Chin up and keep your head up hockey fans, August is almost over.
NHL Training Camps are less than a month away.
For San Jose Sharks fans out there, Team Teal opens camp on September 14th.
That’s just a little over 3 weeks from now.
While there seems to be a negative vibe amongst Sharks fans about the upcoming season, San Jose is not all that different from the team that went to the Stanley Cup final in 2016.
Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Paul Martin are all two years older and Patrick Marleau has left for Toronto, but youngsters Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are all candidates to have breakout years in 2017-18.
There are also five lesser known youngsters that could surprise this season and are worth keeping an eye on during exhibition games.
Danny O’Regan (C)
Last season’s AHL rookie of the year paced the San Jose Barracuda with 58 points in 63 games. He had just a cup of coffee in the NHL (3 games) and apparently scored his first career goal on a deflection in the season finale. (Although he didn’t immediately celebrate and replays don’t look like he touched it).
O’Regan is a small, speedy and skilled center who played on a line with Sabres star Jack Eichel while at Boston University. That experience playing with an elite level forward ought to come in handy as O’Regan pushes for a spot on the Sharks roster this season. If the organization feels he’s ready, he could play on any number of lines out of the gate.
As a natural center and right-handed shot, O’Regan’s might be best served remaining in the middle on one of the Sharks bottom two lines. That could potentially push Hertl back up to the top line with the Joes, something many Sharks fans are hoping to see. However, with the Sharks appearing intent on keeping Hertl in the middle, O’Regan could see himself utilized as a wing on any of the four lines.
A fifth round draft choice back in 2012, O’Regan is already 23-years old, so he isn’t a young pup just out of major junior. He played four full years at BU, whereas Eichel was one and done. You can bet O’Regan will be given every chance in Training Camp to steal an opening night lineup spot.
The problem for O’Regan and the other two forwards on this list is where are the openings in the starting lineup? Knowing the Sharks, Joel Ward will not sit out opening night as an established veteran. Meanwhile youngsters like Meier and Labanc enter with significantly more NHL games under their belts despite being younger in age than O’Regan.
At least to start the season, it seems unlikely O’Regan will make the roster and it doesn’t make sense to have him around as a 13th forward to rust in the press box. That role will probably be taken up by the likes of a Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Carpenter, or the next player on this list, Marcus Sorensen.
Marcus Sorensen (LW, RW)
Sorensen signed last season as a free agent out of Sweden. As a professional veteran from Europe, just like Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi were before him, Sorensen is older at 25-years old and with a lower ceiling than O’Regan. Therefore, while it wouldn’t be ideal if he were the 13th forward to start the season, it would make far more sense for San Jose to start with him in that role.
That said, like O’Regan, Sorensen has an outside chance at pushing the likes of Meier and Labanc for a lineup spot. After getting out to a slow start while adjusting to the North American ice last season, Sorensen came on strong to have a pretty nice season with the Barracuda. He posted 34 points in 47 games in the AHL and added four points in 19 NHL games.
Sorensen also brings a lot of speed as a natural winger, but his offensive upside doesn’t match O’Regan’s potential. If he were to crack the lineup, an ideal spot for Sorensen would be on a fourth line opposite Karlsson, his countrymate. These two Swedes are both really impressive on the forecheck, disrupting opponents' breakouts. A fourth line with Sorensen, Karlsson and Chris Tierney as the center would actually be better in my eyes, than a fourth line with Joel Ward on it.
Rourke Chartier (C, LW)
The youngest player on this list and by far the biggest long shot to have an NHL impact this season is cerebral forward Rourke Chartier. Don’t confuse cerebral with not having some offensive potential though. The 21-year old really broke out in his development with a monster start to the 2014-15 season in the WHL. He led that league in scoring most of the season, before finishing the year with 48 goals and 34 assists for 82 points in 58 games.
