SAN JOSE – The lack of significant roster turnover and the absence of any high profile additions over the summer is a good indication that the Sharks would like to pick up right where they left off, when they were ousted in the seventh game of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last May.
After general manager Doug Wilson successfully retooled the roster just prior to last season’s trade deadline, he and the team’s brain trust stood pat, for the most part, in the months following that disappointing loss to the rival Los Angeles Kings.
“We were pleased about how we played last year from the deadline on, and into the playoffs. The big key for us is to continue that and build upon that,” Wilson said, after the first on-ice session of training camp at the club’s practice facility.
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“The players we have are the ingredients we’re looking for to match up with the system we want to play. We want to play a north-south game, attack people, make them defend, and you’ve got to have players that have that skill set to be able to do that. We’re coming back, and if we’re ready to build on what we did last year, we’re very excited about this team.”
There were some changes, of course. TJ Galiardi’s trade to Calgary allowed the club to add winger Tyler Kennedy, who was slotted in Galiardi’s old spot on the Joe Thornton-Brent Burns line on Thursday. Marty Havlat’s indefinite absence due to offseason pelvic surgery could open the door for rookie Tomas Hertl, the Sharks’ first round pick in 2012, to make his NHL debut. There’s also a battle for the backup goaltender position, with Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri vying for Thomas Greiss’ old spot. Greiss signed with Phoenix after the Sharks allowed him to walk as a free agent.
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Kennedy, 27, was acquired at the draft in June from Pittsburgh, with the thought that he’ll bring his up-tempo, aggressive, shoot-first mentality to the West Coast. Head coach Todd McLellan offered his initial impression of the longtime Penguin.
“He's quick,” McLellan said. “He has the ability to shoot the puck a lot. I think he plays fast, he plays hard, and certainly from what I understand, he's a pretty supportive guy around his teammates. So, that's certainly what we think he can bring to our team.”
Kennedy said: “They want to play an up-tempo game and that’s kind of my style – up-tempo, and try to get pucks to the net.”
Hertl has been put in a position to succeed, taking his first shifts in an organized NHL practice on the left wing with center Joe Pavelski and right wing Tommy Wingels in what could be considered the third line. The 19-year-old, who has good size for his age at six-foot-two, 210 pounds, is no lock to make the final roster, though, according to the coach.
“Tomas has to find his way a little bit,” McLellan said. “He has to establish himself as a young player, find his game within our structure. I know he will have an opportunity to do that. I think he can, as well, but it's going to take him some time."
Wilson said the decision to keep Hertl or assign him to AHL Worcester would be up to McLellan. And, of course, Hertl himself.
“That will be up to the coaching staff, and [Hertl’s] performance,” Wilson said. “He has the skill set and he’s played with men (in the Czech league). Certainly there are high expectations, but it’s a journey. … The process of playing in the NHL is not an easy process. Time will tell. He has everything needed to do that. Whether it’s now or not, we’ll see.”
Hertl, a Czech native whose English has already gotten much better since his last media scrum in San Jose in July, was asked what he needs to improve upon.
“I need to get better at skating,” he said, adding, “I am good and physical player and score, and I am strong on the puck.”
McLellan’s job, along with assistants Larry Robinson, Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft, is to make sure the Sharks know they have to play the way they did from late March through their playoff run. A good chunk of the first day of camp was spent walking the players through basic game situations and reinforcing the coaching philosophy.
Ultimately, though, it’s up to the players themselves to go out and do it. And other than those few additions, the many returning Sharks should already know what has to be done, having lived through the roller coaster of last season.
“They have proven to themselves, most importantly, that they need to play a certain way to win,” McLellan said. “If they want to go off on a different path and try it the difficult way, the way it doesn't work, then it will be a lot tougher on us. The fact that they played that way, that they executed, had some success with it, should be rewarding.
“They should be embracing the opportunity to do it again."