Friday, September 22 2023

Sharks’ few but significant positives to carry into next year originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

There aren’t a lot of positives that the Sharks can carry from this year to next.

That’s to be expected when you have the fourth-worst record in the league.

But there was some good from this season besides Erik Karlsson’s historical scoring pace and a lottery pick – really – that the Sharks can hopefully carry over into next season.

David Quinn

It seems odd to trumpet a head coach who guided the Sharks to their fewest Regulation Wins since 1992-93, San Jose’s second year in the NHL.

The 2022-23 Sharks had just 16 Regulation Wins, their fewest over a full regular season since 1992-93’s eight and their expansion campaign’s 16. Even the decidedly awful 1995-96 Sharks, 47 points over 82 games, managed 19 RWs.

But Quinn, after just one year behind the bench, isn’t going anywhere, so may as well look at the positive.

Here are some other Quinn-related numbers: Karlsson, of course, put up a career-high 101 points. Timo Meier, before he was dealt, was on pace for his first career 40-goal campaign. Alexander Barabanov was on the way to his first-ever 50-point year before a late-season injury derailed him. Logan Couture had his most productive year since 2018-19.

By and large, the Sharks’ best players produced this year, and it’s no coincidence that it’s with a new bench boss.

“San Jose, the way that they play, they’re pretty well suited to trading chances. Because if you look at their recent goals, a lot of them are off the rush. And the way that they defend, they’re trying to survive that initial rush and turn it into a half-ice or three-quarter-ice counterattack. It’s obviously done a lot for Karlsson’s production,” hockey tactics guru Jack Han told San Jose Hockey Now recently. “Last year with [Bob] Boughner, for as long as I’ve known Boughner as a coach, he prefers a team that’s pretty structured, that plays pretty tightly, every shift kind of looks pretty similar. You go break out, forecheck, and then maybe neutral zone forecheck, D-zone coverage.”

Quinn did a good job, as he did behind the New York Rangers’ bench, of getting the most out of his best players. That should continue next season, with or without that much-rumored Karlsson trade.

New Foundations

Last off-season, new GM Mike Grier acquired via free agency or trade, Nico Sturm, Matt Benning, Steven Lorentz, Luke Kunin, Oskar Lindblom, and Markus Nutivaara.

Nutivaara never played a game with the Sharks because of a nagging hip injury. Lindblom himself admitted to losing confidence on his way to a disappointing six-goal campaign. Kunin was as advertised, but his season was cut short by injury after just 31 games.

But Sturm, Benning, and Lorentz established themselves as foundational players who could help the Sharks back to relevance.

Sturm, after signing a three-year, $6 million contract with the Sharks, enjoyed a career offensive season with 14 goals and 26 points, taking on a regular third-line center role in the NHL for the first time too. But what stood out most?

“Every shift, you get that physical and mental effort. That’s what you want,” Quinn said about the 2022 Stanley Cup winner before a match-up with this year’s Cup favorite Boston Bruins in January. “To me, it’s what makes the Bruins the team they are. There’s a variety of reasons why they’re as good as they are, and they have the record they have, but more than anything, they play true team hockey, and there’s a consistent effort from what they do, and that’s been happening for a long time in their organization.”

Quinn added about Sturm: “He’s very diligent about his preparation. He’s in world-class shape. There’s a high level of commitment from him. That’s what we want to build off of here.”

Before signing a much-panned four-year, $5 million contract with the Sharks, Benning had established himself as a solid bottom-pairing defenseman for back-to-back Nashville Predators playoff squads.

In San Jose, Benning took on top-four minutes and was a penalty-killing staple for the league’s eighth-best PK. Benning also added some surprising offense: Per Natural Stat Trick, he was one of only 15 defensemen this year to average one 5-on-5 assist or more per 60 minutes of action. His company there includes Norris Trophy candidates Karlsson, Adam Fox, Roman Josi, Quinn Hughes, Charlie McAvoy, Mikhail Sergachev, and Josh Morrissey.

