It took a few years, but the Sharks were finally rewarded for their patience and belief in James Sheppard late last season.
The former first round pick (ninth overall), whose career nearly ended in the 2010 offseason due to an ATV accident, showed that he still has the skills to play regularly at the NHL level when he was plopped in the middle of the Sharks' third line shortly after the Olympic break in March. That’s where he stayed for the playoffs, allowing Joe Pavelski to stay on the top line wing with Joe Thornton, in a coaching decision that was much debated.
Sheppard, 26, was one of the few Sharks players that could be proud of his performance in the first round against Los Angeles, getting two goals and adding four assists to tie him for second on the team in scoring. The reward for his late season performance was a one-year contract worth $1.3 million for the restricted free agent.
"It was important to me stay in San Jose because we have all the ingredients for a championship team,” Sheppard said via text message to CSNCalifornia.com. “Players, coaching, organization and of course the fans. After learning an important lesson last year, I think we are in a position to accomplish what we want, and that is to win."
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson expects Sheppard, who went nearly three years between NHL games after his accident, to play the same way in 2014-15 as he did late last season. Perhaps that’s a hint that Sheppard will remain as a center, after he never really found a way to consistently produce as a bottom six winger. In 67 regular season games, the Halifax native contributed four goals and 16 assists for 20 points.
“Certainly we’ve committed time to him for several years to get back to this point,” Wilson said. “He certainly played well down the stretch and in the playoffs. For him to get his contract done, this is a very important summer for him to come in and take off at the beginning of next season right where he left off.”
Should Sheppard remain at center, he’ll have to improve his faceoff numbers. In the regular season, Sheppard won just 45.1 percent of his draws, and in the playoffs he was just 15-for-42 (35.1 percent), going up mostly against the Kings’ Jarret Stoll.
In 323 regular season games with San Jose and Minnesota, Sheppard has 73 points (16g, 57a).