While Sharks sit, prospects are playing

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While Sharks sit, prospects are playing

SAN JOSE Whether or not the NHL season begins on Nov. 2 or is pushed back even further, younger prospects and recent draft picks wont be a part of training camp. In the unlikely event it starts early, the players taking part will more or less be those assured of their place on the NHL roster.

In other words, if Sharks fans want to get an up-close look at the clubs top minor league prospects, they cant do it without a cross-country flight to Boston Logan and subsequent pricey cab ride to Worcester, Mass.

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson and the teams entire coaching staff made that trek last week, taking in part of Worcesters training camp and a few of its preseason games. The trip was productive for a few reasons, according to Wilson.

It was a great opportunity for all our staff to spend time together, get on the ice, and see the young players that theyve worked with at the development camp, Wilson said, referring to the Sharks mid-summer prospect gathering in San Jose. Its as important that the young players there, who didnt get the opportunity to have a training camp or exhibition games here, show us what they can do. We have a very good team down there, thats very competitive.

There are a number of players on Worcesters roster that are of particular interest, and could even appear in a Sharks jersey this season. At the top is forward James Sheppard, who hasnt played NHL hockey in two seasons, but has seemingly worked his way back into playing condition.

In fact, in Worcesters first two games in Norfolk, Va. last weekend, Sheppard contributed a goal and two assists and was the Sharks nominee for AHL Player of the Week (he didnt win). Hes their first line center, skating between wingers Sebastian Stalberg and Travis Oleksuk.

Sheppard, who spoke to CSNCalifornia.com last week, seems primed to battle for a top-nine forward role for the Sharks this season provided he doesnt suffer any setbacks. It could be an incredible story after the former first round pick suffered a potentially career-ending knee injury in Sept. 2010 in an ATV accident while training in Vail, Co.

Were excited to see a player who has gone through a bump in the road, put all this work in, and come out of it on the healthy side, said Wilson, who traded a third round pick in 2013 to Minnesota last summer to acquire Sheppard, only to see him shelved for the entirety of the 2011-12 season. To see him playing the way he was playing, and feeling healthy, and having the jump back in his game, is exciting for Shep and really exciting for us, too. That factored into the riskreward of acquiring him.

Sheppard isnt the only player with NHL hopes thats on the mend. Goaltender Alex Stalocks career was also nearly cut short when he suffered a sliced nerve behind his left knee in Feb. 2011 while playing for Worcester. After nearly a full year on the shelf, Stalock returned late last season and played in 11 games between Worcester, Peoria, Ill. (AHL, on loan) and Stockton, Ca. (ECHL).

Hes 100 percent cleared by the Mayo Clinic. Its a great story, Wilson said. Obviously, he healed well. In that type of injury you just hope to get through that barrier, but hes completely cleared, looks great, and we expect him to have a very dominant year.

Stalock is half of the goalie tandem that also includes 2008 fourth round pick Harri Sateri. Each has started one of Worcesters first two games, and each allowed three goals as Worcester dropped both contests.

We have high expectations for Harri. The competition between the two will make them both better, but theyre both high-end goalies, Wilson said.

Wilson doesnt like to name names when asked which players on Worcesters roster are the closest to being NHL-ready, but there are still some players that provoke more interest than others, if based only on draft position or media reports.

One of those is defenseman Nick Petrecki. The big defenseman was chosen in the first round (28th overall) the same year as Logan Couture (2007), but has yet to get even a sniff of the NHL. Reviews of Petreckis play at the minor league level have been mixed, at best, as he begins his fourth year with Worcester.

In Petreckis defense, blueliners generally take longer to develop than high-end skilled offensive players like Couture. According to Wilson, the 23-year-old Petrecki is still on the right path, and has bulked up to 238 pounds to go along with his 6-3 frame.

Hes right on track, Wilson said. I think what happens is when a player like a Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Couture makes an NHL roster right awaythats the aberration. Look how young Nick Petrecki still is.

