The quest begins for Sharks

540093.jpg

The quest begins for Sharks

SAN JOSE (AP) -- The message to the San Jose Sharks from the coaching staff and management was the same at the start of training camp as it was when last season ended in a second straight Western Conference finals loss.If the Sharks are going to get over that hurdle and win the Stanley Cup for the first time, they can't wait three months to get going.A sluggish start last season left the Sharks in 12th place in the West in mid-January. A furious finish to the regular season earned San Jose a fourth straight Pacific Division title but might have drained the tank when it was needed most in the postseason."We have to hold them accountable," coach Todd McLellan said Saturday after the first practice of training camp. "We have to make sure we're pushing probably earlier this year than we did last year. We let them off the hook a little bit too much. That started already yesterday. It was very clear from our perspective what we expect from this group, and anything other than that is unacceptable."The Sharks made it through two playoff rounds before losing in five games to Vancouver last season as they wore down following a seven-game, second-round series against Detroit. San Jose had been swept in the conference finals the previous year by eventual champion Chicago.The Sharks were the only team to make it that far in each of the past two seasons, but that's little consolation for a franchise that has been near the top of the league the past decade but is still looking for its first trip to the Stanley Cup finals."There's just no recovery from bad starts," defenseman Douglas Murray said. "We didn't have a bad start for an average team. But for our goals and what we're looking to do here it was a terrible start for us. It probably took a lot of extra effort in the latter part of the season to get us into the right position for the playoffs. We wasted too much focus and energy doing that. It's better to take it out in the playoffs than to have to use it in the regular season."The message about fast starts has been heard by the players, who say that means being prepared each day before taking the ice for practice and bringing a heightened focus each day during training camp."Some guys are fighting for positions, some guys aren't," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "But we need to lead by example. For us older guys it's definitely not OK to take a day off. It's important to set the right example for the younger guys."General manager Doug Wilson made some big changes in the offseason, trading a pair of top forwards in separate deals to Minnesota. Wilson dealt Devin Setoguchi in a package for All-Star defenseman Brent Burns and swapped Dany Heatley for the speedier Martin Havlat.The Sharks also signed defensemen Colin White and James Vandermeer, turning what had been a weakness on the blue line to a strength. Those three new defensemen take the place of Niclas Wallin, Ian White and Kent Huskins.With Boyle, Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic back, and youngsters Jason Demers and Justin Braun in the mix, the Sharks have more defensive depth than they've ever had."This may be the most competitive training camp we have had here," Wilson said. "We told our players, if you don't like competition, you're in the wrong business."San Jose also signed forwards Michal Handzus and Andrew Murray to help bolster a penalty-killing unit that ranked 24th in the NHL last season at 79.6 percent."Every team, it doesn't matter if you win the Cup or don't make the playoffs, teams are going to change," captain Joe Thornton said. "'We like our additions and it's exciting to start the season."Goalies Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki didn't practice because of injuries. Niemi is day to day after having a cyst removed, while Niittymaki will be out for much longer while dealing with a groin problem that has lingered since last season.Newly acquired forward James Sheppard is also out after having offseason knee surgery, and Vlasic missed practice with an illness. Handzus didn't practice, two days after attending the funeral in Slovakia for former teammate Pavol Demitra.

Sharks have bevy of young defensemen to replace Schlemko

Sharks have bevy of young defensemen to replace Schlemko

CHICAGO – If there were a best-case scenario for the Sharks regarding the expansion draft, it probably would have been the Vegas Golden Knights selecting Mikkel Boedker, and the three years and $12 million remaining on his contract.

Instead, the Golden Knights swiped David Schlemko. While the 30-year-old was a nice third pair defenseman in his only year with the Sharks, it was probably the second-best case from San Jose’s perspective. The team should be able to fill the vacancy internally without too much difficulty. Schlemko had two goals and 18 points in 62 games last season, and has three years left on his contract at $2.1 million annually.

“I think it’s worked out well for all parties involved,” said general manager Doug Wilson. “You go into expansion, you know you’re going to lose a player. David came in and played well for us. We signed him as a free agent, so we didn’t have to give up an asset to get him. So, we think we moved through the expansion phase with the good young players coming in that are ready to play and compete for that spot. That’s probably as good as we could have expected to come out of expansion, in that position.”

If there are no other major moves on the Sharks’ blue line this offseason, the spot to play alongside Brenden Dillon will be there for the taking in training camp. There’s no reason, of course, to break up the top four of Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun, and Brent Burns-Paul Martin.

Dylan DeMelo would figure to have the inside track on the job, but there are others like Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan, each of whom signed two-year contract extensions on June 17. They served as the AHL Barracuda’s top defense pair for most of the season.

The 24-year-old Ryan, a sixth round pick in 2012, posted 10 goals and 49 points in 65 games last season in the AHL. He was recalled once by the Sharks but did not play. Heed, 26, is an offensive defenseman that tallied 14 goals and 56 points in 55 games with the Barracuda and played in one game with the Sharks on Jan. 11 in Calgary. Ryan is a left-handed shot; Heed, like Schlemko and DeMelo, shoots right.

