SAN JOSE -- Although the Sharks’ season will be coming to an unceremonious end in just three days, a number of the players on the current roster will keep their skates sharpened for the immediate future even after Saturday’s season finale in Los Angeles.
The Worcester Sharks are in a prime position to lock down a playoff spot in the American Hockey League, sitting second in their division (40-24-6, 86 points). Barclay Goodrow was already reassigned there on Wednesday, and there’s a strong possibility Chris Tierney will join them at some point next week, too.
In strictly a paper transaction, Goodrow and Tierney were both placed on Worcester’s roster on March 2 and recalled to San Jose so that they would be eligible for the AHL playoffs.
What can they accomplish there? Todd McLellan referenced the growth in Tierney’s game this season after the 20-year-old played 27 games there.
“I think the evidence is in Chris’ game alone,” McLellan said. “He put the time in down there and worked and felt comfortable and became a first or second line center. Got more power play time. All of those things.
“They can provide leadership and a strong desire and will to win, and learn how to win in the playoffs. Learn what it’s like to play in a series in pro hockey. … They should feel real confident about their game if they perform the way they can there going into the summer, because coming back as a second year player is not an easy task, by any means.”
Tierney would welcome the chance.
“Whatever the team says is good with me,” he said. “I think they know what’s best. If you go down there, it’s an opportunity to play playoff hockey, most likely. It’s definitely not a negative thing.”
There haven’t been too many reasons to feel positive about the Sharks over the last few months, as they will miss the postseason for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
Tierney, though, has been a revelation. After posting two assists in his first 14 NHL games, the Ontario native has 13 points in his last 16 games (5g, 8a).
He was asked if he could ever envision his success over the past few weeks after struggling in October.
“That’s what I hoped,” Tierney said. “Honestly, I felt a little tentative at first, and definitely not as confident as now with the puck. I think that’s a big thing. … I definitely feel a lot more confident now, and I think it was a good thing that I had time down there to really get my confidence and play a lot of minutes.”
“He looks and carries himself differently than he did at the beginning of the year,” McLellan said.
Tierney is also a prime example of what a stint in the minor leagues can do in terms of development and confidence.
Other younger players like Goodrow, Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto probably could have benefited from the chance to hone their skills more in the AHL at some point this season, as all have gone through lengthy cold stretches in their second seasons. The Sharks just didn’t have the luxury of organizational depth, though, which falls on the shoulders of management and the scouting staff.
Goodrow is averaging just 11:04 of ice time through 60 NHL games in primarily a fourth line role. That will certainly increase with Worcester.
“I’ll be able to play in different aspects of the game, play a little bit of a bigger role,” he said. “Hopefully that can help me go into the summer and help my confidence a bit. I can come back and be a better player with that game experience.”
McLellan danced around a question a bit as to whether other players on his roster could have benefited from more time in Worcester, but reading between the lines, he seemed to indicate that was the case while using Tierney and Logan Couture (46 career games in Worcester) as exhibits A and B.
“I think Chris in the last month has been one of our best players. That’s an accolade that we’re not just throwing around, he deserves that comment,” McLellan said.
“That development and time is important. It’s important for all of us. We just don’t go from coaching junior to the NHL. You’ve got to take steps. … It’s a hard league. The American League is a hard league. But if you feel good there – [Logan Couture] is the same way. He played well, he was an All-Star, he led the team in scoring. When he got here, he fit well.”
Bryan Lerg, Karl Stollery and Taylor Fedun, all still on the NHL roster, will also likely return to the Sharks’ minor league affiliate, which closes out its regular season on April 19.
Hertl and Mirco Mueller will not be joining Worcester, but could both be options for the World Championships for their respective home countries. Mueller is still dealing with a left hand injury that will keep him out for the final two games.