Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing series in which Insider Kevin Kurz will highlight a different Sharks player every day leading up to the start of NHL training camp
Name/Position: Matt Irwin, defenseman
Salary: $1.1 million ($1 million cap hit)
Contract status: Pending unrestricted free agent
2013-14 year in review: In his first full season in the NHL, Matt Irwin skated in 62 games, posting two goals and 17 assists for 19 points. When the Sharks’ defense group was healthy, though, Irwin was frequently a healthy scratch, at one point playing in just three of 15 games during a stretch in November and early December. In the playoffs, he dressed for just two of the seven games vs. Los Angeles, entering only when Marc-Edouard Vlasic went down and scoring the Sharks' lone goal in a 5-1 Game 7 loss.
Irwin has promise in the offensive end, and was second on the Sharks in shots by a blueliner with 147, but struggled at times with his defense and decision-making.
2014-15 outlook: Irwin’s place in the opening night lineup should be fairly secure, and the left-hander may even start in the top four, depending on how the Sharks deploy their three right-handed shooters in Brent Burns, Jason Demers and Justin Braun. His strongest asset is his ability to get shots through from the point, so getting more time on the power play could also be in Irwin’s future. Perhaps he and Braun, who skated on the same unit at the University of Massachusetts, will reunite on the Sharks' second power play group.
Brad Stuart’s departure opens the door for Irwin to be in the lineup on a more regular basis this season (a case can be made that Irwin should have been playing over Stuart in the playoffs, anyway). Still, his minutes may depend on the development of Mirco Mueller, who seems ready to make a push for a roster spot, and Scott Hannan, who will be waiting to pounce if Irwin falters.
[RELATED: Hannan could have diminished role]
It’s an important year for Irwin, who is signed only through this season and would be unrestricted next summer without a new deal. Irwin is a sharp, coachable guy that is committed to his craft, so he may be ready to take a giant leap this season. He has the tools.