Sharks

Burns' first year a season-long adjustment

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Burns' first year a season-long adjustment

SAN JOSE Its been a season-long adjustment period for the guy that was supposed to put the Sharks over the hump.

Brent Burns was acquired from the Minnesota Wild last summer at a hefty cost, when the Sharks sent forward Devin Setoguchi, top prospect Charlie Coyle and a first round pick to the Wild in exchange for Burns and a second rounder, and then promptly signed him to a five-year contract extension worth more than 5.7 million a year. The prevailing thought was that Burns was going to help end a 20-year drought for a club still looking for its first trip to the Stanley Cup Final, after falling just short in consecutive seasons.

That weight and expectation may have burdened Burns at the start of the year, according to the head coach.

I thought initially, he came in and was too focused on getting it all done at once, Todd McLellan said. When hes relaxed and settled, he is very, very good.

Burns is a man of few words when there are cameras and microphones in front of him.

We let you guys do the talking, and we just play, he said. Theres going to be ups-and-downs throughout the year. There always has been and there always will be, individually and as a team. Thats the way it always goes.

Statistically, an "up-and-down" season is exactly right regarding Burns. Through his first 37 games, Burns had six goals and six assists for 12 points. In his final 44 (he missed one game in January due to injury), Burns produced 25 points (five goals, 20 assists).

That includes the 10 games immediately following the All-Star break, when Burns had two goals and nine assists for 11 points. But things got away from him and the team once more, as the Sharks struggled through late February and March. Burns slowed offensive production and mistakes defensively werent helping.

Later in the year when he struggled a little bit, I know he felt like this is on me, Im the new guy, and its not going well. We talked about it a bit, and after that he relaxed a bit and played, McLellan said.

The most noticeable year-over-year stat when it comes to Burns is his drop off in penalty minutes. He finished with 98 in his final season with the Wild last year, but that dropped to just 34 this season. In fact, Burns didnt have a single penalty minute until Dec. 3, in the 23rd game of the season.

McLellan puts a premium on playing disciplined hockey, as his club was shorthanded fewer than any other team in the league. Burns rejects the theory that he was less physical this season than in the past, even though it seemed like that aspect of his game was less prevalent in his first year with San Jose.

I didnt change anything. Im not, not hitting guys anymore because I dont want to get a penalty, he said.

McLellan doesnt equate Burns drop in penalty minutes to a lack of physical play, either.

I dont think hes less physical at all. Hes checking, hes putting himself in good positions where he doesnt have to reach and lunge or anything like that. Hes defending well, McLellan said. Hes very mobile and very agile, so if hes half-beat hes not completely beat. He has the ability to recover and not take those reaching or holding penalties.

Its Burns first trip to the playoffs since 2008 when he was still with Minnesota. Hes never advanced past the first round.

And, hey, theres still a chance that Burns could help the Sharks reach to the finals. The seventh-seeded Sharks are in a lower starting position than they are accustomed to when compared with recent years, but it was just two seasons ago that a team in that same position made it to the finals when the Philadelphia Flyers lost to Antti Niemis Chicago Blackhawks.

Its a great time to play, and its exciting to be back, Burns said.

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

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AP

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

Nearly five months after taking a puck to the mouth that resulted in major damage, Logan Couture is still dealing with the aftereffects of his surgically repaired mouth, which now features several false teeth.

Appearing on the NHL Network this week, Couture was asked how he’s feeling with less than one month to go before the Sharks open training camp on Sep. 14.

“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth. 

“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”

Couture was injured on March 25 in Nashville. He was set up just outside the crease in the offensive zone when a Brent Burns point shot hit a stick before squarely battering the now 28-year-old’s mouth.

After missing the final seven games of the regular season, Couture returned for the Sharks’ playoff opener. He managed to play in all six games of the first round loss, posting two goals and one assist for three points, although he struggled at times and was seemingly targeted by the Oilers.

Couture is currently in his hometown of London, Ontario where he’s staging a casino event for brain research. Fellow Sharks Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo will take part, as will other NHL stars like the Kings’ Drew Doughty.

Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

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Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

It was late in the lockout-shortened 2013 season when Sharks general manager Doug Wilson really started to prepare for the future. Douglas Murray was dealt to Pittsburgh for a pair of second round selections. Ryane Clowe packed his bags for Broadway, in exchange for a second and a third round pick from the Rangers. Michal Handzus went to Chicago for a fourth rounder.

Wilson’s logic was sound, as it typically takes two-to-four years before draft picks have a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. The general manager figured that by then, players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau either wouldn’t be a part of the team anymore or would be slowing down. Restocking the cupboards was essential.

