SAN JOSE – In some ways, the first few days of Sharks training camp feel more like a pre-preseason. The team’s top two centers, top two defensemen, and biggest offseason acquisition have yet to return to San Jose, currently competing at the World Cup of Hockey. The captain and last year’s organizational rookie of the year haven't hit the practice ice yet, either.
Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Mikkel Boedker are still alive in the tournament, while Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi will get a few days off after their teams were eliminated earlier in the week. Their Sharks teammates, meanwhile, went through their second day of up-tempo practice on Saturday.
“It’s a little bit different in [the] locker room, just a couple of guys here,” Tomas Hertl said. “You don’t see Jumbo, Burns with big beards; our captain. It’s a couple guys missing.”
Patrick Marleau called it, “a little different, that’s for sure.”
While it may not be an ideal situation, it’s something that just about every team in the NHL is dealing with. For the Sharks, though, it’s not all bad. There are seemingly more young players in the organization ready to push for NHL jobs than there have been in several seasons, and the extra ice time early in camp offers them an opportunity to show the coaching staff and brain trust what they can do.
Just look at the three most notable lines – Hertl is centering former first-round pick Nikolay Goldobin (and Joel Ward), while Marleau has top prospect Timo Meier on his right wing (with Matt Nieto on the left). Marcus Sorensen, a 24-year-old free agent acquisition and former draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, is skating with likely fourth line center Chris Tierney and Tommy Wingels.
The competition for what should be one or two vacancies up front is officially on. Coach Pete DeBoer and general manager Doug Wilson welcome it.
“There are jobs here to be had,” DeBoer said. “Don't do the math. If there isn’t room, Doug will make room if you’re good enough to help us. That’s how we’ve operated since I’ve been here.”
Wilson said: “I think it’s a great opportunity, and players can obviously count. If you watch practice, [there is an] intensity in the drills and everything. I think it comes at a good time. We’ve added a lot of good young players to our reserve list the last two years.”
A veteran player or two could find himself on the outside looking in after all is said and done leading up to the opener on Oct. 12 against Los Angeles.
“In the past we’ve had guys come in and knock guys out of the box that have been here for a few years,” Wilson said. “You look at our team, the best people are going to play.”
As for the World Cup participants, they should be in game shape by the time they return. As long as none of them gets hurt, that could end up being a benefit, as well.
“They're going to come back buzzing,” Ward said.
In the meantime, the prospects will be in focus.
DeBoer said: “We’ll get our guys back in time to get them on [the same] page, so I think it’s an advantage. A lot of young guys take back seats in training camp to some veterans. This affords them the opportunity to come out and not have to worry about that.”