Over the next several days leading up to the Sharks' next game on Feb. 27, we'll count down eight questions facing the team as it gets set to start the stretch run.
Question 5 – Will Raffi Torres get back to full speed?
The Sharks aren’t expected to be major players leading up to the NHL’s March 5 trading deadline. That’s a contrast from last season, when they shipped out some older, slower players in the midst of an identity crisis.
Raffi Torres was the most notable guy added to the roster, acquired from Phoenix on April 3 for a third round pick in 2013. He fit the team’s newfound “hard, fast and supportive” philosophy right away, injecting some speed, nastiness and aggressiveness into the lineup. Formerly one of the most hated players among the Sharks’ faithful, Torres quickly gained the adoration of the fan base.
This season, Torres will essentially be a deadline acquisition all over again. Barring any setbacks, he’ll make his season debut on Feb. 27 when the Sharks resume their season in Philadelphia.
He will be a welcome addition, of course, but the biggest question surrounding his return is will he be the same player? After all, Torres is returning from his second major knee surgery in six years, getting his ACL repaired in September. The 32-year-old missed 11 months after tearing the same ACL on December 15, 2007 while playing for Edmonton, experiencing a setback midway through rehab.
“I feel like I’m on the right track. At this point right now, it’s just about getting better every day and doing the right things and the stuff that I can handle,” Torres said on Thursday.
“In terms of keeping up with the NHL speed, I know it’s not going to be easy. It’s obviously the fastest league in the world, and as far as thinking that I’m just going to jump in and fit right in, I’m smarter than that.”
The Olympic break could be particularly beneficial to Torres in that he won’t be the only player trying to get back to midseason form. Most of the league’s players will have had nearly three weeks off between NHL games.
Torres said: “I think it kind of worked out well. I had a little bit of a blessing in disguise with the Olympic break here, and everybody coming back and getting a little rust out over the break.”
Most likely, Torres will start out in a third line role with Joe Pavelski at center and Tyler Kennedy on the other wing. It’s a line that will be counted on to score goals and take advantage of matchups against teams that can’t boast the kind of depth that the Sharks have when they are fully healthy.
That’s what happened last season for Torres, who had six points in 11 regular season games and was then part of the Sharks’ best line in a first round sweep of Vancouver, skating with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. He was sorely missed against the Kings in the second round, when a controversial hit earned him a suspension for the final six games of that series.
Now, he has 23 games left in the regular season to prepare for when the team will need him, and everyone else, and the top of their respective games. If he can be as effective as he was last season, it will be huge boost for a club with Stanley Cup aspirations.
“I know it’s going to take a few games, if not a couple weeks, but the ultimate goal is to be ready come playoffs,” Torres said.