CHICAGO – James Sheppard recently got a look on Joe Thornton’s line with Tomas Hertl, one of a number of players that tried filling in for an injured Brent Burns.
It was an experiment that didn’t last very long. Sheppard and head coach Todd McLellan are hopeful that the 25-year-old has a more successful endeavor with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture.
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It started off well in a 3-1 win in Edmonton on Friday. Although Sheppard was quiet on the scoresheet with just one shot and one attempt blocked, his linemates poured a combined 14 shots on net, including Marleau’s even-strength goal. Sheppard skated for a season-high 14 minutes and 33 seconds, which included a minute and a half of power play time.
“We’re teeing it up for him, really, if you look at it,” McLellan said. “We’ve done this once before, he accepted it and it kind of fell off a little bit. Now, he’s getting a chance to go again.
“We want him to succeed. What is success for him? He’s not going to be a 40-goal scorer, but when he skates, uses his body, uses his size, he’s an effective player. I think he can do that on a regular basis.”
Sheppard admitted he had some nerves headed into the Edmonton game, playing alongside two of the Sharks’ premier players.
“It was a lot of fun. It was nerve-wracking at the same time,” he said. “I’m just trying to play the way I played when I was doing my thing with [Andrew Desjardins and John McCarthy] on the fourth line. Just moving my feet, getting in there, trying to get my nose dirty and creating chances for those two.”
Sheppard has played in 18 of the Sharks’ 20 games, twice sitting as a healthy scratch, with a goal and four assists. As he alluded to, he’s been primarily used in a fourth line role, but as players like Marty Havlat and Matt Nieto have dropped off, Sheppard seems to be hitting his stride.
With two of the Sharks’ top nine forwards injured in Burns and Raffi Torres, and Havlat seemingly in the doghouse as a healthy scratch on Friday, Sheppard may not have a better opportunity than right now to show me deserves more responsibility than just playing on the fourth line.
“Showing up every night and doing that same thing every night is kind of the name of the game,” he said. “A lot of it is mental, just getting in the game, knowing your job and doing that every night.”