SAN JOSE -– One of the major flaws of last season’s Sharks team was a remarkable lack of depth.
No depth at forward, no depth on defense, and no depth in goal.
Enter forward Joel Ward, defenseman Paul Martin and goalie Martin Jones, all of whom were on the ice with their new Sharks teammates for the first time in an official practice setting on Friday. All will have to play a major role if San Jose is to make it back to the postseason.
Ward, a right wing, is lined up with center Logan Couture and left wing Patrick Marleau for now. The 34-year-old, who had 34 points (19g, 15a) in 82 games with the Capitals last season, will be tasked with bringing some depth scoring to a roster that was much too top-heavy in 2014-15.
“It was good. I like the colors,” Ward joked after his first practice. “It was a good pace, actually, a really good pace. … It was a lot of information, of course, just learning new systems, positioning. Looking forward to just another day and just getting better and knowing more information.”
Although he’s now technically in the top six, Ward doesn’t seem like the kind of player that cares all that much where he lines up.
“For me, it’s just being myself and have a lot of positive thoughts,” he said. “I believe in myself and what I’m capable of doing. I’m pretty confident wherever I’m slotted to help this team win games.”
Couture called Ward “a big body, strong, shoots the puck well. A kind of underrated, physical guy that gets in on the forecheck, he’s not going to run guys over, but he’s going to be physical, he’s going to win puck battles. Today was the first day, but I’m already comfortable with him. He’s a very intelligent player.”
As expected, Martin was paired immediately with Brent Burns, as DeBoer telegraphed on the day that the 34-year-old defenseman signed a four-year contract with San Jose on July 1. Known as a defensively responsible guy, the hope is that Martin allows Burns to take chances in the offensive end while making sure any defensive miscues don’t end up in the back of the San Jose net.
In Pittsburgh, Martin and talented point-producer Kris Letang formed the Penguins’ top pair. They were dominant together on many nights for one of the NHL’s best teams.
Are there any similarities between his former partner and his new one?
“Definitely,” Martin said. “[Burns’] skill set is I think what separates himself from a lot of other players in the league. He’s got that raw talent. I think the difference with him and Kris is he’s got that size, too, to be able to play physical when he needs to and separate his man from the puck. A lot of similarities.”
Martin admitted he wasn’t sure how long it would take to develop chemistry with the Wookie.
“It’s probably different for everybody. … As you get to play some games and you get to realize the tendencies of each other, I’m sure he’ll be up ice a little bit more than I will. It’s just picking the right spots and making sure we’re covering each other.”
In goal, Jones enters training camp as a player with tremendous potential but who still needs to prove himself capable of being a solid NHL starter. He has just 34 games of NHL experience, but with an impressive 1.99 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.
The 25-year-old, who signed a three-year contract shortly after getting dealt from Boston (via Los Angeles) for a first round pick and a good prospect, doesn’t feel any added pressure despite the high price the Sharks paid to get him.
“I have high expectations of myself and I demand a lot from myself. That’s the main motivation for me,” Jones said.