign wasn’t special. He was the team’s top rookie last season, though mostly by default. What made his rookie season difficult to interpret were the partners he had. The left-handed Ferraro’s top three partners were all also left-handed. Less than ideal if you want a rookie to develop. This season, Ferraro spent most of his time partnering with right-handers Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. He also went from a bottom-pairing role to a top-4 role and even a top-pairing role. The job might still be a bit big for Ferraro’s game at the moment, but the upgraded assignments meant he’d need to take a huge leap and he did.
His only serious competition for the honour came from Kane, whose game also took a leap forward. Alas, he started from a higher base, making this an easy call for Ferraro.
Rookie of the Year: Nikolai Knyzhov
Other candidates: Josef Korenar, Alexander Barabanov
Last season winner: Mario Ferraro
The Sharks had no shortage of rookies in their line-up this season. One set himself apart from the others by a wide margin. Knyzhov started the season in a bottom-pairing role but surpassed veteran Marc-Edouard Vlasic by the middle of the season. He’d spend much of his time opposite Karlsson, which led to substantial ice time and opportunity. And he didn’t look out of place doing it. Knyzhov won’t get much love in the Calder Trophy vote, but this was an encouraging start. If he can make the sort of second-season leap Ferraro did, his NHL future will look bright.
The only other candidate, goalie Josef Korenar, simply played too few games to seriously compete for the honour. Korenar will still be considered a rookie next season, and if his early NHL work is any indication, he’ll be in the mix for this in 2022. Barabanov is technically too old for this award, but he did make his NHL debut this season and has been a nice surprise for a team in need of them.
Best Newcomer: Rudolfs Balcers
Other candidates: Alexander Barabanov, Josef Korenar, Ryan Donato
Last season winner: Stefan Noesen
This was supposed to be the spot where one of the new assistant coaches got a nod. Or one of the veterans who came over in the deals made with the Minnesota Wild. And yet, here we are.
Balcers was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. He eventually became the top player on the San Jose Barracuda before getting shipped to the Ottawa Senators in the Erik Karlsson deal.
Balcers somehow failed to meet expectations in Ottawa. When he was waived at the start of this season, the Sharks pounced. Balcers has steadily earned the coach’s trust. He faded towards the end of the season, and his point totals (8G, 9A in 40 games with one remaining) aren’t going to leap off the page. But for a team in need of younger players who can fill something more than a bottom-line role, Balcers delivered.
Acquired at the trade deadline, Barabanov simply came too late to compete for this award. Had he played perhaps half a season, this award might well have been his. Generating eight points in nine games is impressive. Perhaps just as important, he meshed well with Hertl and Kane, showing his potential to fill a role in the team’s top-6.
Donato led all newcomers in scoring with 20 points, though his four even-strength goals were well short of expectations, especially for someone who had 14 even-strength goals the prior season as a member of the Wild. His defence kept him on lower lines and the coach’s enthusiasm faded over the course of the season. In his first 10 games of the season, he averaged over 15 minutes of ice time. In his final 10 games, under 10 minutes of ice time.