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: James Sheppard, center/wing
Salary: $1.3 million
Contract status: Pending unrestricted free agent
2013-14 year in review: In 67 games, James Sheppard tallied four goals and 16 assists for 20 points, but those stats don’t reveal the odd nature of the 26-year-old’s season. Sheppard seemed like a spare part on the club’s roster more than halfway through the season, and was a healthy scratch in seven of 15 games leading up to the Olympic break.
After the break, though, Sheppard played the best hockey of his NHL career when he was made the team’s third line center. From Feb. 28 to March 29, Sheppard had three goals and nine assists in 16 games, earning Sharks Player of the Month honors. Although he was exposed in the faceoff circle, and his long-term outlook with the team is still ambiguous, Sheppard earned himself a new one-year contract with the club in the offseason.
[RELATED: Sharks re-sign Sheppard to one-year contract]
2014-15 outlook: Sheppard’s success at the center position was surprising in that he was generally an ineffective winger in his first season and a half in San Jose. Regardless of whom he was skating with, whether it was in the bottom six or on a top scoring line, Sheppard never really showed much of anything in the offensive zone. When given the opportunity to center that third line, though, it seemed as if the Sharks had found a whole new player.
That’s why it will be interesting to see where coach Todd McLellan puts Sheppard in training camp. Did Sheppard show enough late last year to earn that third line center role on opening night, or would the Sharks prefer to put Joe Pavelski back in that spot, bumping Sheppard back to the wing? Or, maybe Sheppard could center the fourth line, and take Andrew Desjardins’ place? That’s a question that will be answered in the next few weeks, and could depend on if he’s improved in the circle.
Regardless of what happens with Sheppard, he remains one of the better stories in the NHL over the past few seasons. It’s impossible to imagine what he went through following that serious knee injury in 2010 that caused him to go nearly three calendar years between NHL games, and he deserves credit for turning himself back into a useful player again. Maybe he has a long future in San Jose, or maybe he doesn’t, but he should be particularly proud of what he’s accomplished after his career nearly came to an end.