He continued: We try to build a career for players. What happens is, the big physical players normally take longer. Thats just the history of it. Theyve been able to intimidate or scare people in junior or college, and they need to round out their game.

Another name that popped up just this summer is that of 19-year-old forward Sean Kuraly, after his impressive performance at the World Junior prospect camp in Lake Placid, NY.

Kuraly, a fifth round pick of the Sharks in 2011, led all players at the camp with six goals and nine points. A native of Columbus, Oh., Kuraly is a lock to represent the United States at the World Junior Championships at the end of the calendar year.

In fact, one unnamed NHL scout told ESPN.com: "Whatever round this kid was taken in, it should have been the first.

He showed what hes capable of at that camp. Thats really all Im going to say, Wilson said. In the World Juniors this year, I think youll see some stuff.

Kuralys rise out of seemingly nowhere could be used as a good example against the credibility of prospect lists that appear in hockey publications and on websites. The Sharks are consistently rated among the leagues worst teams when it comes to in-the-system depth. HockeyProspectus.com ranks the Sharks 29th out of 30, while Hockeysfuture.com ranks the Sharks dead last.

So, too, does the well-respected Hockey News, putting San Jose 30th out of 30 teams, along with a C-minus grade.

GM Doug Wilson will tell you the Sharks success hasnt adversely affected their drafting. However, there are few blue-chippers to speak of, says the publication in its 2012-13 yearbook.

Its evident in speaking with Wilson that those lists dont keep him up at night.

People call and ask me to comment. Some of the people filling content dont do their homework, and some of the people they ask for their opinions are people that are trying to get back in the game, that arent in the game because theyre not very good at what they do, to be honest, Wilson said.

Instead, hed rather point to the kids like Kuraly, who could be yet another diamond in the rough for the franchise and its scouting department headed by Tim Burke, who just completed his 15th season in that role. In fact, the Sharks 2012-13 roster will feature a whole slew of mid-to-late round picks and home grown talent from previous drafts, including Joe Pavelski (7th round, 2003), Ryane Clowe (6th round, 2001), Douglas Murray (8th round, 1999), Tommy Wingels (6th round, 2008), Justin Braun (7th round, 2007), Thomas Greiss (3rd round, 2004) and Andrew Desjardins (undrafted free agent).

Since 2003, when Wilson took over, Sharks draft picks have played a total of 3829 NHL games, whether with San Jose or somewhere else in the league. That number is second only to Chicago (3980) and Montreal (4154).

Youve got to find guys that can play, that might not be fully developed, but have great hockey sense and get those pros in the second third, fifth, sixth, seventh rounds. Thats really where you make your bones in this business.

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

SAN JOSE – A weekend with no games on the NHL calendar is rare enough. A weekend without any games or practices, though? That’s virtually unheard of in the middle of the season.

But with nothing until Wednesday's home game, and after a stretch of 10 games in 18 days, Sharks coach Pete DeBoer chose to give the players and staff a full Saturday and Sunday off. DeBoer and assistant coach Johan Hedberg were seen quickly scurrying from SAP Center a few short minutes after the game ended, while defenseman Brent Burns had his massive camouflage backpack stuffed to capacity while conducing his postgame media availability.

“It’s packed and ready to go,” Burns said, without going into any detail as to what exactly was in the bag.

DeBoer explained his rationale behind the respite on Friday morning.

“The way [the schedule] laid out after the month we’ve just had – the injuries, the stuff we’ve dealt with – it just made sense. We’ve got another push until the Christmas break after this with a tough schedule. 

“With our travel and the World Cup and everything, it didn’t make sense to come down here and skate when we had a chance to actually recharge mentally and physically.”

Although the team was aware of the break for some time, there’s no question that the Sharks have earned it. As they wake up on Saturday morning (presumably after sleeping in), they find themselves with a three-point cushion in the Pacific Division with a 15-9-1 mark. San Jose has won six of its last seven, including triumphs over perennial contender Chicago, chief rival Los Angeles, and the top team in the Eastern Conference, Montreal.

