Wherever he was watching on Thursday night, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson had to be pleased with what he saw from his team in Vancouver.
The Sharks dressed no fewer than six rookies in a 5-1 win over the Canucks in what as arguably San Jose’s most important game of the season to this point. The victory allowed San Jose to reclaim second place in the division over idle Calgary in what is shaping up to be a dogfight for playoff spots over the next nine weeks.
Wilson’s message since the offseason is that the 2014-15 team is one in transition. Young players will be given every opportunity to claim roster spots ahead of established veterans, and against the Canucks, several of the first-year players found a way to reward management for its faith for at least one night.
Chris Tierney, recalled on Wednesday morning after tearing up the American League over the past few weeks, recorded his first NHL goal and first career multiple-point game. Melker Karlsson continues to be a revelation in the top six, and his second period goal gives him nine in his first 24 NHL games. That’s one more than Tomas Hertl, and just one fewer than Patrick Marleau.
Daniil Tarasov made his NHL debut, and a late assist gave him his first NHL point. Defenseman Mirco Mueller got the call over veteran Scott Hannan, and looked comfortable in more than 16 minutes of ice time despite not playing an NHL game in nearly two months.
“They had an impact on the game,” Todd McLellan told reporters on Thursday night. “We looked for them to provide energy and some enthusiasm, and they did that, as well.”
The Sharks’ head coach remarked after Wednesday’s 3-1 loss in Calgary that not enough players found a way to leave their mark on the match. That wasn’t the case against Vancouver, and the young players set the tone.
“A lot of times the veterans pull the young kids along, tonight it was the young kids pulling the veterans along,” he said.
Tierney’s progression is perhaps the most intriguing in the immediate future. On Wednesday in Calgary he was chosen to play over pending unrestricted free agent Andrew Desjardins, who is may not be in the team’s future plans. Desjardins returned as one of Tierney’s wingers against the Canucks, and scored a last-second goal on a nice setup by Tierney.
When he made the Sharks out of training camp, it was apparent that Tierney, 20, wasn’t quite ready for NHL action. He went down to Worcester, played a ton, and managed nearly a point-per-game with the Sharks’ AHL affiliate (24 points in 26 games).
“It was a lot of time to get ice for me,” Tierney said. “I was playing a lot of minutes down there and I was playing in big situations. It’s definitely helpful to get the confidence up and work on your game.”
Tarasov, in fact, was one of his linemates, and the Moscow native was Worcester’s leading scorer at the time of his recall on Jan. 29. Perhaps the chemistry between those two will translate at the NHL level, and give the Sharks the option of playing a more skilled fourth line when the matchup is right.
“Ever since we were together as a line in the American League, I thought we had good chemistry,” Tierney said. “I thought we played pretty well as a line. If we get another chance to play together, hopefully we can keep it going.”
The Sharks may find a way into the playoffs. They may not. But Thursday’s win at least generates some hope for the future.
“That was a really good team game for us,” McLellan said. “Everybody contributed.”