From 2013-15, the Sharks made 24 selections over the next three NHL entry drafts, including seven total picks in the top two rounds. Some players have shown promise. Others haven’t. A few aren’t in the organization anymore. That’s the nature of the business.

The way the 2017-18 opening night roster is shaping up, though, now is the time that some of these young players in the system simply have to step up. Marleau and his 27 goals last season are gone, Thornton’s numbers are down and he’s coming off of major knee surgery, Joe Pavelski is now 33 years old, and the team’s offense depth is suspect at best. There have been no notable additions in the offseason.

Frankly, this season could be viewed as a referendum on the team’s amateur scouting staff, including longtime director Tim Burke. Wilson handed Burke and his staff a wonderful opportunity to provide the organization with fresh talent with the team approaching an organizational crossroads.

What has transpired so far is a bit concerning, as already two of the team’s first round picks from that span ended up being nothing more than trade bait.

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Mirco Mueller, chosen 18th overall in 2013, was a huge disappointment in San Jose. It’s been well documented that he was mishandled by the organization when he was rushed to the league in 2014-15, but even this past season, regular observers of the Barracuda had Mueller as nothing more than the AHL team’s fourth-best defenseman. He’s now in New Jersey, swapped for a pair of draft picks.

The scouting staff was so high on Mueller on draft day that Wilson traded a valuable second round pick to Detroit to move up just two places to select him. With those acquired picks, the Red Wings took Anthony Mantha 20th overall and Tyler Bertuzzi 58th overall – two forwards that have shown a whole lot more NHL potential than Mueller (especially Mantha, who has 39 points in 70 career NHL games so far).

Perhaps more concerning, though, is that the Sharks 2013 draft class as a whole is looking like a dud. Second round pick Gabryel Boudreau suffered a wrist injury and is no longer in the organization anymore, but he was trending downward even before he got hurt. None of the remaining players selected from rounds four-through-seven look to be NHL quality, either.

The next year brought Nikolay Goldobin, chosen 27th overall after the Sharks traded down in the first round, and he ended up being the key piece in the Jannik Hansen acquisition from Vancouver. Goldobin showed some flashes of offensive talent during his time in the organization, but his lack of hockey sense and on-ice work ethic helped lead to his exit. Whether Goldobin becomes an NHL regular, even with a fresh start in Vancouver, is highly uncertain.

Had the Sharks stayed at 20th overall, they could have selected Nick Schmaltz (20th overall), Robby Fabbri (21st overall), or David Pastrnak (25th overall). Instead, they moved down and took Goldobin, making it back-to-back first round failures.

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Still, unlike 2013, other players from Goldobin’s draft class have shown some promise. Second rounder Julius Bergman was a steady blueliner for a good Barracuda team last season, and although he’s probably not NHL-ready yet, he could be on the right track. Late in the draft the team found Kevin Labanc in the sixth round with the 171st overall selection, and Labanc had some nice moments with the Sharks last season. His shot and his hands make him a solid prospect, although Labanc still probably has to get a bit bigger and stronger to play in the NHL full-time.

Noah Rod (second round, 53rd overall) and Rourke Chartier (fifth round, 149th overall) are also still developing, with Rod playing against men in the Swiss league the past few seasons and Chartier a valuable player for the Barracuda last year.

In 2015, the draft provided the Sharks with Timo Meier at ninth overall, as the club drafted in the top 10 for the first time since 2007. At this point, Meier is far and away the best prospect in the organization, and he’ll likely be relied upon to play a top nine (or even a top six) role for the Sharks this season.

The 2015 draft brought other decent prospects, too. Defenseman Jeremy Roy was selected 31st overall, and after suffering a serious knee injury in juniors this year, he’ll get a chance to play for the Barracuda this year. Fourth rounder Adam Helewka and fifth rounder Rudolfs Balcers have also developed nicely since draft day. It’s still a bit too early to evaluate that draft as a whole.

It should also be mentioned that while their draft day record may be suspect the past few seasons, the Sharks have brought in European free agents like Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen. Karlsson has developed into a versatile, hard-working forward; Donskoi has shown flashes of offensive brilliance despite a disappointing second year in the NHL last season; and Sorensen looks primed to make the opening night roster after his speed and tenacity shined through during the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.

The Sharks scouting staff has helped to keep the team competitive for a long time, and they’re as big a reason as any that the team has missed the playoffs just once in the past 11 seasons. But this is also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and now is the time that the Sharks need to see some results from players that were chosen by Burke and company.