Regarding Ryan, Wilson said: “He’s right on track. He’s the type of guy that – if you look around the league at the number of young defensemen that are making an impact – he thinks and plays the game the right way.”

“Watching [Ryan and Heed] play together, I would say they were arguably the best defense pair in the AHL last year.”

There are other defensemen to monitor, too. The Sharks signed soon-to-be 25-year-old Czech Radim Simek to a one-year contract on May 23, beating out several of other NHL teams to acquire his services. 

“He’s a puck-moving guy,” Wilson said. “He’s got a little bite to him, too. Not tall, but thick and strong. We think he’s a guy that has the skill set to step right in and play. We’ll see how much time it takes him to adjust to the smaller rink.”

And don’t forget about Jeremy Roy, either. The first pick of the second round in the deep 2015 draft (31st overall), Roy is expected to join the organization next season, likely starting his pro career with the Barracuda after recovering from a significant knee injury that ended his junior season in late October.

“He had a major repair, but he’s back healthy,” Wilson said. “We’ll see him this summer, and he’s a puck-moving guy. … Injuries you can’t control, but we have high expectations for Jeremy.”

* * *

Vegas shipped Schlemko to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday for a fifth round pick in the 2019 draft.

Sharks prepare for 2017 NHL Draft with eight picks in hand

Sharks prepare for 2017 NHL Draft with eight picks in hand

CHICAGO – The glass-half-full observer looks at Sharks’ recent draft record and sees some late round picks that could be on the cusp of making the NHL on a full time basis. 

Defenseman Joakim Ryan (7th round, 2012), center Danny O’Regan (5th round, 2012) and forward Kevin Labanc (6th round, 2014) have all exceeded expectations so far. Dylan DeMelo (6th round, 2011) could also be included in that group.

The glass-half-empty observer, though, sees that the Sharks have traded away a pair of recent first rounders that didn’t pan out. Nikolay Goldobin (27th overall, 2014) was dealt to Vancouver in late February for Jannik Hansen and a fourth round pick, while Mirco Mueller (18th overall, 2013) is off to New Jersey for a pair of picks in this year’s draft.

It’s all part of the uncertainty of selecting what are mostly teenagers in the annual NHL Entry Draft, which takes place at Chicago’s United Center this weekend. The Sharks’ first pick during Friday night’s first round sits at 19th overall, and they have seven more selections on Saturday when rounds two-through-seven take place.

Doug Wilson is used to picking in the mid-to-late first round, as the Sharks have missed the playoffs just once under his 14-year watch.

“I think we always take the best player available,” he said. “I think it’s a good draft. … We feel pretty comfortable at 19 we’ll get a pretty good player.”

The Sharks have never selected 19th, and Wilson left open the possibility that they could move up or down.

“People move up and down all the time. We’ve got a history of doing that so teams do reach out to us,” he said.

The Sharks moved up to pick Mueller in 2013, sending a second round pick to Detroit to jump ahead two places in a deal that now looks regrettable. The next year, they moved down seven spots before selecting Goldobin.

Less than a week ago, the Sharks didn’t have any picks in the second, third or fourth rounds. But in dealing Mueller (and a fifth rounder this year) to the Devils, they acquired second and fourth round picks from New Jersey (49 and 123 overall). They also have a pair of sixth round picks and three in the seventh round.

While this year’s draft isn’t thought to be especially strong, Wilson still expects there to be some good players available after the first round. Getting some assets in exchange for Mueller, who had been passed over in the organization, was critical.

“I think it was important for us to fill in the grid like we did. I think it’s a good draft,” Wilson said. “Realistically, it’s probably not a Connor McDavid-Auston Matthews type draft, but there are some very good players in this draft that will go on and have very good careers.”

As for losing Mueller and Goldobin recently, the general manager seemed to say that that those are the breaks when you’re a team doesn’t make one of the first few selections.

“First of all, you’ve got to clarify where we pick and have picked. You’re not talking about top five picks or lottery picks, so often – and this is not to take away from Mirco and Goldie, because they’re really good players and good kids – you move players when you’re trying to win or trying to make things happen,” he said. 

“Historically, our scouts have done an outstanding job, one of the best records for a scouting staff in the league, since 2003 in particular. But, you can’t be afraid to be bold and move things.”

* * *

Although the Sharks have never made a pick in the 19th overall spot, they’ve been around it. Players include Tomas Hertl (17th overall, 2012), Marcel Goc (20th overall, 2001) and Marco Sturm (21st overall, 1996). 

Some notable players around the league taken 19th overall include Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay, 2012), Oscar Klefbom (Edmonton, 2011), Nick Bjugstad (Florida, 2010), Chris Kreider (Rangers, 2009), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim, 2003) and Keith Tkachuk (Winnipeg, 1990).

* * *

The Sharks will hold their annual development camp from July 3-7 at their practice facility. It includes a scrimmage at SAP Center on Thursday, July 6.