A fifth-round pick from the same year (2014) that Labanc was drafted in the sixth round, Chartier still has some developing to do in the AHL, but that will almost assuredly come this season. As an AHL rookie a year ago, Chartier was overshadowed with such a strong cast of players ahead of him. AHL veterans like Goodrow, Carpenter and John McCarthy often skated in the top-six, as well as prospects like O’Regan, Meier, Labanc, Sorensen and Nikolai Goldobin. That’s quite a crowded group of forwards.
Despite the log jam of talented forwards, Chartier still managed a nice season as an AHL rookie with 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points in 67 games. With Goldobin traded in the middle of last season and the Sharks likely to feature at least two or three out of Meier, Labanc, O’Regan and Sorensen in the NHL, Chartier should be a fixture in the Barracuda top-six this season.
While yours truly admittedly hasn’t watched much of Chartier, he did stand out to me during the rookie scrimmage prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. A guy like Joonas Donskoi got all the media attention after that scrimmage, but Cuda Head Coach Roy Sommer agreed with my observation that Chartier was the best player on the ice.
What I recall from that game was a player that just had that Pavelski/Damphousse-like knack for always being around the puck despite not being overly big nor fast. Hopefully this season Chartier will see his numbers rise to more of a point-per-game player for the Barracuda.
Joakim Ryan (D)
Another college player, Joakim Ryan is very much deserving of a significant NHL opportunity this season. While he has yet to make his NHL debut, the seventh round pick from 2012 is more than ready. With two full years of AHL under his belt after four years of college, he doesn’t need anymore seasoning. The 24-year old may not be a speedster, but he is a smooth skater and brings a solid game at both ends.
At that same scrimmage two years ago, Ryan was the one defender that stood out the most in my eyes. He has the ability to escape forechecking pressure with slick skating moves and a nice pair of mitts. In other words, his skill set reminds a bit of a younger David Schlemko. Some Sharks fans may not like to hear that as Schlemko was guilty of an awful giveaway in the playoffs that led to a game-winning goal against. The fact of the matter though is that Schlemko was a really nice piece on the back-end last season.
Ryan had an excellent year last season on the Cuda’s top pair with 49 points in 65 games. As a left-handed shot with ability to contribute offensively while also being a responsible defender, he would fit in great next to Brent Burns. Let’s face it, Paul Martin showed signs of getting real old, real fast last season. Burns won the Norris Trophy last season, but he carried Martin on his back. Burns could be even better with a faster, more offensively gifted partner. The Wookie will always get his points, but opponents are going to do their best to take him away, when they do, it will be beneficial to have Ryan on the opposite point instead of Martin.
Unfortunately, the Sharks as an organization are usually too slow to realize their veteran stay-at-home defenseman are over the hill. See Stuart, Brad and Murray, Douglas as recent examples. The Sharks are going to continue to trot out Martin in top-4 minutes despite the fact that both Ryan and the last player on this list are much better players.
Tim Heed (D)
The other half of the Barracuda’s top pair from last season was none other than Tim Heed. Yet another free agent signing out of Sweden (side note: I wonder if Niklas Sundstrom is behind all these Swedes the Sharks have been signing), Heed is likewise no pup. He is already 26-years old.
Heed finished last season with 56 points in 55 AHL games, that is an absurd scoring rate for a defenseman at any level. It is remarkable really that the Sharks only got him into a single NHL game last season. A right-handed shooter with impressive vision and a terrific point shot, Heed should end up as the power-play quarterback for the Sharks second unit this season. Of all five players on this list, he is by far the most likely to land a spot in the opening night lineup against Philadelphia.
Like Sorensen, Heed also had to adjust to the smaller ice sheets of North America last season. Unlike Sorensen though, Heed didn’t seem to have any trouble, impressing from the start of the season. So why he didn’t get more of a shot in the NHL considering the Sharks power play struggled all year long? Your guess is as good as mine, but Sharks GM Doug Wilson and Head Coach Pete DeBoer ought to be feeling the need for Heed this September.