SAN JOSE – One of the bigger knocks on the Sharks over the past few seasons is that their bottom six forwards just aren’t good enough to compete with other, deeper Western Conference teams.
The third line, specifically, is a point of concern, since it looks like Joe Pavelski will remain as a top line winger.
Nothing has been made official, but looks more and more likely that San Jose will ice a third line of rookies Chris Tierney and Barclay Goodrow, along with Tommy Wingels when the season gets underway on Wednesday in Los Angeles. That trio has been together for the last three preseason games, and would have skated together again for Monday’s practice had Goodrow not been out with a “maintenance day,” according to coach Todd McLellan.
General manager Doug Wilson said numerous times in the offseason that his team will get younger. If Tierney, 20, and Goodrow, 21, make the roster, along with 19-year-old defenseman Mirco Mueller’s spot now assured, that will be enough to prove Wilson wasn’t kidding.
Of course, whether that potential third line can keep up with NHL regular season competition is yet to be determined, and Tierney and Goodrow haven't played a single game that counts. Wingels, though, likes what he’s seen so far from his two fresh-faced linemates.
“They’ve learned quickly. These past two games were more actual dress rehearsals against actual lineups. They fared well,” Wingels said.
Tierney, a second round Sharks draft pick in 2012, would have the more difficult task of adjusting to NHL life as a centerman. Voted the “OHL Western Conference’s Smartest Player” last season while captaining London, he’s been adept at picking up the finer points of McLellan’s system throughout camp, according to the coach.
“Chris is a smart player. He picks things up very, very quickly,” McLellan said. “Once he gets a look at the real pace and intensity and we keep evaluating him, we think we’ve found a very good player.”
Tierney said: “It comes down to details – in your own end, off faceoffs, what you’re doing to win battles in the corners. Everything is a little detail, and that’s where games are won and lost, little battles like that.”
Wingels has been helpful. The 26-year-old suddenly finds himself as the old guy on the line, but the blossoming leader is arguably as good as anyone the Sharks have at helping young players get acclimated to the league. After all, it wasn’t long ago that Wingels himself was trying to break through.
“He was really helpful in giving little tips and stuff in practice and games, just talking on the bench,” Tierney said. “It’s really nice to have a guy that you’ve been playing with on a line that you can just ask questions.”
Wingels said: “It’s fun. Those guys are doing a good job, and they bring a lot of youthful energy, kind of like Tomas [Hertl] did last year.”
Like McLellan, Wingels also sung the praises of Tierney’s cognitive ability.
“His hockey sense is great. As a centerman, his positioning kind of reminds me of Logan [Couture’s] out there. He’s always around the puck, both offensively and defensively. … Being his winger, that’s what you want your centerman to do. He makes my job easier, and he’s trying to learn.”
Despite the strong preseason showing from the line, it would still be trial by fire starting against the Stanley Cup champions. If that’s how they line up, Tierney will relish the chance, while the Sharks hope that some new blood will give their third line some strong two-way hockey.
“That’s your dream since day one and your goal since day one, to make an NHL roster,” Tierney said. “That would be awesome. It’s something I’ve been trying to work to.”
Wingels said: “It’s not just about making the team, it’s about contributing and being a really good and elite third line. That’s a conversation I’ve had with those two guys, and if that’s their spot right now, they’re ready to go.”