SAN JOSE – The first on-ice training camp session is just three days away, but Sharks head coach Todd McLellan found some time on Monday to hold his first real media scrum of the 2013-14 season.
McLellan and his staff, like every other NHL coaching staff, will have some big decisions to make as opening night in October will come quickly. San Jose may have fewer questions than most NHL clubs, though, as the team is bringing back a very similar roster to the one that fell to the Los Angeles Kings in seven hard-fought games in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The only new face from outside the organization expected to be on that roster is five-foot-11, 183-pound forward Tyler Kennedy, who was acquired at the NHL draft from Pittsburgh in June for a second round pick. The Sharks found their identity shortly before last season’s trade deadline of playing a faster and harder brand of hockey, and the result was a late-season surge and impressive playoff showing. Kennedy fits that style, according to the head coach.
“We want to build on that, and he’s a very good ingredient to do that,” McLellan said. “He plays hard, he plays fast, he’s on pucks, he goes to the net. He’s not six-foot-three, but that’s ok. He’s prepared to do those things. When he’s playing well, he’s all over the rink and making things happen.”
[REWIND: What are the lines?]
Kennedy could be slotted as a winger on one of the top three lines, perhaps as the replacement for TJ Galiardi on the Joe Thornton-Brent Burns line. It’s much too early to speculate on what the four lines will look like, but McLellan mentioned he would like to keep Thornton and Burns together, as well as Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. It’s also likely (although McLellan didn't say this) that Joe Pavelski will be the third line center, with his wingers to be determined.
Rookie Tomas Hertl, 19, will get a chance to lock down a spot on the opening night roster. He could potentially take the place vacated by Marty Havlat, who is expected to begin the season on the injured list after offseason pelvic surgery.
If McLellan has Hertl penciled in for Oct. 3 against Vancouver, though, he wasn’t letting on. Hertl, who was signed in the offseason, is eligible to begin the season at AHL Worcester.
“Is he ready to play at the NHL level? He’ll answer that question over the next few weeks, not me today,” McLellan said.
Another prospect getting some attention is 2011 second round pick and scoring winger Matt Nieto, who is coming off of an impressive junior season at Boston University.
What about him?
“The two games I saw in Penticton (at the just completed Young Stars tournament in British Columbia), I thought he played well there and had an impact in both of them,” McLellan said. “But, it’s a large jump to make that transition. He’ll have the same opportunity as everybody else.
“Put it this way – somebody has to play. It doesn’t really matter where they came from, as long as they are ready and can contribute.”
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With Thomas Greiss now in Phoenix, the Sharks have an opening at the backup goaltender position. It will be filled by one of the organizations prospects, as Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri will battle it out in camp.
Stalock, a fourth round pick in 2005, has been around longer than Sateri (fourth round, 2008) and played in two games last season when Greiss was injured. Stalock was also the emergency third goaltender in the postseason. But, that doesn’t mean he’s automatically got the job.
“To say that Alex has the inside edge on Harri would be unfair to both of them,” McLellan said. “We know where [Antti Niemi] stands, and he looks good. Nemo can’t play 82 games, and it’s not a lockout season, so whoever wins that other job will get a chance to play and really establish themselves in the league.”
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It was a bit surprising to see Havlat, who had extensive surgery in the summer, skating with his teammates on Monday at Sharks Ice. The winger, who played in just two postseason games in the spring and left both of them early due to injury, has been on the ice in San Jose for about a week now.
As mentioned earlier, he’s still expected him to begin the season on the injured list, though.
[REWIND: Wilson talks Havlat's status]
“Marty had that [surgery] and he’s worked really hard,” McLellan said. “He’s right on schedule, from what I’ve been told. But, to put him in a situation where he’s not ready, and at risk, makes no sense. He’s got to really get strong to get to where he needs to be. I can tell you he’s worked hard, which is a really good sign. He continues to follow the program here.”
As for what that schedule might be, McLellan said there is no time frame, and pointed out that the informal skates taking place now are not similar to practices.
“Their skate, and what we need to skate at, are completely different.”
Stay tuned on this one.