Editor's note: This article is Part 3 of a three-part feature series in which Insider Kevin Kurz grades each player by position.
Sharks midseason grades: The Forwards
Stats: 1g, 2a, -6 rating in 20 games
Burish’s four-year, $7.4 million contract signed in 2011 is now officially an abomination of a deal, since Burish has been cut and subsequently loaned to AHL Chicago. Burish has almost certainly played his last game in a Sharks sweater, and I’ve heard talk that the organization wasn’t very pleased with Burish’s attitude after he was made a healthy scratch. It’s questionable whether he was a full-time NHL player in the first place.
Stats: Scoreless, even rating in 8 games
Brown has played in just eight games so a fair assessment isn’t possible, but the winger seems to give a jolt to the club when he’s in the lineup. The Sharks are 7-1 when Brown dresses, and although that’s probably a bit coincidental, the well liked sparkplug does have a positive influence. Not to mention, Andrew Desjardins seems to be at his most effective when he has Brown at his side. He’ll be welcomed back from his broken right leg, probably by early February, assuming his recovery is on schedule.
Stats: 18g, 24a, +2 rating in 48 games
It almost seems like Couture has flown under the radar this season, but a quick glance of the stats shows that he’s tied for the team lead in scoring. Couture has been especially good lately, after he may have been feeling the effects of off-season hand surgery early on. Not only has he been producing offensively, Couture showed his toughness and commitment to his team recently when he played through a couple cracked teeth that exposed a nerve. Perhaps it’s time to take the ‘A’ off of Patrick Marleau’s sweater and stitch it onto Couture’s?
Stats: 2g, 2a, -6 rating in 45 games
In fairness, the organization hasn’t done Desjardins any favors in terms of his linemates, but the 28-year-old hasn’t given the Sharks much of anything. Desjardins has sorely missed Mike Brown’s speed and energy on the wing, and hasn’t been able to develop any chemistry with guys like Tye McGinn, Barclay Goodrow or John Scott. Another pending unrestricted free agent, Desjardins could be playing out his last season here.
Stats: 2g, 5a, -6 rating in 31 games
Goodrow has the potential to develop into a very good NHL player. He has the size, the smarts, and the confidence, and has shown flashes of being a real agitating player to go up against. He may not remain in the lineup on a nightly basis this season, and a stint in AHL Worcester could do him some good, but it does look like the Sharks have unearthed a promising prospect in the 21-year-old rookie.
Stats: 8g, 9a, -2 rating in 48 games
It’s been a tough season for the sophomore, who hasn’t produced at nearly the same rate as he did in his rookie season. Hertl wasn’t able to train properly in the summer thanks to tweaking his knee injury, and his slow start adversely affected his confidence. Lately he’s been tried at the third line center position, and has looked more effective. Perhaps the All-Star break and a stint in Worcester will rejuvenate the 21-year-old, because the Sharks could sure use more from the jovial former first round pick.
Stats: 7g, 4a, +3 rating in 19 games
It’s hard to believe Karlsson has played just 19 NHL games, as the 24-year-old has fit right in ever since he was called up in early December. There’s no reason to think he won’t continue that scoring pace, either, as Karlsson has avoided the drop off that commonly occurs with young players still making their way into the NHL. The biggest pleasant surprise of the season, by a long shot.
Stats: 4g, 3a, +5 rating in 18 games
Kennedy hasn’t had much go his way since he was acquired from Pittsburgh at the 2013 draft. That includes a pair of injuries this season, in training camp and early December. Still, Kennedy’s speed and tenacity has been noticeable in the few games he’s played, and the Sharks will hope that continues now that top nine forward Tommy Wingels is on the shelf.
Stats: 9g, 24a, -10 rating in 48 games
The bottom line for Marleau is that nine goals isn’t good enough when you’re the team’s highest paid player at $7 million, nor is his -10 rating, tied for worst on the team. The veteran winger remains a valuable part of the second line with Logan Couture, and is often playing against the other team’s best players, but Marleau’s primary responsibility is still to score goals. Unless he starts showing a little more determination – and in recent games, he has been – he may not deserve to play his 20 minutes nightly if the Sharks’ “clean slate, no equity” approach isn’t a bunch of malarkey.
Stats: 1g, 4a, +1 rating in 30 games
The Sharks gave up a third round pick to acquire McGinn, and that now looks like a huge price to pay for the winger that just doesn’t seem to do, well, much of anything. McGinn has even been given a couple chances in the top six, but can’t produce there, either. He’s a candidate to lose his roster spot or even be placed on waivers if he doesn’t pick it up.
Stats: 4g, 7a, -8 rating in 38 games
Like fellow sophomore Tomas Hertl, Nieto’s season so far has been disappointing. Unlike Hertl, though, Nieto has remained confident in his game, and his strong advanced possession numbers reflect that he’s doing something right when he’s on the ice. Still, Nieto will have to start scoring more, especially considering he’s spent so much time on one of the top two scoring lines.
Stats: 24g, 18a, +10 rating in 48 games
Now firmly established as one of the NHL’s premier goal-scorers, Pavelski has become the de facto leader of the team, and its plainly evident why he’ll be the next captain of the Sharks at some point. When the Sharks need a spark, more often than not it’s Pavelski setting the tone, whether it’s forcing a turnover and creating space in the offensive zone, or burrowing in front of the net on a power play and whacking in a rebound. Pavelski still seems to be getting better at age 30.
Stats: 4g, 9a, -2 rating in 42 games
A prime example of the Sharks’ lack of forward depth, Sheppard is still mired in a miserable scoring slump, with one goal in his last 33 games despite averaging 14 minutes a night. Sheppard deserves credit for learning how to take faceoffs in the NHL, but unless the Sharks find an upgrade to their third line center woes – maybe Tomas Hertl, or even Chris Tierney can play there – the Sharks will be outmatched by the league’s elite teams.
Stats: 1g, 1a, -3 rating in 19 games
Debate Scott’s role all you want, and whether there's still a place for a guy like him in today's NHL, but the massive enforcer has come as advertised. He’s a popular player with his teammates, has stuck up for them when necessary, and he typically doesn’t do anything to hurt the team when he’s on the ice. He was also the breakout star of the “Holiday Sweater” video, so he’s got that going for him.
Stats: 10g, 27a, even rating in 44 games
The Sharks managed to go 2-2 with Thornton out with an injured shoulder at the beginning of the month, but a pair of 7-2 losses to the Blues were enough evidence that team can’t compete with the elite opposition when the former captain isn’t in the lineup. Thornton’s 10 goals is only one off his output from last season, and he’s also shooting the puck more, with 80 shots in 44 games.
Stats: 11g, 14a, -2 rating in 47 games
Wingels will be on the shelf for a little while now with an injured left hand, and while that will hurt the team in the short term, it could benefit in the long term. Wingels’ style of play seems to wear him down at times, as evidenced by his scoring just two goals in the last 20 games (one in an empty net). Even when he’s not scoring, though, Wingels brings other assets, like his 174 hits, third in the NHL. He has also taken a bigger role in the team’s leadership group, and is a good role model for younger players. Perhaps the time off will allow him to re-fill the tanks for the final few weeks of the season.