I was thinking about the Sharks roster while I was on vacation, and I thought about who the top players on the team were. Then I thought about who were the most important players, not necessarily the best players. Here are my top 5 most important Sharks players for the upcoming season.
5. Matt Irwin
The biggest question, for me, is whether or not Irwin can bring his NHL game up to the level it was for Worcester in the AHL. Irwin needs to find that offensive side that he had while he played for the baby Sharks. San Jose needs more offensive contribution from the blue line, without hindering the defensive aspects of things. Irwin can be that guy. Does he have a 40-point NHL season in him?
4. Tyler Kennedy
Kennedy is known to be an energetic, wild-shooting, sparkplug. He was brought over to be an effective third line player who can dabble in the top six if injuries mount up. He can keep up with the speed of the game, no question about that, but can he settle his shot down enough to contribute 15 goals? That's my goal for Tyler Kennedy, 15 red lights and a 30 point season that features energetic chances while he's on the ice. Like any player that comes out of Pittsburgh, you have to wonder what his transition will be like into a normal hockey team. The Sharks need goals from depth players, plain and simple.
3. Antti Niemi
Niemi had a career year last season, posting a .924 save percentage and a 2.16 goals against average in the shortened campaign. It was a nice increase on his career average. Can he repeat the performance? I think so. I think that Niemi is an underrated goaltender in the NHL and gives the Sharks an opportunity to win games. Niemi is a goaltender who may not make every save in a game, but he will make that one save that counts. Without effective goaltending, the Sharks will most definitely be struggling to stretch their post-season streak to 10 seasons.
2. Raffi Torres
It may be a suprise to have Torres, a wildly hated player, as the 2nd most important player for San Jose this season. The obvious question around Torres is what Raffi will we see? Will it be the reformed Raffi Torres who wants to have a job in the NHL? Or will it be the same reckless, care-free, player who will ultimately see his season cut short by a Shanaban? Torres had 6 points in 11 games for San Jose last year and that's the production the Sharks need from him. Torres needs to be a 35-40 point player who can throw 15 pucks into the back of the net. It's along the same storyline as Kennedy, the Sharks need depth goals. Torres is capable of getting 15 goals but, typically, isn't a 40 point player. If he can focus on hockey, free from the reckless abandon, I think he can be that 35-40 point player for San Jose.
1. Joe Pavelski
3rd line center? 2nd line winger? 1st line winger? Who knows? Who cares, really? Pavelski's importance can be summed up as simple as this: 30 goals. Two seasons ago he scored 31, last year he was on pace for 29. He needs to hit 30 goals for San Jose this year. Couture will get there, Marleau should if he sticks around all season, but with the goals thinly spread throughout the rest of the group it's Pavelski who needs to continue to score goals. If Pavelski struggles there isn't anyone else who will pick up the slack. Goals. Sharks need goals.
The biggest stretch out of the five has to go to Matt Irwin. It's a tall order for the defender to get 40 points, but I think it's attainable. Maybe not this year, but I'd like to see good strides toward it.
You've noticed that Logan Couture isn't on the list. That's not because he isn't important, it's because he's an expected player. I expect Couture to be a 30 goal player, I expect Couture to take a step up and contribute 70 points. He's definitely important, but he's expected to do certain things now that it's basically his hockey team.
When all is said and done, if the Sharks want to remain a playoff team it will rest on the shoulders of the depth players, the guys who get no recognition. The goal well simply cannot dry up for the Sharks. There has to be some consistency in getting pucks across the goal line, or the hard work that Niemi and the defensive system put in is all for not.
Thanks for reading!
Stay icy, Sharks fans.