The Sharks’ 27-11-6 record through 45 games is proof enough that many of the players on the team are enjoying fine seasons. Despite dealing with an injured list that seems to be growing by the day, San Jose is in prime position to challenge for a top seed in the Western Conference and a Pacific Division title.
[RELATED: NHL standings]
It hasn’t all come up roses, of course. Some players on the team are having disappointing seasons, and others are going to have to improve their games if the Sharks are to be considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender when the postseason rolls around in April.
Yes, we’re four games past the midway point of the 82-game season, but here are our midseason grades -- taking into account performance and expectations -- for every forward on the Sharks roster. Check back soon for the defensemen and goalies.
Mike Brown (B-minus) – Brown struggled to fit in after an October trade brought him to San Jose, but has found his place in the lineup and has been a solid if temporary replacement for guys like Raffi Torres and Adam Burish. Brown’s won most of his fights, too, and other than Tomas Hertl getting a knee-on-knee from Dustin Brown, borderline hits against Sharks players have seemed to decline since Brown’s arrival. Maybe that's a coincidence, but maybe it isn't.
Brent Burns (A-minus) – It’s probably safe to say at this point Brent Burns will never again play defense for the San Jose Sharks. Burns has developed into one of the premier power forwards in the NHL, and even Todd McLellan has admitted he never expected this much from Burns so quickly after the transition from the blue line. Burns worked his way through a December scoring slump and is once again a dominant force alongside Joe Thornton.
Logan Couture (A-minus) – Yes, Logan Couture suffered through a career-worst 11-game scoring drought, but it was only later revealed that he was playing with a bad hand. If anything, we learned what kind of character guy Couture is, battling through an injury that needed surgery and showing the kind of class that he did after getting snubbed from the Olympic team. Couture remains the future of the Sharks franchise, a guy that a team can be built around, and could be as driven as ever when his right hand is repaired and rehabilitated.
[RELATED: Couture out 3-to-4 weeks with hand injury]
Andrew Desjardins (C-plus) – When he’s on his game, Desjardins has shown that he can have an impact. He’s never going to be the most consistent guy, and sometimes has to be reminded to bring the intensity on a nightly basis, but Desjardins is one of those guys that is an annoyance to play against. At the same time, his one goal in 42 games is much to be desired, even if he is only a fourth line guy.
Marty Havlat (D-minus) – He’s on the shelf again with a lower body injury, but the Sharks might be best served to shut Havlat down once he’s healthy again to buy him out this summer. Despite playing with top players most nights, and getting ample power play time, Havlat has continually failed to make an impact and doesn’t look willing to change to fit the Sharks’ style. How much more enjoyable is it to watch a guy like, say, Bracken Kearns compete to keep his spot, than it is to watch Havlat float through games while trying to avoid contact?
Tomas Hertl (A-minus) – Yes, Hertl’s season could quite possibly be over, but the rookie certainly exceeded expectations through his first 35 career NHL games. Not only did Hertl seem to energize some of the veteran players on the team like linemate Joe Thornton, his game breathed life into the fan base, which almost instantly fell in love with the affable 20-year-old.
Tyler Kennedy (D) – Early on, Kennedy looked like a steal from Pittsburgh, with his speedy skating ability and knack for getting pucks on net. But Kennedy has fallen completely off the radar, has failed to step up for injured players when given a chance in a top six role, and in the past few weeks has been relegated to the fourth line when he’s not a healthy scratch. The Sharks need more from Kennedy, and they need it now, with the multitude of injuries up front.
Patrick Marleau (A) – He’s already on record as saying he used his lack of an invite to the preseason Olympic camp as a motivator, and his numbers bear that out. Marleau is having a season that’s on par with any of his other top years, and if he gets hot, could even make a push for a 40-goal campaign. Now, we’ll see what he’s made of, as linemate Logan Couture is out for at least three weeks and Marleau has already been named to Team Canada.
John McCarthy (F) – John McCarthy is a good example of how weak the Sharks’ organization is when it comes to forward depth. McCarthy has been a minor leaguer for much of his career, and that’s where he still belongs, putting up one measly assist in 25 games with a team-worst -11 rating. McCarthy doesn’t typically make any blatant defensive mistakes, but when he’s on the ice, the best-case scenario is that the Sharks aren’t going to give up a goal.
Matt Nieto (B) – Nieto may or may not be ready for the NHL full-time, as he’s still slight of build and feeling his way through his first pro season. He’s probably here to stay now that Hertl is out long term, and has points in four of his last five games. At this point in his career, Nieto needs to play with top players in order to produce, and he may get that chance with Logan Couture out for at least three weeks.
Joe Pavelski (A-minus) – There are no surprises with Pavelski, a player that any NHL coach would love to have on his roster. The USA Olympian is on pace to record the best offensive season of his career, and can be counted on in any game situation. The only knock on him year is a minor scoring slump he endured at the end of November, but right now, he’s as valuable to the team as anyone.
James Sheppard (C) – Sheppard is a reliable fourth line guy, but like Andrew Desjardins, has just one goal on the season. The biggest knock on Sheppard is that he hasn’t been able to move up in the lineup at all, and on a team that is dealing with several injuries, that’s a problem. Unlike Desjardins, Sheppard doesn’t kill penalties, and is probably not doing enough at this point in time to earn another NHL contract.
Joe Thornton (A-plus) – There’s no denying that Thornton’s game got a huge boost from the addition of Brent Burns, and the captain continues to lead the NHL in assists and is tied for fifth in the league in overall scoring. Perhaps Thornton, already likely motivated with an expiring contract, will get a boost from getting snubbed from Team Canada, too. Either way, Thornton has probably been the Sharks’ MVP so far, and his line with Burns and now Joe Pavelski (at least temporarily) has been a joy to watch.
Tommy Wingels (B-plus) – When a healthy Sharks team opened training camp, Tommy Wingels was the one guy that stood out as a still somewhat unproven NHL player in the top nine. Through the first half, Wingels has shown that he does in fact deserve to play on a nightly basis, and is as tough as anyone on the roster. His scoring has dried up a bit, but it’s important to note that the 25-year-old is still in his first career 82-game NHL season. Hopefully, his upper body injury is not serious.
[RELATED: Sharks place Wingels on IR]
In-line image of Patrick Marleau courtesy USATSI