SAN JOSE – There are just nine days until the Sharks open their regular season on Oct. 8 in Los Angeles, and it’s still difficult to predict just which players will suit up against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
That’s especially true on the blue line. After a significant round of roster cuts on Monday there are still nine defensemen left, and head coach Todd McLellan has not wavered one bit from his proclamation that the best players in training camp will be the ones in the lineup next Wednesday.
“The nine that remain here have a very good opportunity in front of them,” he said. “You’ve got Marc-Edouard Vlasic and [Brent] Burns, they’re well established and it’s going to take a lot for them to lose their jobs. But, there are some other veterans that are going to get pushed to the end. That’s healthy. That’s really healthy.”
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Along with Vlasic and Burns, Justin Braun is another lock to play, considering his new five-year contract extension and that he’s Vlasic’s partner. After that, guys like Matt Irwin, Jason Demers and Scott Hannan should be glancing over their shoulder pads.
Irwin, in particular. The 26-year-old hasn’t yet turned into that every day defenseman, playing in 62 of 82 games last season, and was a healthy scratch for the first five playoff games in April. He got in only when Vlasic got hurt.
He’s also a pending unrestricted free agent, and has not had any discussions with the club about an extension at this point.
“I want to be a regular. I’ve got to prove that I deserve that opportunity, and there’s guys that want that job, as well,” Irwin said. “For me, it’s keeping my game simple, getting pucks to the net, and doing the things that make me successful.”
“My job here is to come into camp, play well, and hopefully become that everyday player that I need to be.”
Still gunning for positions are Taylor Fedun, Taylor Doherty, and 2013 first round pick Mirco Mueller. McLellan has been particular complimentary of Fedun, who was in Edmonton for most of last year’s training camp before he was ultimately reassigned to AHL Oklahoma City.
That experience helps, he said.
“Absolutely. It definitely does. Just being in these kind of situations before, there’s always going to be nerves associated with it, but you’re able to handle it a little bit more calmly than maybe I would have the first time around,” Fedun said.
The 19-year-old Mueller, of course, doesn’t have that kind of familiarity under his belt. Although he said he believes he’s NHL ready both “mentally and physically,” he admitted to still a being in awe of where he is.
“I’m not even really realizing it yet that I’m still here playing against superstars, basically,” said Mueller, who has put on 30 pounds in the last 12 months. “I’m just enjoying every minute of it.”
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The most notable cuts on Monday were forward Freddie Hamilton and defenseman Matt Tennyson. McLellan explained the decision to assign them to Worcester.
“They were beat out now. Don’t know where it will end up a little bit later on, because they are very talented players and are important parts of our organization, but they were beat out by forwards and D-men,” McLellan said.
“There are some things they need to do and we talked to them about that. They can certainly change that. So can the players that stayed, by underperforming or not getting the job done. But, it’s about competition now.”
Hamilton’s time may be just about up, as the 2010 fifth round pick hasn’t done anything to stand out in preseason or any of the 11 regular season games he played in 2013-14.
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Demers took a “maintenance day” for Monday’s long 90-minute practice. Forward Tyler Kennedy left the ice midway through practice, and has been battling an upper body injury, according to McLellan.