A few mailbag questions, one day before the Sharks hit the ice for their first official practice of the 2013-14 season…
[PHOTO GALLERY: Seven things to watch at Sharks training camp]
What are the chances of Anthony Stewart earning a contract? (Angel Aguirre)
What role do Doug Wilson and Todd McLellan hope to see Anthony Stewart play? (Jackie Klinck)
That’s a question Stewart, who is in camp on a tryout after not seeing any NHL action last season, will probably answer himself with his play in the preseason. It could also depend on if the organization thinks Tomas Hertl is ready for the NHL. Despite still being just 19 years old, Hertl is eligible to begin the season in Worcester, and it may be beneficial for him to get acclimated to North American hockey for a stretch in the minors.
Stewart, 28, could potentially score 10-15 goals over a full season, and would probably be used in a bottom six role if the Sharks sign him to a contract. At six-foot-three and 230 pounds, he would add some more bulk to an already sizable roster. His presence should push some other players in camp, too, which is never a bad thing.
What are your line predictions? (Erik West)
Todd McLellan said on Monday that he’s keeping Brent Burns and Joe Thornton together, as well as Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. I suspect Joe Pavelski will remain the third line center, too, giving the Sharks three dangerous scoring lines. The other top nine forwards will be filled in from there.
I’d like to see Tyler Kennedy get an early look in camp on the Thornton-Burns line, as he could be a good replacement for the departed TJ Galiardi. I saw plenty of Kennedy during my time back East when he was on the Penguins, and he always seemed to be involved in the game or scoring a timely goal. If he plays the same style that he has in the past, it could open up some room for Thornton and Burns to create offense.
As for the Couture-Marleau line, Raffi Torres seemed to be a good fit on the right wing in the Vancouver series after Marty Havlat got hurt, and I would imagine he’ll get a long look there again. That would leave a third line of Joe Pavelski, Tommy Wingels and potentially Hertl or Stewart (I expect Hertl will get a chance in the top six at some point in camp, too).
The fourth line looks to be Andrew Desjardins, James Sheppard and Adam Burish. That’s probably the only line that’s set at this point, unless a younger player comes up and grabs one of those spots – always a possibility.
What do you think the Sharks could use in their lineup this year? (Josiah Canfield)
I’d still like to see this team add a little more scoring punch at the wing position. Kennedy is a nice addition, but he still only tallied 11 points in 46 games with Pittsburgh last season. Hertl is an unknown, and he could potentially fill that void, but it’s still way too early to predict his point production. Tommy Wingels is a warrior, and brings lots to the table, but he hasn’t been able to produce consistent offense yet.
The Sharks’ dismal second power play unit last season was a reflection of their lack of scoring depth. A more balanced attack is something the club will have to improve upon in order to seriously contend.
Was the second half of last year a fluke, or does this team really have what it takes to go far in the postseason this year? (Steve Craig)
I don’t think it was a fluke at all, and I think the Sharks and Los Angeles Kings are the clear frontrunners in the Pacific Division. The Sharks found their identity after Doug Wilson’s trade deadline moves, showing that the front office and the coaching staff were on the same page in terms of how the team wanted the play and the players it needed to do it. That was missing for much of 2013, and the season prior.
When you consider the way the Sharks finished 2013, the fact that guys like Thornton and Marleau should be extra-motivated this season going into the last year of their current deals, young players like Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun still improving, and all in front of one of the league’s better goaltenders, well…maybe all of the pieces are finally in place.
It all gets started on Thursday at 9 a.m., with the first practice of the season at Sharks Ice.