“He’s got good vision. He is a solid defender, a hard defender, and he’s a good player in this league,” Quinn noted of Benning in February.

Both Sturm and Benning might be tasked with more responsibilities on the Sharks than they would on playoff-bound squads, but they’re clear-cut NHL contributors who can play for anyone. San Jose certainly needs more skaters cut from their cloth.

Lorentz, acquired in the Brent Burns trade, scored a career-high 10 goals, but most importantly, the third-year forward never slacked with his speed and compete all year.

Quinn was especially impressed with how the ex-Carolina Hurricanes forward closed the season.

“He’s really understanding what he’s going to need to do to be an everyday player in this league. I think his last few weeks been the best hockey he’s played all year long,” the bench boss acknowledged in April. “He’s playing fast. He’s got an edge to him. He’s got more physical than ever over the last three weeks, playing a straight-line game.”

A winning team isn’t just built on stars, right? Sturm, Benning, and Lorentz, all in their primes, all from winning programs, are the kind of role players that any playoff team would want.


Grier, intentionally, kept the Sharks’ most NHL-ready prospects away from the best league in the world.

Instead, he chose to have William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau, Danil Gushchin, and Tristen Robins spend most of the season with the San Jose Barracuda, so they could get more seasoning in the AHL.

The quartet of young forwards, at different times, finally got NHL games after the Trade Deadline, and each showed promise.

Eklund had just two goals and one assist in eight games, but he looked a lot more comfortable in the big leagues this time around, as opposed to his NHL debut last year.

One small measure, per Natural Stat Trick, he was second on the Sharks in On-Ice Scoring Chances Per 60 at 5-on-5 during his eight-game stint, meaning San Jose was creating a lot of offense with him on the ice. Last season, he was 13th, middle of the pack, in the same category, in his nine contests.

Quinn praised Eklund: “He’s honest. He’s got some skill and consistency.”

Playing a consistent and honest two-way game is often a young player’s biggest obstacle to establishing himself in the NHL. So it’s exciting to see that Eklund has the details covered – that, coupled with his skill, could allow him to play a large, productive role from the get-go with next year’s Sharks.

Bordeleau had two assists in eight games, similar in production to Eklund, but it’s hard to say that his cup of coffee here was more impressive than his 2021-22 NHL debut.

Bordeleau, unlike Eklund, saw his ice time cut and was taken off the power play this time around with the Sharks.

That said, the AHL All-Star showed some progress on the other side of the puck, which is ultimately more of an organizational concern than his obvious offensive flair.

“I personally feel like he’s closer to the NHL based off his last stretch than he was earlier in the year,” Barracuda head coach John McCarthy mused in mid-March, when Bordeleau was mired in a scoring slump. “He’s playing a harder game. He’s getting on the inside. He’s competing on loose pucks more so than I felt than in the beginning of the year. I actually feel like he’s taking steps in the right direction.”

Danil Gushchin had a goal and an assist in his two-game NHL debut this season.

There’s clear skill – Gushchin’s first NHL goal was an absolute laser – but the 5-foot-9 winger has to get stronger and can also stand to improve defensively.

But there’s a lot to like.

“Plays with a good pace. It’s a big-time NHL shot that he scored his goal on,” Quinn said. “He’s around it, to make plays. He’s got poise. He’s got confidence. He’s got a little tenacity to him.”

RELATED: Why Sharks’ Hertl views 2022-23 season as ‘toughest year’

Tristen Robins went pointless in his three-game NHL debut, but despite his smaller 5-foot-11 frame, he showed some of the competition and moxie that could make him a fixture in the Sharks’ line-up one day.

“I have time for him,” an NHL scout from outside the Sharks organization told SJHN, dropping a scout’s go-to compliment. “Small, but good motor.”

Youngsters Eklund, Bordeleau, Gushchin, and Robins aren’t likely to change the Sharks’ fortunes immediately – that’s a lot to ask of four forwards with a combined 38 NHL games experience – but they’ve all got top-nine NHL talent, and they’re going in the right direction.

The Sharks, four years and running out of the playoffs, hope it continues.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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