SAN JOSE – He’s almost a forgotten man among the Sharks’ top three scoring lines.
There’s the established veteran core of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski; rising star Logan Couture; highly publicized defenseman-turned-winger Brent Burns; and now promising rookies Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto.
But Tommy Wingels’ place as a winger on the Pavelski line has been a constant since training camp opened three weeks ago. It’s an important season for the 25-year-old, who had five goals and eight assists in 42 games last season.
There are still two days until the season opener, but Wingels has gotten off to a good start, according to his head coach.
“I thought he had a tremendous training camp. Showed up ready to play and ready to compete,” Todd McLellan said on Tuesday. “I talk about players feeling like they belong, and I think Tommy is in that situation now. … He’s earned the right to feel good in the locker room, he’s had a really good preseason, and provides a physical element for us.”
Wingels’ best asset through his first three professional seasons is the way he’s unafraid to finish checks and recklessly sacrifice his body. In the Sharks’ four game playoff sweep of the Canucks last May, he was arguably as valuable as anyone on the Sharks for the way he drew the attention, ire – and several penalties – from Vancouver players. In the clinching Game 4, Wingels drew eight minutes of penalties, including a pair of minors leading to the game-tying and game-winning scores.
His 20 hits over four games were the most of anyone on either team. Wingels finished the regular season with a team-leading 115 hits, too.
“My game is effective when I am doing those kind of things; getting in on the forecheck, playing a hard game, being tough to play against,” Wingels said. “Whether you see it with other guys chirping you on the ice or getting mad when you finish hits, that means you’re doing your job.”
Wingels, who signed a two-year contract extension this summer, was asked if he thinks he is starting to get that reputation around the league as a guy that’s a complete annoyance to play against.
“Yeah, I am starting to see that,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll continue to do that, and continue to have success.”
Wingels isn’t exactly the most vocal guy on the ice like, say, an Adam Burish, but he can be a fly in the other team’s ointment with his style of play.
McLellan said: “There are two types of pests. There is the guy that is just there all the time and physically playing hard, and I think that’s Tommy. I don’t think his mouth does a lot of the work for him, it’s his legs and his body that are involved physically, and that can wear on another team.”
Still, Wingels may have to do more than throw some big hits and draw penalties in order to keep playing big minutes. He has 22 points (8g, 14a) in 80 career NHL games, and contributing more on the scoreboard is a priority. The Sharks’ third line, which also includes Nieto now that Raffi Torres is out long term, will be counted on to consistently factor in on the scoresheet.
Wingels had a good preseason by the numbers, with a goal and four assists in five games.
“Everyone who plays this game wants to score goals. I’m definitely one of those guys,” Wingels said. “When you play top nine minutes, you’re expected to get some points. If you’re going to get those minutes you have to make the best of them. I think our line has done a pretty good job thus far, and we’ll look to carry it over in to the regular season.”
McLellan said: “The one thing I think is he has the ability to score more than he has in the past. He gets a ton of chances, and it doesn’t always go in for him, but with his shot and his release we expect a little more offense from him. Hopefully that will come this year.”