Healthy Sheppard trying to resurrect career


Healthy Sheppard trying to resurrect career

One of the most frequently asked questions I got last season, whether it be through Twitter or during an online chat, was: whats the deal with James Sheppard?

My repetitious reply from January on was simple and straightforward: dont expect Sheppard, who suffered a serious left knee injury in the summer of 2010, to have any sort of impact on the NHL club this year. After all, the former first round pick (ninth overall) of the Minnesota Wild hadnt played a game at any level in a year-and-a-half up to that point, and it wasnt even a sure thing that his professional career would continue.

Now? Sheppard has declared himself recovered and is ready to begin his journey back to the NHL with the American Hockey Leagues Worcester Sharks, with whom he signed a contract with just before training camp. Head coach Roy Sommer told the Worcester Telegram that Sheppard looks great now, and I think youve just seen the tip of it. Sheppard even scored a goal in Worcesters preseason game last Thursday, a 4-3 loss to the Connecticut Whale (which was led by Calder Trophy candidate and Rangers playoff hero Chris Kreider, who tallied a hat trick).

I feel really good. I feel in shape, I feel energetic, and Im really happy to be playing hockey again, Sheppard told me on Tuesday, via telephone.

Its been a long road back for Sheppard, who was injured in an offseason ATV accident while training in Vail, Colorado in September of 2010. The Sharks took a chance when they acquired him from the Wild, with whom he had 11 goals and 38 assists in 224 games over parts of three seasons from 2007-10. The Sharks sent a third round pick in 2013 to Minnesota in exchange for the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder on August 8, 2011.

We looked at it as a risk-reward thing, Wilson told the Telegram. We scouted him as a junior and really liked him then. We even thought about trading up in the draft so wed have a chance to take him.

He arrived in San Jose a little more than a year ago and immediately took up residence in the training room. Sheppard briefly made an appearance for practice on Nov. 18, but that didnt last very long, and he later described that attempt to return as feeling like he was skating in mud. He promptly went back to the gym to build more muscle.

Fast-forward to Jan. 7, and Sheppard once again took part in a practice at Sharks Ice. His stated goal that day, he told reporters, was to play a game by the beginning of March.

He reached that goal when he appeared in four games with Worcester on a two-week conditioning stint from late Feb. through March 11, going scoreless with two penalty minutes before he was shut down again. He admitted on Tuesday that playing in those games might not have been the best idea.

I feel way better, and completely different now, Sheppard said. I wasnt really ready when I played those four games, looking back. I feel much better now, and feel prepared and ready to go right now. Last year, I felt like I had a bad knee and I dont think I was 100 percent out there. Now, I feel like Im 100 percent, and I can play the game that I want to play.

Although pain in his left knee will be something that he likely has to manage for the rest of his life, its not something that he thinks about now when he hops over the boards.

When I get on the ice it all kind of goes away, just because of how intense the game is and how fast it is, he said. You just kind of lose yourself in the game.

When and if the NHL season gets under way, it will be interesting to see where Sheppard ends up, provided he stays healthy. The Sharks are counting on several of their younger players like Tommy Wingels, TJ Galiardi and Andrew Desjardins to continue their development provide steady minutes and secondary scoring on the bottom two lines.

Adding the 24-year-old Sheppard into that mix would help in terms of depth, and internal competition for playing time.

Thats not something Sheppard is focused on just yet, though. Instead, hes in high spirits to move forward with his career, after a roller coaster ride of emotions the last two years.

Everyone can have bad days and good days where they kind of question themselves, but the quicker you get over that and quicker you say Im going to beat this thing, the better it is, he said. I really have to give a lot of thanks to a lot of people who helped me through that, and helped me to where I am right now.

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


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


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.