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SAN JOSE – The Sharks have high hopes for rookie center Chris Tierney.
The 20-year-old recently returned from a stint in Worcester, where he compiled 10 points (1g, 9a) in 12 games for the offensively anemic AHL club. He skated as the fourth line center for the last two Sharks games, wins over Minnesota and Nashville.
“When you come back up you’re a bit nervous, kind of like your first game again,” said Tierney, who made the Sharks out of training camp before he was reassigned on Nov. 6. “It was nice to settle in, and hopefully get a couple more games here and keep improving.”
Injuries to forwards Matt Nieto, Tyler Kennedy and Mike Brown precipitated Tierney’s recall, after the forward was playing big minutes in all kind of situations in the lower league for five weeks.
When it comes to skilled players like Tierney, one prevailing notion is that it’s better to skate 20 minutes a night in the minors as a guy that’s counted on to produce, rather than limited minutes in the NHL. Tierney played 9:22 against the Wild last Thursday, and just 7:34 on Saturday vs. Nashville.
At some point over the next several years, the Sharks are hopeful that Tierney will develop into one of their top three centers, after he started the season as the third line center but showed to be not quite ready for it.
How do Todd McLellan and company weigh what’s best for the 2012 second round pick?
“I think we have to forward-think a little bit and anticipate when he fully establishes himself as a National Hockey League player, where do we expect him to be? Right now, he’s playing a fourth line role, which he’s done a very good job of, and contributed. Earlier in the year he was a third line player. My mind and my forward thinking puts him in that second or third line role,” McLellan said.
“To play there, usually you have to experience power play, penalty kill, you have to be on the ice when the goaltender is pulled. You have to do that to really build confidence and experience that. That happens more at the minor league level than it does here. But, right now he’s earned the right to be here, and with injuries he could move up to a third or a second line role at any point during a game if things aren’t going well. We’re confident about putting him there.”
Tierney, predictably, would rather spend his time here with the NHL Sharks rather than their farm team. At the same time, he seems to understand the big picture when it comes to his pro career.
“I obviously want to be up here and playing in the National Hockey League, but when they said you’re going down the AHL, I’m not going to take that as a slight or look at that negatively,” he said.
“When you go down there, it’s a time to work on your game and just try to get better. When you go down, you do play big minutes. You can’t just go down there and take it for granted. You have to take all those minutes and make it worth something, and work so that you can get back here quicker.”
For now, and probably for at least the next little while, Tierney remains in San Jose. Nieto isn't skating again yet with a bum ankle so he's probably out until after Christmas, while Kennedy and Brown are apparently sidelined long-term.
Perhaps Tierney can make the most of his latest opportunity and push someone else from the lineup, as the Sharks continue their transition of getting younger.
“Obviously you’re doing something right if they’re going to call you up, but that being said, you want the goals to get here and stay here,” said Tierney, who has two assists in 13 NHL games, but is still looking for his first marker.
“I’m just trying to work and learn, and just get better every day.”