Their two longest road trips of the season are also already behind them, including a five-game trip in October and a six-gamer in November.

Joe Pavelski is pleased with what he’s seen so far, despite the challenging circumstances.

“Guys have handled it well,” said the captain. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of rest time, and we’ve found a few different ways to win, especially on nights that it hasn’t been easy. The biggest thing is guys have shown up and played hard. We’ve got a pretty good structure in here, guys are responsible, we’ve found a few goals, and [Martin Jones] gives us a chance every night.”

Joe Thornton said: “It’s been a lot of hockey. It will be nice to get a couple days after this to relax and recover a little bit.”

The schedule will ramp up again in short order. After three games in four nights next week, the Sharks will fly to Toronto and open up a four-games-in-six-days road trip with the Maple Leafs on Dec. 13.

* * *

The Sharks reassigned forwards Kevin Labanc and Ryan Carpenter to the AHL Barracuda on Saturday morning. Carpenter was a healthy scratch on Friday as Tommy Wingels got back in the lineup. 

It’s likely that the move was made at least partially because the Sharks are up against the salary cap, and that one or both players could return by the time they host the Senators on Wednesday.

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

SAN JOSE – The Sharks continued their hot streak with a 2-1 win over the Canadiens in a classic goaltender’s duel Friday night. The three takeaways from the game…

1 – Price, Jones similarities

Martin Jones was the standout star with his 31 saves, but the Sharks had to beat Carey Price on the other end to reward their own goalie. Price entered the night as the NHL leader in save percentage (.947), and third in goals-against average (1.68) and is probably on his way to another Vezina Trophy at the end of the season.

That the game came down to a battle in net was no surprise, as a prescient Pete DeBoer said Friday morning “we have to be prepared to win 2-1.”

There was talk after the game that there are some similarities between the Sharks emerging goaltender and the Canadiens superstar. 

“Actually, we spoke to [Sharks assistant/goaltending coach] Johan Hedberg about that, and he does see a lot of similarities between the two of them,” assistant coach Steve Spott said. “Their mannerisms in the net – they're both very, very calm. Both very quick. And both hockey clubs believe in their goaltenders. It was a great duo on that ice tonight. I think for any fan to see those two goaltenders was pretty special tonight."

Brent Burns, who won the World Cup with Price in September, said: “Very similar. … [Jones is] unflappable. They’re both big, very calm and great positioning. Very similar.”

2 – Strong start

The Sharks knew they were getting the weekend off from practice after the game, with no chance of any late changes as DeBoer and Hedberg were seen quickly departing for getaway flights after the final horn (that’s why Spott handled the postgame media duties). 

At this point in DeBoer’s second season, there seems to be a real trust factor between the coaching staff and the veteran team that no one will start their mini-break early. The Sharks were flying in the first period, jumping all over the Canadiens and seizing a 2-0 lead that Jones helped preserve over the final two frames.

Spott said: “It was good to come out like that and establish that momentum. We know how fast Montreal is and how deep they are up front, and obviously we know Carey Price. It was a good start. We were able to hold onto that."

“Whether you get the days off, you want to play hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “You want to come out [quickly], especially at home, at the starts.” 

3 – Escaping injury

Injuries are always a concern with so many games in so few days, and there were a few scary moments for San Jose.

The Sharks lost Kevin Labanc for a stretch in the first period after the rookie went hard into the boards on a hit by Alexei Emelin, but he came back in the second after he apparently went through some concussion tests.

Spott said: “He took a good hit. He came back. He went in and had to obviously do some [head injury] protocol.”

David Schlemko’s situation looked much worse, as the defenseman limped off of the ice and up the tunnel in the second period with what looked like a right leg or ankle problem. He returned midway through the third, though.

“It didn't look good when we saw it on video, but thankfully I think we dodged a bullet there,” Spott said.