Eight players to watch during Sharks training camp
It was a year to forget for Douglas Murray in 2011-12. The popular blueliner struggled through an assortment of injuries, and even when he was in the lineup, the 32-year-old looked a step behind. Now that he’s had nine months between NHL games, Murray should be fully healthy. But can he still be an effective, top-six defenseman, or has Murray lost his place in the starting lineup?
Along with Brad Stuart, Adam Burish is the only newcomer expected to be in the lineup on opening night. Burish plays a simple, honest game, and will likely eat up minutes on either the third or fourth line. He could also be used on the penalty kill, like he was in Dallas last season. That unit was the team’s biggest deficiency during last year’s disappointing campaign, and Burish may be counted on to help it improve.
James Sheppard last saw action in an NHL game on April 10, 2010 – nearly three years ago. Acquired from Minnesota in the summer of 2011, Sheppard spent last season continuing his rehab before joining Worcester in September. It took him a few weeks to get his feet under him, but recent reviews say Sheppard has been excelling in the AHL in recent weeks. Could the former first round pick in 2006 finally make an impact in the NHL?
What’s the deal with Brent Burns? The prized acquisition from two summers ago had an up-and-down season with San Jose, starting slowly but finishing strong. He recently revealed he had offseason sports hernia/groin surgery, and won’t say if he’ll be ready for the first game on Jan. 20, despite being medically cleared on Oct. 9. Burns seems to be upping the intensity to his practices lately, so that’s a good sign. We’ll see how involved he is when camp begins.
It’s easy to forget that Tommy Wingels actually made the opening night roster last season, before he was quickly reassigned to Worcester. He locked down a roster spot in the second half of last season, though, and showed some offensive ability along with a willingness to hit everything in sight. Sharks management is high on Wingels, but the winger failed to light the lamp in his final 21 regular season and playoff games, and Doug Wilson and company will be expecting an increase in his output. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the coaching staff experiment with Wingels on one of the top two lines during camp.
Defenseman Jason Demers’ timing couldn’t have been any worse. In what would probably have been his final game overseas, Demers suffered a fractured wrist in the Spengler Cup final while playing for Team Canada. It’s doubtful he’ll be a full participant when camp begins, and could miss some regular season games, too. Demers was playing well in Finland, and he’ll be looking to put an inconsistent 2011-12 behind him. His health status during training camp will be something to monitor.
Matt Irwin/Matt Tennyson
The Sharks could carry at least one of either Matt Irwin or Matt Tennyson when the season begins, thanks to the injury concerns on defense. Rather than bring in a free agent, all signs point to these two current Worcester Sharks battling it out for that potential spot. Irwin is a 25-year-old in his fourth season with Worcester, while Tennyson is 22 and playing in his second season in the AHL. Both were undrafted, both are listed at 6-2, 210 pounds, and neither has played an NHL game.
Michal Handzus essentially lost his place in the lineup at the trade deadline last year when the Sharks traded for Dominic Moore. Then, Moore got hurt shortly after he was acquired from Tampa Bay, and in April he had to deal with the tragic news of his wife’s illness. In the meantime, Handzus stayed in the lineup and was not effective at even-strength or on the penalty kill, which was one of the biggest reasons he was signed to a two-year deal. It was revealed after the season that Handzus was playing through a hip injury, and his play improved in the World Championships and in Slovakia during the lockout. Will Handzus revert back to his old, steady form, or has the game passed the 35-year-old by?